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India: Hindu-right fostering a culture of intolerance on college campuses

Tuesday 28 February 2017, by siawi3


Ramjas row LIVE: Gurmehar plans to leave Delhi as ABVP fostering a culture of intolerance

28th feb 2017,09:20AM

Student from Miranda College speaks to Firstpost on the ongoing protest

Student protest yet to gain momentum

Not too many people have turned up right now. But they’re on their way. We’ll have a larger crowd by 12:30. Around 40 girls will be joining us from LSR and other South Campus colleges will be coming too.

BVP fostering a culture of intolerance on college campuses

Political scientist Suhas Palshikar said varsities need to take a clear stand and stick to it. “People will always have differing opinions. It will be evident in university campuses, which are known for being welcoming of different ideologies. But it appears the ABVP wants to oppose liberal thoughts, and freedom of opinion. They want to stop people from anti-establishment thought. This is an attempt for regimentation of universities. And it’s not just a question of law and order. The varsities’ administration and faculty need to take a stand as well. It’s necessary that professors teach students to think freely, no matter what their ideologies,” he said.

DU stuck between the left and right of Indian politics

The recent events at Ramjas have unraveled certain grievances of the student community in Delhi University, which go beyond the ‘left-right’ political split between student unions. The assault by ABVP targeted a large community of students, many of whom do not identify with any political party (or student group). So, when left student groups like AISA and SFI turned up to take up their cause, some were displeased and complained of a ‘political hijack’. They argued that these parties are not only using the protests to further their own political agendas, but also inciting ABVP to go on an aggressive footing. These are the non-political stakeholders of DU – trapped between two political extremes – that the media needs to talk about, rather than lapping up lateral issues like social media trolling against specific individuals.

Should public figures exercise restraint on social media?

The Gurmehar Kaur instance, in a way, unpacks the complexity of freedom of speech and the public discourse that surrounds it. What Virender Sehwag did was nothing more than an exercise of the freedom to express — the very same entitlement that those standing with Kaur fight for. It was not a direct threat but simply an opinion projected in a manner, which could be perceived as either witty or condescending. But, Sehwag — as a celebrity figure — holds a specific agency here, that of influencing huge sections of the population. That drives us to ask – should public figures exercise restraint before exercising their democratic right to speak? Or does the blame lie on the masses for turning a piece of opinion into an ideological weapon?

Delhi Police files FIR on the rape threat to DU student Gurmehar Kaur

The 20-year-old student, who has decided to flee Delhi following incessant online trolling, told Firstpost she is mentally exhausted and wants to be left alone. The Delhi police, finally after more than 24 hours later, decided to file an FIR on the rape threats to Gurmehar.

Lady Shri Ram College faculty backs Gurmehar Kaur

The English department of Lady Shri Ram College, where Gurmehar Kaur is a first year student, has unanimously issued the following statement:

We, the faculty members of the English Department, Lady Shri Ram College unequivocally and strongly support our student Gurmehar Kaur and her right to express her opinion on issues that embroil our university. It is immensely gratifying to us as her teachers that she has responded sensitively, creatively and bravely to events in her immediate context rather than seek the safe refuge of silence. We feel that it is the bounden duty of educational institutions to nurture sensitive, responsive and critical thinking students without the fear of violent retaliation. We are proud that Gurmehar has fulfilled her duty as a young citizen of this country. The threats of violence and brutality that she faces are absolutely reprehensible. Responses on social media by public figures such as Virender Sehwag and Randeep Hooda are shameful trivialization of the intimidation that Gurmehar faces at the hands of violent mobs whose viciousness the university has recently witnessed. We fervently appeal to the good sense of the public and to institutions of redressal to help restore our faith in law and justice in our country and let our young citizens think and articulate without fear of intimidation.

How DU student Gurmehar Kaur ‘shakes it all off’ with her tweets

Those who prefer violence over open discussion can learn a lot from 20-year-old Gurmehar. In her very first video, in May 2016, Kaur conveyed her message about how war and not Pakistan killed her father without speaking a single word. Instead, she used placards.

Though the same feisty student of Lady Sriram College has become more vocal through her tweets in the last week, she has managed to maintain a clear and composed stand even though she has been subjected to rape threats and cries of ‘anti-nationalist’. Less than a week after she posted a video where she took on the ABVP members who threatened the college students, Kaur refuses to be defined by the death of her father, Kargil war hero Captain Mandeep Singh, in the 1999 Kargil war.

Kaur, while offending those who would judge a young woman for speaking her mind, is also deft enough to add a mocking touch, bolstering her argument through a Taylor Swift song.

Debate surrounding Gurmehar is red herring to the larger issue

The mass media narrative surrounding Gurmehar Kaur not only shows the viciousness of the online troll culture, but also serves as a red herring to the larger issue of campus violence that the Ramjas incident brought to fore. Given her paternal background and tender age, she comes off as an ‘easy consumable’ for both hyper-nationalists and mainstream media channels who have simply instrumentalised her personal beliefs to make a point.

However, the core issues here – that most are not talking about – are starkly different from ‘social media trolling’: basic security of our college campuses, the freedom to express without any threat of violence, and the snail pace of our law enforcement authorities to bring the perpetrators of violence to account.

With Gurmehar dominating news cycles, these absolutely crucial talking points remain on the fringe. The protest at North Campus today must bring these issues back to the current public discourse over the entire incident.

Way to go Gurmehar for taking on the fascists bravely: Robert Vadra

On his Facebook page, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi’s husband Robert Vadra came out in support of Gurmehar and congratulated her for taking on “the fascists bravely.”

“It is indeed disgusting & shameful to see a dignified woman being trolled by respectful citizens, for her remarks against politics in DU. My message to Gurmehar: “I am with you and all those people who stand for their rights & freedom of speech. The nation is proud of you for standing your ground & fighting fascist forces.”

We are dismissive of other’s view

Now, why crib if Sehwag has his own take on the matter? Just because he is a former cricketing superstar, is he supposed to keep silent on controversial issues? By implying this we are reinforcing the very intolerance we are complaining against. Perhaps it would have been fine for many had he supported Gurmehar in his tweet. The truth is for long we have been dismissive of the other view. Now that it has started asserting itself, we are feeling insecure.

We have forgotten the issue was not Gurmehar or her tweets

If the debate was limited to her placard on Facebook, saying ‘I am a student of Delhi University. I am not afraid of ABVP. I am not alone. Every student of India is with me’ — it would have been within the context. There was a clash between the members of the ABVP and the AISA over the invite to Umar Khalid for a seminar in Ramjas College and reactions, even aggressive ones, from both sides on social media and elsewhere were expected to flow thick and fast after the incident. In our hyper-expressive times, this is par for the course.

The debate went in the wrong direction. Now, she is exposed to nasty attacks. BJP parliamentarian Pratap Simha has compared her to underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and minister Kiren Rijiju has wondered who was ‘polluting’ the young student’s mind.

It might get worse as the debate intensifies. Simha, on Facebook, said: “At least Dawood Ibrahim did not use crutches of his father’s name to justify his anti-national stand.’’ The point is the martyr and the Kargil war should have been kept out of the discourse.

Intolerance debate is farcical

The intolerance debate is getting farcical for sure. What’s so gross about Virender Sehwag expressing his view on Gurmehar Kaur? If she is entitled to her opinion on the Kargil war, then the former Test cricketer is free to have his own view too. Why react so sharply to it?

Let’s break it down logically. That she is the daughter of Kargil martyr Captain Mandeep Singh is not the central point in the entire controversy; the fact that she has a view on the ABVP is. If we are trying to be sympathetic to her for her father’s role in the war, we are not doing justice to her as an independent individual or a student with a free opinion. The scope of the debate expanded in an unnecessary direction when people started talking about the placard she carried last year. It said: ‘Pakistan didn’t kill my father, war did’. Sehwag’s response – ‘I didn’t score two triple centuries, my bat did’ – is a fitting witty response to that.

Bullies like Sehwag and Rijiju are cowards

A strong armed force prevents a war, but will he send his children to send to join them? Or, how about Sehwag? Has he even bothered joining the Indian Territorial Army? (The Indian Territorial Army will be deployed into action in the event of a war). They will most likely do neither. It’s easy to scream about going to war. It takes actual courage to do something about it. Courage was something Kaur’s father had. Courage is something actual serving members of the Indian Armed Forces have. Courage is something their families have. Cowardice is what people like Rijiju and Sehwag have when they take to Twitter to attack a college student.

Bullies Rijiju and Sehwag need lessons on argument to overcome troll mentality

Gurmehar Kaur’s father gave his life in the service of his country. Kaur asked a very fundamental question: how many more fathers will have to do this. She asks why politicians on both sides are unable to come to an agreement and create peace despite the last seventy odd years of Indian Independence.

All ideas are open for debate including those that Kaur has. But one must debate the idea by attacking the idea and not the person. That’s the key difference. “Trolling” is the common parlance that once uses to attack a person and not the idea that he/she expressed. Trolling will invite rebuke, whereas attacking an idea will generate an argument, and therefore, will lead to a debate.

These are just examples of how you engage with an idea. What Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju and cricketer Virender Sehwag did was attack Kaur for having an opinion in the first place rather than engaging with her in the numerous (like we mentioned above) decent ways. They decided that attacking her personally for her opinions might be a good idea.

Current debates pigeonhole her into being ‘martyr’s daughter’, not as student with a voice

What happens when the daughter of a former soldier voices opinions that aren’t as palatable for the groups seeking support for their patriotic cause? At the moment in India, it looks like the daughter of a former soldier is only permitted to have political opinions of a particular hue, and otherwise things turn spectacularly nasty, as in the case of Gurmehar Kaur.

The very present absence of her father in all these discussions, even in those that congratulate her for her strong position, is also a problem. The fact that some of the public can’t seem to recognise her capacity for independent thinking – that she is framed either as the “brave daughter of her great dad” or a clueless kid falling in with the murky anti-national crowd – means that she is constantly infantilised. Disturbingly, the logical follow-up is visible in tweets that assign her a new mommy and daddy (according to one Twitter user, they should be Barkha Dutt and Arvind Kejriwal).

Meanwhile, it would be nice if the public would stop giving Kaur unsolicited advice about how to be an apolitical humanitarian. It would be wonderful if members of the government indulged less in amateur ESP (“What is Meher thinking now and who is making her think it…hmm”) and focus instead on the urgent issues – the rape threats and appalling vitriol that Kaur is having to deal with. Surely there has to be a way to see Kaur for the brave individual she is. Here’s wishing Kaur a world in which speaking up doesn’t require quite so much bravery

To anyone questioning my courage and bravery.. I’ve shown more than enough: Gurmehar

Twenty-year-old Gurmehar Kaur, who suddenly appeared to be in the heart of the ongoing crisis at the Ramjas College, said that she has had enough with everything and pulled out of the students’ campaign on Tuesday. Gurmehar announced her decision to distance herself from the ongoing campaign against ABVP playing out at Ramjas College.

Gurmehar, whose social media campaign against ABVP recently went viral, on Sunday had alleged to have received “rape threats”. Student of Lady Sri Ram Ram College and daughter of Kargil martyr Captain Mandeep Singh, Gurmehar said she has attracted a barrage of hate messages over her stand on the issue. “I have been getting a lot of threats on social media. I think it is very scary when people threaten you with violence or with rape,” she told

Twenty-four-year-old Gurmehar Kaur, whose social media campaign against the ABVP has gone viral, got caught up in a Twitter war on Monday with ex-cricketer Virendra Sehwag and actor Randeep Hooda who called her a “political pawn”.

Gurmehar Kaur, a Delhi University student, had started the campaign ‘I am not afraid of ABVP’, following the violence at Ramjas college, which went viral and received a massive support from students of various universities.

She posted her pictures on Facebook holding different placards including ‘I am not afraid of ABVP’ and ‘Pakistan did not kill my father but war did’.

While the literature student’s classmates and peers started sharing the post, prompting students from various universities across the country to change their profile pictures with similar placards, Sehwag shared an image of his holding a placard saying, “I did not score two triple centuries. My bat did.”

While many Twitter users criticised Sehwag for comparing a cricket match to a war, many others including Randeep Hooda cheered Sehwag for his remark, saying, “She (Gurmehar) is being made a pawn.”

“Really sweet of you to encourage the hate I’ve been receiving. Makes me feel happy that I adored your work Pawn? I can think. I don’t support violence perpetuated on students? Is that so wrong (sic),” Kaur said in a series of tweets in reply to Hooda’s comment.

The Twitterati reacted negatively to the actor’s remark prompting him to get into a damage control mode.

“What’s sad is that the poor girl is being used as political pawn…It absolutely wrong..have a feeling it’s not limited to that in interpretation (sic)” he tweeted.

“Don’t call me a Martyrs (sic) daughter if that bothers you. I never claimed anything otherwise. You can call me Gurmehar,” she tweeted.

Kaur, daughter of Kargil martyr Captain Mandeep Singh has approached the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) alleging that she has received “rape threats” allegedly from members of the ABVP after she initiated the campaign against the RSS’ student wing.

Ramjas college had last week witnessed large-scale violence between members of the Left-affiliated AISA and the ABVP.

The genesis of the clash was an invite to JNU students Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid to address a seminar on ‘Culture of Protests’ which was withdrawn by the college authorities following opposition by the ABVP.