Ramjas, Umar Khalid & “Free Speech”

Ramjas College proposed a seminar “Culture of Protest.”

It invited Umar Khalid who had, in 2016, intended to hold a programme on Afzal Guru in JNU. Guru was Kashmiri separatist who was convicted for the 2001 attack on the Parliament of India. Umar Khalid later the same year praised Burhan Wani, the Hizbul Mujahideen commander who was killed by Indian security forces saying, “Burhan wasn’t scared of death, he was scared of a life lived in subjugation. He detested it. He lived a free man, died a free man …..”.

Khalid was to speak on the people of Chattisgarh whom he described as “the most oppressed people in the country”.

Chattisgarh, part of the Red Corridor, is affected by Naxalite-Maoist insurgency and has been described as the epicentre of the conflict. Khalid’s interest in it is therefore not surprising. In April 2010 the Maoists killed 76 CRPF policemen in one of the most vicious attacks on Indian security forces in Dantewada district of the state. In May 2013 they attacked a convoy of the leaders of the Congress in the Sukma district of Chattisgarh killing 27 people including a former central minister, a state minister and the Chattisgarh Congress chief. The problem festers it being said that the long term goal is to establish a Marxist state in India. And Pakistan’s ISI is allying with the Maoists to destabilise India from within.

Notice the convergence of the Khalid’s comments on Burhan with his empathy for the “oppressed people” of Chattisgarh.

One Debraj Mookerjee writing in the Indian Express admitted that Khalid may not have talked about Bastar alone though that was the subject of his Phd work. Mookerjee said there was a possibility of Khalid making “politically contentious” points while speaking of Bastar but Khalid has the right to his views. And “protest” being nothing but the expression of disapproval or dissent is sanctified by the right to free speech.

The unstated major text of this view, however, is that terrorists can be rhapsodised, insurgents  can be glorified, and carnage in and subversion of the country can be celebrated under the honorific title “Culture of Protest” with the aid of “free speech”. In other words the protagonists of this view, like the teachers of Ramjas, believe that it is indeed a laudable exercise for students to “think critically” whether India should remain undivided or should there be a secession at the bidding of separatists or division at the instance of guerrilla armies because the integrity of India is not an incontestable fact and such differences of opinions need to be protected.

If this is the real agenda why then hide insidiously behind seemingly innocent topics of discussion like “Culture of Protest”? Is honesty in discourse less important a value than freedom? Or is speech to be seen only in its contest with violence? The motivation behind claims to free speech must be transparent if the contest of ideas has to be real.

Protest is first induced surreptitiously and then a direct attack is launched at the protest itself on the ground that the protest is unjustified! The chaos which was actually intended is then presented as a misbegotten reaction to something which could not reasonably be anticipated. And with guileful disingenuity the provocateur is eventually presented as the victim.

Let us not fetishise free speech. The unquestioned reverence to speech can only be conceded when it is justified in the context of its critique. Truth may not be fixed but the integrity of India is. And that will not be subject to inquest, review or scrutiny.

KANHAIYA – THE INTELLECTUAL

“No intellectual,” said Kanhaiya “is supporting the Modi regime.” I will not engage myself in any defending Modi (as he and his party are well equipped for the purpose) but will concentrate instead on the use of the expression “intellectual” by Kanhaiya.

There are two reasons for this exercise. Firstly there is a snobbishness in the comment which is in fact anti-intellectual and secondly the speech given by him displayed no critical nor a rational spirit of enquiry which is actually associated with intellectualism.

Kanhaiya ignores the difference between an intelligentsia and an intellectual. The former is a social class organised on the basis of shared beliefs and will include communists, socialists, conservatives and of course Kanhaiya’s favourite fascists. Disagreement with an alternative point of view will not make the holder of that point of view any less an intellectual. No one should know this better than Kanhaiya himself but his comment suggests he does not regard anyone not sharing his point of view to be an intellectual. This itself shows disregard of liberal values which he claims to espouse and a totalitarianism which he claims to oppose.

Kanhaiya makes a distinction between “emergency” and “fascism”which shows knowledge neither of history nor ideology.

Emergency, he says, is “goondaism of only one party” while “fascism” entails “using of state machinery for goondaism.” “State machinery” is ordained under the Constitution and Emergency was declared invoking Article 352 of the Constitution and the excesses of the Emergency were those of the government  which claimed to be exercising powers not of a party but of the state machinery as ordained by the Constitution. This was the use of state machinery for goondaism  which is how he describes (again wrongly) “fascism”.

Fascism, used in the sense Kanhaiya understands it, is not descriptive of any ideology but merely a pejorative term of abuse. Common ownership of means of production (envisaged by Communism) may be described by its critics as “goondaism” too and the subjective preference of one ideology over the other shows complete absence of any rational spirit of enquiry which is the hallmark of any intellectual. Is this not acting like a political commissar or an ideological administrator to control thought by using abuse not critical enquiry to deify one’s own and deride the other’s point of view? Is this not the “azadi” to impose one point of view over all others? Will this be “azadi” at all?

Significantly Kanhaiya impliedly concedes intellectuals continue to exist in India and express dissent and disapproval of what they find amiss in the system. How does this compare with Red Guards, the Chinese para-militaries who purged the country of those politically dangerous to Mao? Or the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Government. Or Lenin’s contempt for the intelligentsia apparent in his infamous comment “we have completed no academies.” Or again the preference of “bourgeois science” over the “proletarian science” in the old Soviet Union?

Yes, as Kanhaiya mentions, “it is important to understand history before we reach any kind of conclusion.” It is however obvious from Kanhaiya’s speech the examples he gave and the relevant examples which he ignored that he does not practice what he preaches and also knows little about what he chooses to preach!

AZADI!!!!! Really???

Should those clamouring for “Azadi” become free I will not be able to comment. But I am free today to conjecture the consequences…
Freedom to disfigure the country- Azadi for Kashmir
Freedom to disable the law – Azadi from Sedition
Freedom to distort the facts – “Murder” of Rohith
Freedom to disparage the critics – “Persecution” of Nivedita Menon
Freedom to debase the opponents – “Half Pants”, “Hit Jobs” & “Reactionaries”
Freedom from discipline – “Curbs” on Universities
Freedom to disenfranchise difference – Its “fascism”
Freedom to dominate, dissimulating enslavement – Invoking “minorities” & “dalits”
Freedom to deliver the last word – we “think” you “hate”
Freedom to dismantle while pretending defense – In the name of Constitution
Freedom to Doublethink freedom
Freedom to end all freedom itself!

 

AZADI AZADI AZADI….

 

A Reply to Afzal Guru’s Defense

Nandita Haksar in her article “Was Afzal Guru a martyr or a militant? JNU students were debating a question that law can’t” wrote against the hanging of Afzal Guru and justified the meeting at JNU protesting against the same.   It was tweeted by Ms Sagarika Ghose.

Ms Haksar commented: “In India we do not have a jury system. So people will have to make their own judgements. Many Indian citizens have adjudged Afzal Guru a terrorist, while their fellow citizens in Kashmir honour him as a martyr. The meeting on February 9 at JNU, which was organised by both Kashmiris and other Indian students, was an important bridge between these two understandings. Such bridges can be built most effectively by the youth. Ultimately, our borders have to be defended not against our enemies but against disaffection and alienation within our country.”(emphasis mine)

I do not agree with Ms Haksar’s reasoning.

Firstly, while India does not have a Jury System it has Bench Trial which is as much a legal system as the former.

Secondly, notwithstanding the absence of Jury System judgments are rendered by Courts  and “Indians do not have to make their own judgments”.

Thirdly, Indians citizens did not adjudge Afzal Guru a terrorist the legal system did.

Fourthly, the meeting could build no bridge because it shut out the contrary point of view by taking a firm position that Guru’s execution was “judicial murder” and that too surreptitiously under the guise of “poetry reading“.

Fifthly, it is because the country has to be guarded against disaffection and alienation that dogmatic denunciation of the system and that too in a covert manner must be deprecated.

Strangely, Ms Haksar in an earlier part of her article had mentioned, “As it happens, there is so far no evidence to show that Kumar ever shouted pro-Afzal Guru or pro-Maqbool Bhatt slogans at the February 9 event at JNU, which was organised to protest the hanging of 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.” (emphasis mine) One protests when one feels wronged. Whether slogans are shouted or not the organisation of the protest suggested an identity with the point of view with the more vocal of the protesters!

Guru, Haksar says, became a martyr because he was “hanged secretly by the Indian governmentbut as hanging follows a completed adjudication how can the hanging be “judicial murder?

And while Kanhaiya did mention Afzal Guru in the speech (reproduced in Indian Express) prior to his arrest, on his release he said Rohith not Afzal Guru is his icon! Even if we ignore Kumar’s fitfulness towards serious issues, if Kanhaiya (whom Haksar describes as a “national treasure“) has forsaken Afzal Guru, is Haksar’s espousing of Guru’s cause and that too riding on Kumar’s shoulders not utterly incongruous?

It is interesting what Nandita Haksar calls “incontrovertible facts” about the Afzal Guru case. She says, “According to Afzal Guru, it was someone in the intelligence agencies who asked him to escort Mohammad to Delhi and help him find a rented room and a car.”  (emphasis mine) The incontrovertible fact is Afzal Guru’s version which incidentally never mentioned who and in which intelligence agency told him to escort  Mohammad.

Ms Haksar goes on to say, “In the light of the controversies over Ishrat Jahan, it is not entirely unthinkable that Afzal Guru, a surrendered militant, was being used by the intelligence agencies. In the West, there have been many cases in which intel agencies used former militants and even allowed them to commit acts of terror. In this case, the intelligence agencies may have been following some intel and could not prevent the attack.” Surmises and hunches thus become “incontrovertible facts!”

As far as denial of a lawyer in the Trial Court is concerned what is important to note is that he was not given death sentence by the Trial Court (where the denial of lawyer is alleged) but by the High Court (where he was duly represented) which was upheld by the Supreme Court (where he was duly represented too).

Haksar concedes that Afzal Guru “was involved in conspiracy to attack Parliament” but says “he should not have got the death penalty.” because Azhar, Baba and Ahmed absconded ignoring that in cases of conspiracy the liability is joint and the act of others is imputed to the conspirators and because Azhar, Baba and Ahmed deserved death penalty Guru could not be treated differently. The accused who was convicted for 10 years was not convicted under Section 121 (as was Guru) but under Section 123 (for which the maximum punishment is 10 years).

The Supreme Court judgment in Guru’s case runs into about 200 pages and has 339 paragraphs but only one line from the entire judgment is reproduced which says, “The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.” This said Nandita Haksar angered the Kashmiri people. I do not know how all the Kashmiri people converged on this one line in the judgment and do not know the empirical basis for Haksar’s conviction that this line angered them. But Ms Haksar had earlier said, “The people in Kashmir started calling Afzal Guru a martyr only after he was hanged secretly by the Indian government without giving his family an opportunity to meet him a final time.” (emphasis mine) How then could the “Kashmiri people” react to the judgment which was many years earlier?? In any event the line reproduced was not the only reason given by the Supreme Court to justify dismissal of the appeal. The Court found that the conclusion reached by the High Court both with regard to “the applicability of Section 121 IPC (Waging, Attempting or Abetting War) and punishment is correct” and detailed reasons were given for the same. The judgment was not rendered by “random men” whom Haksar referred to in Chesterton’s quote and to whom she had objection but experts, specialists in the field of law.

Ms Haksar says, “The law and the media have judged Afzal Guru as a terrorist. In defiance of this judgement, the people of Kashmir have called him a martyr. Who is in the wrong then? If sentiment overrules the law, law would require continuous speculation and would vary with personal whims. And what is the basis to primacy of any one section’s whim (in this case the Kashmiri people imagined by Ms Haksar) and will such an exercise not affect the principles of stability, fidelity and rationality which alone guarantee fairness in law?

We are not concerned with what kind of person Guru was but what Guru did. Ms Haksar does not set out the “historical injustices” which she alleges qua Guru and the random references to different thinkers is actually so, random. And they do not fit with the rest of the content.

It is good to build bridges, as Ms Haksar says, but it is not correct to create divides because those who create divides will never be serious about building bridges. When one is more serious about divides than bridges, law will always be a hinderance. And the only way to justify such extra-legal behaviour is to say, as Ms Nadita Haksar has said, that what one does is what “law cant”!

Indira Jaising & Satya Meva Jayate

Justice Pratibha Rani is not the first judge in legal history to extract lyrics of a song in a judgment.

Bob Dylan is the favourite of American Supreme Court judges.

Chief Justice Roberts lifted the lyrics from “Like a Rolling Stone” from the Highway 61 Revisited album when he said “when you got nothing you got nothing to lose” and Justice Scalia quoted Dylan’s the “times they are a-changing” in a 2010 decision.

Ms Indira Jaising is, however, offended that Justice Rani referred to a patriotic song from the movie Upkar – “Mere Desh Ki Dharti Sona Ugle Ugle Heere Moti”. According to her “there is no such offence as anti-national act in any of the statute books in India”.

If instead of looking at Satya Meva Jayate Ms Indira Jaising’s had cared to see the Indian Penal Code (the “statute book in India” defining offences) she would have noticed Chapter VI. Chapter VI sets out  “OFFENCES AGAINST THE STATE”.  These offences disturb security of state and public order and are an attack on its very existence.

“Act” is a noun. “Anti-national” is an adjective. Adjectives are describing words which name attributes of a noun.  “Anti national act” means “an act opposed to national interests.” Are offences against State not acts which have attributes opposed to national interests? Unless you choose to look away both from law and language or if you are Ms Indira Jaising they are not!

Ms Jaising does not stop there. She proceeds to ask judges “what have you done to guarantee us peace?” Judges come into the picture after the act. But when they do indeed intervene, as Justice Pratibha Rani did, lawyers like Indira Jaising say there is nothing called an anti-national act!  How then can peace ever be guaranteed? It is, however, difficult to fathom what she is saying because just a paragraph later Jaising says “We have succeeded in defending freedom zealous in  courts”! I wonder how courts can succeed when judges or the system fail. It is obvious the “judiciary” is doing its “job” but according to Ms Jaising it is not!

Ms Indira Jaising surpasses herself when she refers to the Constitution to understand what “anti-national” is. She cites Article 352 – the proclamation of emergency – to suggest that integrity of a nation can be imperilled only by “external aggression”. But pray where is the Proclamation? Does she mean to say merely because emergency cannot be imposed, an act which satisfies the ingredients of a penal offence cannot be punished? If she has her way the Indian Penal Code will have efficacy only in an Emergency. And in her scheme of things Emergency, which according to the Constitution is a transitional measure, would have permanence!

Ms Jaising refers next to ADM Jabalpur. I cannot fathom its relevance. The judgment dealt with a Presidential Order under Article 359 and also concerned the question whether Article 21 is the sole repository of personal liberty issues which have no bearing on Kanhaiya.  And in the context of the said judgment Jaising says “majoritarian (sic) is an illusion”! But the judgment, as also Kanhaiya,  had nothing to do with majoritarianism.

And after saying all this Ms Jaising asks, “Was Kanhaiya national or anti-national?” But she herself had said there is no offence called anti-national act! If she is sure of the latter why the question? And as she did ask the question there has to be cause for the doubt. Or is it that in her scheme of things there is no difference between national and anti-national. All that the bail order required was that Kanhaiya will not participate actively or passively in any activity which may anti-national. According to Ms Jaising this is “onerous, oppressive and unconstitutional”! Where will We The People (whose cause Ms Jaising espouses) go when anti-national activity (which by its nature is inimical to their interest) is according to her not unconstitutional??

Kanhaiya is accused of an offence which carries life imprisonment. His is one of the fastest bail orders in a case of such gravity and that too in a writ petition which is unprecedented not only because of the form in which his case was presented but the speed with which it was decided facilitated not the least because of the order of the Supreme Court itself.

The worth of a national motto, Ms Jaising, lies not in its being seen but in imbibing of its virtues. Satya Meva Jayate has to be present in the heart even if not visible to the eye. There may be some whose action will be askew despite looking straight at it. And there may be others who will do right without needing to stare at it. As Jaising herself said, Yato Dharma Tato Jaya!

Mr Chidambaram’s “Polarisation”: Blame-Game & Half-Truths

The country, said Mr Chidambaram, is “most polarised” comparing it to the time of partition of the country.

The comment was seemingly uttered with a sense of dismay at what was perceived as a deteriorating situation in the country.

Lose comments deny dignity to serious concern. Mr Chidambaram’s comment is a case in point.

Polarisation is understood as extreme divergence in opinions with distance between the extreme points of view so large as to deny any possibility of convergence. One cannot, however, talk about “polarisation” without addressing the issue of freedom of speech.

A misuse of the freedom implicit in mischievousness, distortion or obscurantism closes door to dialogue frustrating the purpose of communication and contributing only to noise and not public discourse.

Then again, not every polarisation of views is bad. In dealing with the subject of polarisation, to make the discussion meaningful, one must specify the issues on which there is extreme disagreement and further consider whether disagreement on those issues can justify apprehension of a larger discord as can threaten cohesion in society.And in dealing with the latter both discord and justification need to be considered. An unjustified discord will create polarisation only to create disorder and law will have to intervene to clam down on it.

Mr Chidambaram addressed neither the issue of abuse of freedom of speech nor specify what issues he had in mind while commenting on polarisation and did not also dwell on the question whether disagreement on those issues is justified as to label the matter disagreed with dangerous.

The comment was only an appeal to emotion and is mere prejudice parading as fact.

The immediate context for the comment was the JNU controversy. JNU became controversial because of comments about “judicial killing” of proven terrorists and emphatic demands of “self-determination” of Kashmiris. The former means courts in India murder and latter questions the integration of Kashmir into India.hero even for students

Strangely Mr Chidambaram mentioned partition of the country not independence which accompanied it and framing of the Constitution which followed establishing rule of law in the country with courts as its guardian and Kashmir as part of its territory.

It were those wanting partition who demanded Kashmir and rejected secular foundation for the new state they created. Mr Chidambaram’s comment shows his affinity with this group rather than those who fought for and established an independent India.

If an Indian objects to secession and to the undermining of a system entrenched constitutionally it is the point of view that the Indian opposes which is dangerous. As wide a disagreement as possible with this view is imperative for the integrity of the country. And using this as an instance of “polarisation” is mischievous.

Similarly if “beef” moves from being food to political weapon consumed not to satiate physiological need but make a political point the intent clearly being to spite another not satisfy oneself vociferous opposition is not only important but necessary for such hate will  feed itself till it consumes the country. Why no comment on celebratory beef binging? Is polarisation bad only if it entails a disagreement with your point of view?

Who made HCU debate Dalit issue? Afzal was a hero even for students of HCU and judicial killing flavour of the debate. Is this a discipline issue or Dalit issue?

And while the Asura tribe, constituting a minuscule part of the population may celebrate Mahishahsura, The Times of India reported, “Today, few Asurs, especially the younger generation, know who Mahishasura was and what he means to their community and the activists hope to change that. Soon after the gathering in Purulia, the tribals will congregate at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi on October 26 to raise their voice against the “centuries-old systematic repression of their culture and religion”. The students of JNU are more aggrieved than the tribals whose cause they claim to espouse to create a fractious environment where none exists. Who then is moving to the polar extreme and in this deliberate movement is there not the wilful  intent to create disturbance and will this intent not be impervious to resolution as a dispute has been raised for the sake of raising it without there being a reason for the same? Is this, again, not an issue of mischievous use of speech and can a legitimate objection to it be called a sign of polarisation?

Mr Chidambaram said, “University is a place where I have a right to be wrong!” If you claim such a right how do you justify rights or protest wrongs and use the medium of interaction to find common ground necessary for an ordered existence. And with such an attitude you, not those who oppose you, are responsible for the polarisation you claim to be so worried about.

The polarisation arising out of such abuse of free speech is not bad. The discord which follows exposes not what is wrong in the societal apparatus but who the miscreants in society are and the regulatory apparatus is then meant to intervene in such situations to discipline such reprobate behaviour. This is a sign of a functional not dysfunctional system. The disagreement on some issues is imperative for preservation of a polity and where there is justification for disagreement the disagreement cannot be cited as being pathological.

There is a contrary point of view to your world view Mr Chidambaram.That point of view is now equally vocal. Yes there is disagreement. But that is only half-truth. It is the unwillingness to see the reason for the same which is now causing the polarisation. Introspection will be better than playing the blame-game.

 

Rohith & Kanhaiya-Of Dalits & Students

Discipline becomes a “Dalit” issue and Sedition becomes a case of “stifling students”.

Rohit was not suspended for being a Dalit but because of his protesting the hanging of Yakub Memon who was convicted for the 1993 Bombay bombings. And Kanhaiya was arrested for subversive speech which enjoys no constitutional protection and students are not exempted out of the requirement. Yet we are fed constantly with cries of injustice to “dalits” and “students“.

Does identity (being a Dalit) immunise conduct and is location (JNU campus) the sole reason for a privileged position?

It is indeed strange that while protesting social inequality a privileged position is being created in the enforced exemption from norms which are otherwise of general application.

And the cognitive dissonance – conflict arising from holding of contradictory beliefs – is replaced by doublethink – the simultaneous holding of contradictory beliefs entailing as Orwell said the repudiation of morality while laying claim to it!

Thus the very law and system disparaged in speeches and protests is invoked both by Rohith’s kin and Kanhaiya to seek protection from action and redressal of perceived grievances. Is this not hypocrisy parading as virtue which actually robs the protagonists of the moral high ground they seek to occupy?

In any event the question is not who Rohith was but what he did and the mere fact that Kanhaiya spoke in University campus will not make a subversive speech less so.

The defence of both Rohith and Kanhaiya entails deriving moralistic conclusions from evaluative premises which is nothing but a moralistic fallacy. Two illustrations will explain such a flawed approach: Dalits have been treated badly THEREFORE punishing Rohith, a Dalit, is wrong. And students need a free environment there all restraint on them is bad. Considering the opposition of this group to fanaticism such bullheaded opposition to reason is indeed unseemly and inappropriate.

And what will then happen to civic nationalism? Considering the vociferous opposition of the group to any ethnic basis of nationalism – because of the perceived threat of cultural assimilation – even civic nationalism – which deals with shared rights and deference to similar political procedures- would be endangered by such an approach  for rights will be claimed for some which are denied to others and exoneration from procedures, applicable to all, yet sought for a class. There will be no commonality of goals nor cooperative effort. With utter want of mutuality and enclaves of exclusiveness will there not be greater fragmentation of society and alienation of its members with no chance of inclusiveness or adaptability which is being invoked in the defence of both Rohith and Kanhaiya?

There is something fundamentally wrong with what is happening. Such an attitude must not be allowed to prevail. Denying both moral and civic virtues we will then move away from integration to disintegration. And this is injustice to all – not just Dalits and Students!