Twenty-year old Delhi University student Gurmehar Kaur may not have imagined that one particular placard from the “Soldier of Peace” project that she had been a part of several months ago would be pulled out of context to undercut her protest against the charged environment of intolerance unleashed allegedly by the ABVP through their violent acts in Ramjas college.
Switch on the television, and lo, behold! Union Minister of Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju – who had rushed to chime in with actor Randeep Hooda on Twitter, wondering “Who’s polluting the young girl’s mind?” – was telling a reporter that it is not acceptable for Gurmehar to lend her voice to “Leftists who celebrate every time soldiers die defending us”. Ministers M Venkaiah Naidu and Rijiju patiently spoke to the reporters, levying the charge on Kaur of “abusing the motherland” while exercising her freedom of expression, but had only a few, brusque, social-media blaming words to spare on the question of right-wing loyalists sending her rape and murder threats.
Ten months ago, Kaur’s ‘Soldier of Peace’ video had been uploaded by a Indo-Pak peace promoting Youtube channel called Voice of Ram, in which she told her story through a series of placards – of being a fallen soldier’s 2-year-old child, who as a little girl was filled with maddening hate towards Pakistanis and Muslims in general (whom she mistakenly thought of as Pakistanis for their faith) for taking her father away. Saved by her mother’s timely good sense, she understood that war was responsible for her father’s death rather than a whole community of people – the majority of whom want lasting peace between the antagonistic neighbors.
This video with placards from April 28, 2016 was targeted towards the governments of both India and Pakistan to solve their differences for good. It even quoted the examples of France – Germany and USA – Japan who were able to move on from horrid World War animosity and function with civility today. It was an anti-war video made for the authorities of both countries and bore no connection to nationalism.
— Yogeshwar Dutt (@DuttYogi) 28 February 2017
Fast forward to last week, Kaur launches #SaveDU campaign to protest against violence in Ramjas college. One selectively pulled out placard from the months old video, which read: “Pakistan did not kill my father. War did”, became viral and a butt of incessant lampooning (including that of former cricketer Virender Sehwag and Olympics wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt). The only similarity between the isolated screenshot above from the video and her #StudentsAgainstABVP message is the use of placards — they are otherwise almost a year apart, and for entirely different causes. But the old placard stunningly and completely hijacked the attention from her unrelated cause of decrying violent events at the hands of ABVP goons in Ramjas. Suddenly the discourse became that of Kaur ‘supporting’ Pakistan. Even champion wrestlers Geeta Phogat and Babita Phogat levied the charge of anti-nationalism against Kaur.
Jo aapne desh ke haq m bat nhi kar sakti uske haq m bat karna thik h kya??? http://t.co/t4Xb0AELHi
— Babita Phogat (@BabitaPhogat) 27 February 2017
— Randeep Hooda (@RandeepHooda) 26 February 2017
Randeep Hooda’s first rhetorical question in the tweet above is actually not incorrect (even though he himself was party to it) – the DU violence and the appeal to get rid of Indo-Pak hate are not related at all. But everyone, including several news channels and government spokespersons, is trying so very hard to conflate the two. As if by not believing that ‘Pakistan’ was the big bad guy who killed her father, Kaur is a Gaddar of sorts. It implies that an advocate of peace is a bad Indian.
Is active Pakistan-hatred always going to be the narrow test of being Indian (even as we as a nation aspire to become a global player)? Just like anybody who does not toe the ABVP line of thought (and violence) is cast as “abusing the motherland” and ‘misusing’ their freedom of expression. They are told to shut up, go to Pakistan or get beaten. No place for debates or arguments. The motherland, meanwhile, couldn’t be prouder of her other Vidyarthis’ freedom of expression to use blows to silence peaceful protests for ideas. #BharatJaisiJagahNahin
Is there any difference at all between leftists, students against ABVP, students against violence, anti-nationalists, terrorists etc? Not really, if you ask the likes of Rijiju and Naidu, who won’t say ‘ABVP’ and ‘violence’ in the same sentence but will tell you that poor Gurmehar’s impressionable mind had been brainwashed by the ‘Leftists who wish to oversee the disintegration of India’ and leave it at that.