A campaign criticising the ABVP, started by the daughter of an Army captain who died fighting militants in Jammu and Kashmir, has drawn sharp reactions from several BJP leaders, including Union ministers M Venkaiah Naidu and Kiren Rijiju, who told her not to “abuse the motherland”. Lady Shri Ram College student Gurmehar Kaur, 20, had posted a photo on Facebook of her holding a placard in which she said she was “not afraid of ABVP” and that every student of India was with her. The photo was a response to last week’s clashes in North Campus. She went to the Delhi Commission for Women on Monday complaining that she had received rape and death threats online after which she was provided two Home Guard personnel.
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On Monday, Rijiju, the Minister of State for Home Affairs, posted a series of tweets, asking, “Who’s polluting this young girl’s mind?” “Some people say they need freedom in India. Listen to those people taking shelter in India after facing torture in neighbouring countries,” he wrote. He also said that “freedom of expression is not a license to shout anti-national slogans in campuses. Criticise the government but don’t abuse the motherland”.
“I’m not anti-national, nobody is polluting my mind,” Kaur was quoted as having said, in response, by ANI. In an apparent reference to an earlier video, in which Kaur had held up a placard saying ‘Pakistan did not kill my dad, war did’, Rijiju wrote, “A strong Arm Force prevents a war. India never attacked anyone but a weak India was always invaded… Everyone has right of views but she said Pakistan didn’t kill our brave martyr and India should shun war. India never perpetrated violence.”
BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya told The Indian Express that “there cannot be any debate on nationalism”. “No one in the country should support those who raise slogans against the nation. Everyone should stand against it. If anyone still wants a debate on nationalism and if they are not happy with this country, they can leave this country and go to their favourite nations,” he said.
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BJP MP from Mysore Pratap Simha tweeted a Facebook post that put Kaur’s photo next to Dawood Ibrahim’s. Talking to The Indian Express from Karnataka’s Kodagu district, Simha said, “Is she in her senses? I fully respect the sacrifice her father made for the country. But how can she give a clean chit to Pakistan? If her father was alive, he would have slapped her. She is an immature lady and what she said is illogical.”
At a press conference in the evening, Naidu, the Union Minister for Information & Broadcasting, said that “certain misguided sections are trying to mislead the young population and create social tension”.
“Dissent is agreeable but disintegration is not acceptable. Can’t advocate separatism,” Naidu told reporters. “Congress subverted people’s rights and now they accuse us saying there’s no freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is guaranteed under the Constitution of India, but it can’t be used to create social tension or hurt the sentiments of people.”
“Having a different opinion from the majority opinion is agreeable but not disintegration. Nobody can advocate disintegration,” he added.
Union Law and Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad Monday condemned the intimidation. “Any kind of intimidation of this young girl is wrong and will be dealt with strongly,” Prasad told The Indian Express. He added: “Everyone has got the right of freedom of speech and expression. Violence is not permissible at all. But the country also needs to reflect that those who openly talk of breaking India, demanding that Kashmir should be given Independence and Bastar should be made independent, do they have the right to campaign for breaking of India under cover of freedom of speech? But violence has no place at all.”
WATCH | What Gurmehar Kaur Had To Say On The Issue
Kaur’s Facebook post came after clashes at North Campus last week when the ABVP objected to JNU students Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid being invited to speak at a seminar at Ramjas College. The invite was withdrawn by the college authorities following opposition from the ABVP. On the placard, Kaur wrote: “I am a student from Delhi University. I am not afraid of ABVP. I am not alone. Every student of India is with me. #StudentsAgainstABVP.” After the post went viral, Kaur said she had been receiving rape threats on social media. On Monday, she approached the Delhi Commission For Women. Several people criticising Kaur had dug up an earlier video of her, in which she held up several placards, including one that read: “Pakistan did not kill my dad, war killed him.”
The post Simha shared on Twitter showed Kaur under the title ‘Soldier’s Daughter’ and Dawood under the title ‘Policeman’s son’. Dawood’s image had the text: “I didn’t kill people in 1993, bombs killed them.” At the bottom of the image was the text: “At least Dawood did not use the crutches of his father’s name to justify his anti-national stand.” When contacted, Simha said, “I posted that just to highlight how illogical she is.”
He added that only people “sitting in the heart of the capital” talk about freedom of speech. “They can talk about freedom of speech because our police forces and security personnel are guarding us. There are thousands of families of slain policemen and soldiers in India. Kaur is not the only one. Why do we go to college — to gain knowledge and get a degree. You should learn to be a responsible citizen and learn to protect the country,” Simha said. He also asked whether Kaur had thought of Kashmiri Pandits or those suffering from drought in villages.
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Vijayvargiya said, “The fact that she created a controversy over her father’s sacrifice shows that she lacks wisdom.” On Tuesday, cricketer Virender Sehwag and actor Randeep Hooda had waded into the controversy, by posting tweets criticising Kaur. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, meanwhile, came out in support of the student, saying, “ Against the tyranny of fear, we stand with our students. For every voice raised in anger, intolerance and ignorance, there will be a Gurmehar Kaur.”
Referring to a tweet by Congress leader and former Finance Minister P Chidambarm, questioning current Finance Minister over his statement that there was an “alliance of subversion” on certain Indian campuses, Prasad said, “Mr Jaitley as DUSU president was fighting against the Emergency of Indira Gandhi where freedom of the media and individuals was curbed. We were also fighting the same battle under JP in Bihar. But we don’t know where was Mr Chidambaran then?” In a tweet after Jaitley’s talk at the London School of Economics where he said that “free speech” in society needs to be debated, Chidambarm had asked, “When Mr Jaitley was President of DUSU in 1975, was he heading an ‘Alliance of Subversion’?”