Do not disagree: JNU arrests over Afzal Guru event are ill-judged, threaten basic rights

Attempts to criminalise the freedom of expression on campus, or to subdue it by labelling it “anti-national”, cast much more unflattering light on the working of the Indian state than on a motley group of students who got carried away.

By: Express News Service | Updated: February 14, 2016 11:33 am
afzal guru, jawaharlal nehru university, jnu, jnu protest, JNU afzal Guru, afzal guru film protest, jnu afzal guru film, jnu student sedition case, india news, latest news, indian express, indian express editorial ABVP activists protest against an event at JNU supporting Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru in New Delhi on Friday. (Source: PTI)

Police action at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi on Friday, including the arrest of the JNU students’ union president on charges of sedition, over a protest, was completely uncalled for. The protest in question was part of an event held on campus to commemorate the hanging of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat, convicted of terrorism. The arrest followed Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s stern announcement that “anyone who raises anti-India slogans or tries to put a question mark on nation’s unity and integrity will not be spared”. HRD Minister Smriti Irani chimed in with the warning that “the nation can never tolerate any insult to Mother India”. The Union ministers’ response has been strikingly disproportionate to the alleged offence caused by the shrill tone of the protest of a small section of the students within university premises. This was a matter for the vice chancellor, if not the students themselves, to settle. It ill behoves the Union ministers of home and HRD, who surely have more important issues and controversies to attend to, to have plunged into it.

The protesting students questioned the legitimacy of the Indian state over Kashmir. But the Indian state has endured far more powerful storms. Individuals have a right to protest as long as they do not threaten or resort to violence — in this case, many student groups in JNU, while criticising police highhandedness, have dissociated with the strident slogans raised at the protest. The university must provide a safe house for free thinking and debate, and a nurturing environment for the exercise of the democratic right to dissent. Attempts to criminalise the freedom of expression on campus, or to subdue it by labelling it “anti-national”, cast much more unflattering light on the working of the Indian state than on a motley group of students who got carried away.

That a protest in JNU has touched off such agitation in the corridors of power reveals, at the very least, a lack of understanding, or a misunderstanding, of the role of the university. Recent incidents like Rohith Vemula’s suicide at the University of Hyderabad, the controversy over the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle at IIT Madras, the furore over a film screening at IIT Delhi, and the unrest at FTTI, Pune, have all featured a heavy-handed and fumbling state. Things will only worsen if ministers, who must step in to advise administrators about the need for dialogue and negotiation, themselves foreclose the possibilities of a conversation. Given its big talk of the demographic dividend, the Modi government can ill afford the message sent out by the police action against students protesting Rohith’s death earlier, and in JNU now — that it feels threatened by young men and women democratically disagreeing with it.

(This editorial originally appeared in the print edition under the headline ‘Do not disagree’)

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  1. A
    Abhinav Gour
    Feb 13, 2016 at 6:34 am
    This editorial is utterly irresponsible and condemnable. Media and political cl should not bring the level of their politics to such low that they start justifying anti nation activities in the name of free speech. Police and govt is justified in their action as this is not university/student matter where they let VC ti settle. Its a matter where people calling for destruction of india and challanging India Replublic. Thus should not be tolerated as letting this incedent go without action would lead to encouraging other antinational elemnets.
    1. A
      Aditya Singh
      Feb 12, 2016 at 10:20 pm
      Shame on the editor of this article for even thinking such low about freedom of speech. Anyone who supports terrorists and shout anti-India slogan is a disgrace to this country, it is direct disrespect to the soldiers who lay down their lives to protect our mother nation. You ask for a opportunity for those students to talk who don't respect their country. You want us to stand and listen to direct threats given by them. Is this what you should do when someone questions the integration of nation, calling them out to give reasons for their action. First of all the so called students must be punished in such a manner so that it sets an example for others that government is not spending money on them to tolerate any anti-national threats. There is no point arguing with a person who threatens your mother. Whatever be their problems they must know their limits at all cost else they don't deserve to live in this country.
      1. I
        Feb 13, 2016 at 12:52 pm
        Why should my tax rupees go to fund JNU and it's anti national activities?
        1. A
          Feb 13, 2016 at 8:53 am
          Complete waste of time by students and politicians.
          1. B
            Feb 13, 2016 at 5:14 am
            Looks like this journalist and IE were waiting for some arrests so that they can launch the victimhood and intolerance debate again. Did you guys make those students shout anti India slogans so that they can be arrested ? I wont be surprised if you did.
            1. C
              Feb 13, 2016 at 5:23 pm
              Don't you feel Ashmed of this article ?? Even after the below comments how can you still continue this article .... Shame in you Indian express .... You nothing less than these traitors
              1. C
                Chirag Shah
                Feb 14, 2016 at 6:41 am
                There are some countries that have Freedom Of Speech and other countries which have blasphemy/sedition laws.... Whichever they have, they are bound by it according to the law...But India claims to have BOTH freedom of speech and blasphemy/sedition laws so it's a confusing state of affairs. We are neither here nor there. In countries that have freedom of speech, no matter how insane an opinion is and how much outrage it garners, the country cannot arrest them. Because they genuinely believe that everyone has the right to an opinion as long as they don't get violent..... Meanwhile in countries that don't have freedom of speech, people do get arrested for blasphemy and sedition.... Why is it so difficult for us to fully hold on to one particular concept? Is it because we are not confident about either concept? It's either complete freedom of speech, which protects the right to dissent and the right to voice an opinion that is different from the majority opinion or we have limitations. Naturally people will get offended in a country that has freedom of speech, and therefore a debate begins, where others criticize by trying to share their perspective and eventually a society evolves...... If we don't want that kind of a society, then why not just be honest about it and get rid of "Freedom of speech" and just create a law that lists what we can and cannot say..... But no, we want everything don't we? We are fine with loop s, inconsistencies.... I'm all for freedom of speech, but people need to stick to one thing! It makes India seem like a confused country
                1. C
                  Feb 13, 2016 at 4:34 am
                  The writer of this article too must be jailed for inflaming anti-india sentiments.
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