[The JNU protest and its aftermath has left the country divided, as a gathering of few students soon catapulted into a massive controversy with tensions rising on an hourly basis. The event, titled “The Country Without A Post Office” was organised to “stand in solidarity with the struggle of the Kashmiri people for their democratic right to self-determination.” One of things protested was the "judicial killing" of Afzal Guru, was who convicted in 2013 and hanged for the 2001 attack on the Parliament. While the media began its own trial of the students involved, several stories fly around regarding what occurred on that day, and more and more voices rise for and against the sedition charge filed against Kanhaiya Kumar, the JNU student leader. Students are being tagged as terrorists, jihadis and ‘anti-national’ purely for voicing an opinion in the country that prides itself for being the world's largest democracy.
Many people have taken pen to paper, or in this case their keyboards, to critique this incredible misuse of authority; Nivedita Menon, feminist scholar and JNU professor, questions the role the ABVP plays across Universities and the irresponsibility of the media in misrepresentation, as well as giving her view on the conduct of students during protests for The Hindu; Lawrence Liang concisely explains India’s sedition law for Kafila. What really caught our eye is an account presented by a JNU student himself as a witness from a distance for some events that happened on that controversial day. As his answer for the question 'What do you think about the JNU protest?' posted on the public forum Quora, Harshit Agarwal eloquently, rationally and precisely explains the event that has turned into so much more than just a student protest. "I want more and more people to know the truth, and that the smoke of lies, rumors and propaganda be cleared," he told us. Scroll on for his personal account of the events as they unfolded.]
The following has been re-published with permission from the author, as seen on Quora.
A lot of answers are here. The only weird thing is not one of them is from a JNU student or who witnessed what happened on that controversial day and yet everyone has such strong opinions about the whole incident from people calling everyone studying in JNU as terrorists, jihadis and naxals to asking for the university to be completely shutdown!
I am a JNU student studying right now and also happen to be a witness from distance for some events that happened on that controversial date - 9th February 2016. So, that kinda renders me more legitimate to answer this question than people who only know about it through Zee News and Times Now.
On 9th February 2016, ex-members of a student organization DSU, short for 'Democratic Students Union' had called for a cultural meeting of a protest against what they called 'the judicial killing of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat' and in solidarity with 'the struggle of Kashmiri people for their democratic right to self-determination.' A lot of Kashmiri students from inside and outside the campus were to attend the event.
'Democratic Students Union (DSU)' is an ultra-leftist group in the campus that believes in the ideology of Maoism. It's a very small group of very well read students. They are not terrorists or naxals by any means. I have been in the campus for more than 2 years and never have I witnessed or heard of them committing a terror activity as much as of throwing a stone, let alone overthrowing the state!
Now, first things first.
Did they do something wrong in organizing a meeting over the issue of Kashmir? Is the issue of Kashmir so sacred to us and our brains so brainwashed with the idea of nazi-like nationalism that we are not even ready to hear about the issue of Kashmir from Kashmiris themselves?
Do I support the secession of Kashmir from India? No.
I am not even aware of the exact nuances of the political matter, but I am ready to hear, learn and debate all sorts of opinions, especially from the inhabitants themselves.
Now, did the organizers of the meeting do something wrong in calling Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat's execution 'judicial murder'? And was it the first time somebody raised an objection on capital punishment and the judgement of a court?
After Afzal Guru was hanged, a lot of human rights group condemned the hanging. The political party PDP with whom BJP has formed a government in Jammu and Kashmir itself called Afzal's hanging 'travesty of justice'. Arundhati Roy condemned it. Shashi Tharoor called it wrong. Markandey Katju has severely criticized it.
Praveen Swami, Indian journalist, analyst and author specialising on international strategic and security issues wrote in The Hindu,
"The Supreme Court’s word is not, and ought not to be, the final word. Indeed, the deep ambiguities that surround Guru’s case are in themselves compelling argument to rethink the death penalty."
Former Delhi High Court chief justice, Justice AP Shah, said that the hanging of Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon were politically motivated.
Now were all these people anti-nationals, terrorists, jihadis?
I have faith in your wisdom to answer that.
Now coming to next issue - the shouting of 'anti-national slogans'.
Now 20 minutes before the meeting was going to start, ABVP, who consider themselves to be the sole harbingers of nationalism, wrote to the administration asking it to withdraw the permission of organizing the meeting as it was 'harmful for campus' atmosphere'. The administration, feeling afraid of clashes, denied the permission. Now, for those who do not know, JNU is a beautiful democratic space where all voices are heard, all opinions however radical, respected. And ABVP was scuttling that space.
DSU asked for help from JNUSU (Jawaharlal Nehru Students' Union) and other left student organizations like SFI(Students Federation of India), and AISA(All India Students Association) to gather in support of their right to democratically and peacefully hold meeting and mind you, NOT in support of their ideology or their stand on Kashmir. DSU, JNUSU, and other student organizations decided they would not let the administration and the ABVP scuttle their hard-earned democratic space to debate and discuss, and decided to go ahead with the meeting.
The administration sent security guards to cover the badminton court where the meeting was supposed to happen, and denied the permission to use mics. The organizers agreed.
They decided they would continue the meeting around the dhaba itself and without the mics. However, the ABVP mobilized its cadres and started threatening and intimidating the students and organizers. They started shouting cliched slogans like
'Ye Kashmir Hamara hai, saara ka saara hai.'
The organizers as a response to them, and to create solidarity among the students attending the meeting started shouting,
"Hum kya chaahte? Azaadi!"
Do you think there was something highly inflammatory and dangerous in this statement? Think about it. Nations break all the time. We were chanting the same slogan under Britishers. Soviet Union disintegrated. Secession is neither good nor bad. It depends on the precise circumstances of the region. And mind you, I don't support the secession of Kashmir. I claim to have insufficient knowledge of the situation and conditions of the people residing in that region. Hence, I am neither for nor against it. Hence, I have no problems with a group of students simply shouting slogans in support of a particular region's freedom. They were not planning a conspiracy to overthrow the government and seize Kashmir from India. They were simple students who read, travel and learn about socio-political issues and have a stand about it.
Next slogan -
"Tum kitne Afzal maaroge, har ghar se Afzal niklega!"
Now, I did not study the case closely, and hence, would believe in the courts of India and therefore, I believe Afzal Guru was a terrorist. Though principally I am against capital punishment.
However, this group of students believed that he did not deserve capital punishment and also have their skepticism about his involvement in the parliamentary attack. I am picking up this from wikipedia -
"It has to be noted, that in its judgement of 5 August 2005, the supreme court admitted that the evidence against Guru was only circumstantial, and that there was no evidence that he belonged to any terrorist group or organisation."
And this directly from the Supreme Court judgement:
"The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if the capital punishment is awarded to the offender."
So, a group of students believe that Afzal Guru was framed, had no role in the attack on the parliament and his capital punishment was wrong. Big deal?
And were therefore shouting, "Har ghar se Afzal niklega!"
And mind you, these people are not carrying any arms, all they are carrying are ideas.
So, in such a case, what should the state do? Charge them for conspiracy against the state? Or maybe merely try to engage with them, debate with them about a difference of opinion?
And was this some secretly organized meeting about overthrowing the government smuggling in bombs and grenades? No, this was a public meeting. Everyone was invited. You were free to disagree with them. They are not doing it in hiding. If they were terrorists they would not come out in public! But didn't you see them all at your TV channels courageously defending themselves and their right to have a difference of opinion? Tell me, which traits of terrorists do you find in them?
Now, I'll come to the most controversial part - the slogans against India.
In the meeting, there was a whole group of Kashmiri students which had come from outside JNU to attend the meeting. If you would even look closely at the video that is being circulated, you will only see these students who had formed a circle in the center of the gathering. And trust me ,not one of whom was from JNU! I was present during the event for some time, and I could not recognize a single face from that group as being from JNU.
This group of students, who belonged to Kashmir, and had faced the wrath of the AFSPA for decades, were angered to see ABVP disrupt their meeting, and started shouting the slogans against India, like:
"Bharat ki barbaadi tak, jung rahegi, jung rahegi!"
"India, Go Back"
In my almost 2.5 years of stay in JNU, I have never heard these slogans shouted anywhere. These are nowhere even close to the ideology of any left parties, let alone DSU.
To make things clearer, here is what a Kashmiri student who is not a JNU student and who was not present in the meeting, has written about the slogans on his facebook wall, after hearing them on Youtube:
"Let me do the “DECONSTRUCTION” not Derridian but ‘Kashmiri deconstruction’ of the slogans that have become so controversial.1. BHARAT KEE BARBADI TAK JANG RAHEY GEEBharat for a Kashmiri young men and women who were born in 1990s and after means Indian Military Establishment. The representative image of Indian state is always, Men-in-uniform-with-weapo
ns.BARBADI is used in the same lexicon as it’s used by different organizations in India. It means end to the military occupation of Kashmir.JANG means struggle, whether peaceful, Gandhian, Marxian, Gramscian or violent depends on your interpretation of the word.I hope it leads to some clarity. Anyways it might be a ‘fringe’ slogan in spaces like JNU but it’s a ‘mass’ slogan in Kashmir.2. AZADI: The word AZADI, which is the most confusing word for ‘Indians’. Let me simplify it for you. It’s not a seditious slogan nor is it secessionist. AZADI as a slogan is historically, socially, culturally, conceptually and principally rooted in the principle of Right to Self Determination of people belonging to a region occupied by two nation-states identified as Kashmir.Let me add more, Azadi is a synonym of Resistance and has a very deep aspirational value attached to it."
About the slogans of 'Pakistan Zindabad', it is disputed. I did not hear any such slogan while I was present there. There is a slogan in a video, but it's not clear as to who shouted it - the Kashmiri students or the ABVP as a conspiracy, as this video below explains:
Now, that it's been clear that no JNU student was involved in shouting anti-India slogans, let's come to the way the government responded to this:
The police on the orders of Home Minister Rajnath Singh raid our univeristy and then hostels. They pick up the JNUSU President from within the campus with no substantial evidence and the court remands him for a 3 day police custody. He did not shout the slogans. He is a member of the All India Students Federation(AISF) which is the student wing of the Communist Party of India(CPI) which has no Maoist or secessionist ideology and is the mildest of all left parties.
Yesterday too, seven more students were picked up by the police from the campus.
I say, if you are hell bent on arresting, arrest those Kashmiri students at the most. But ruthlessly witch-hunting students is outrageous and clearly not what you would expect from a democratic government!
And finally, I am going to touch a raw nerve here, but I think it's become important that someone does -
"Why are we so volatile regarding our ideas of nationalism? Why do we treat it like religion? Somebody shouts few slogans and it becomes absolute blasphemy! A university is a place for debate, discussion and dissent! Slogans should be answered by slogans, and not by sedition charges!"
Elaborating on this, I would like to quote the first prime minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, whose name the university bears:
"A University stands for humanism. For tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards ever higher objectives. If the Universities discharge their duties adequately, then it is well with the Nation and the People."
At such a crucial time, when JNU is facing all kinds of fabricated lies and flak from media, I would urge all of you to stand with JNU. It is one of a kind of university and it's absolutely beautiful, both in it's spirit and geography.
I urge you all to visit my university sometime. It welcomes everyone, accommodates everyone...:)
Feature image courtesy The Hindu