JNU row: Freedom of speech + misinformation, that is where we need to draw the line

Lies and blatant anti-national statements are something we simply shouldn't ever tolerate, even under free speech

Written by Ushy Mohan Das | Updated: February 17, 2016 3:17:11 pm
JNU, JNU row, kanhaiya kumar, JNUSU president, kanhaiya kumar arrest, jawaharlal nehru university, narendra modi, ABVP, BJP, anti national, sedition law, freedom of speech JNU students agitating for the release of the Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi on Tuesday. (PTI Photo by Kamal Singh)

Student radicalism is a two-edged sword. It has the capability of invigorating a movement with youthful energy and creativity or it can alienate older cohorts of public opinion and increase tendencies of tactical errors.

At Jawaharlal Nehru University, a few hundred students rent the air with slogans denouncing the hanging of Afzal Guru and demanding “Azaadi” for Kashmir. The University has been at the centre of a heated debate on “nationalism” versus “freedom of expression” after the student union president was arrested. Kanhaiya Kumar was charged with sedition for his role in an event. So was former Delhi University lecturer SAR Geelani in connection with another event.

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The campus is now witnessing a showdown between those fighting for freedom of dissent and freedom of expression, versus those who believe that people expressing anti-India sentiments should be charged with sedition. The outburst of anger seems to be on the activities in the JNU and the support media is lending to the students. But has anybody pondered on the anti-India slogans raised and its consequences if these threats come true?

Also read: Fali S Nariman writes – A test of freedom

What defines Freedom of Speech?

It is when freedom of speech isn’t freedom of speech that the problem arises. “Hate Speech” is freedom of speech to the extent that the language used does not incite or encourage violence or violation of the law.

I share some examples to elaborate:

Freedom of speech is not the ability to say whatever you feel like when you feel like it where you feel like it. Yelling “bomb” in a theatre is not freedom of speech.

Protesting or propagating that you wish someone dead or are looking forward to seeing a group of people dead is not freedom of speech.

Reporting that gets people killed is not freedom of speech.

Profanity and sexual suggestions are not free speech.

I’m not against having people screeching at the top of their lungs like petulant children over non-issues. After all, having such obnoxious people is just something we need to accept in having the right to say whatever we want in return. With that said though, I do believe we need to hold people accountable whenever they spread misinformation. Lies and blatant anti-national statements are something we simply shouldn’t ever tolerate, even under free speech. People, including students, should always be held accountable for what they say.

Also read: Kanhaiya Kumar’s speech before arrest

Someone doesn’t like gay people. Okay, fine. No issues.

The person who hates gay people constantly curses, screams, and cries on how horrible and immoral gay people are. Fine again.

The person who hates gay people constantly curses, screams, and cries on how horrible and immoral gay people are while also spreading factual misinformation on them. That is where the line needs to be drawn.

Some people will say and do anything to have people agree with them on an issue, and we simply shouldn’t give these dishonest people ammunition by allowing them to lie and distort facts.

Our freedom ends where the other’s start. One must be free to give his or her opinions with coherence and respect, but this must be consequent with the sensitivity of people. Americans wouldn’t tolerate someone talking positively about 9\11 the same way we will not tolerate separatist manifestations. To use our freedom, we must respect the other’s freedom as well.

Also read: Pratap B Mehta writes – An act of tyranny

People like Hafiz Saeed and Azhar Masood don’t carry arms but they carry very poisonous ideas. They command an army willing to implement their ideas. Arms will come when ideas gain enough strength. Let JNU not be a safe breeding ground for such “ideas”.

Geelani is declared as ‘anti-national’ as he opposed Afzal Guru’s hanging. But what about a ‘nationalist’ party running a coalition government with PDP which described Afzal Guru as ‘martyr’? Some clarity must be sought regarding shaking hands with a different form of the same ideology. Political opportunism cannot be bent to this extent.

Who will save India from these ‘ideas’ or these ‘nationalists’. If they have no love for country, be it a student, a teacher, or a politician, they have no place in India.

“You’ll never have a quiet world till you knock the patriotism out of the human race.”
― George Bernard Shaw

(Views expressed by the author are personal.)

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