The Difference Between JNU 2016 and Ramjas 2017
Gurmehar Kaur, the brave young girl being trolled and attacked by persons no less than India’s Minister of State for Home, a cricketer, a movie star and of course the host of fake IDs and ABVP/RSS supporters, has had no choice but to literally disappear from the spotlights after she spearheaded a “I am not afraid of ABVP” campaign that took the social media by storm. It is unfortunate that instead of backing off, despite a couple of contradictory remarks from his more senior Cabinet colleagues, Kiren Rijiju has thrown all behavioural norms and the law to the winds with his nasty (there can be no other milder word) comments about a 20 year old student. And perhaps lyricist Javed Akhtar hit the nail when he responded to Rijiju’s earlier tweet asking who was “polluting” her mind with a “I don’t know about her but Mr Minister I do know who is polluting your mind.”
The ABVP attack on students a Ramjas college in which the Delhi police participated fully---as several videos online have shown---is condemnable. And it was to be expected that senior functionaries of the government would intervene immediately, pull up the cops and take action against the perpetrators of the violence. It is highly regrettable that following the lead set by Rijiju most others have lapsed into silence, with even the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh finding it difficult to make a statement on the side of the law.
The incident has left an ugly taste in India’s mouth, and despite some attempts by the bought media to follow the ABVP/BJP in projecting this as a ‘versus Left’ incident, the same is clearly not true. The 1000s who participated in the Delhi University march on Tuesday were certainly not from the organised Left, but certainly opposed to the goons of the ABVP who are being protected and encouraged to take the law into their own hands. And use brute force, with the Delhi police, to intimidate all in the campuses to follow a RSS /BJP trajectory. This is certainly not acceptable to the majority of students and faculty with the Ramjas incident drawing out even those who normally do not participate in politics, of the left or the right.
This is a crucial difference. The attack on the Jawaharlal Nehru University students had been sudden, dramatic and totally unexpected. Completely unprepared the students had found themselves in the dock craftily created by the RSS/BJP with a media that was aggressive and determined to ‘hang’ young students. The ‘Left’ angle was pursued ferociously, not just by the right wing but by the corporates and the media they controlled with the propaganda actually working to convince fence sitters. That it was a well thought out conspiracy was clear from the emergence of morphed videos, that were telecast by supposedly respectable television channels. The young students used to a campus where debate and dissent was encouraged were in jail before they even knew what had hit them, as the lawyers then joined the violence by attacking the students and the media in the courts. The right wing had succeeded, at least temporarily, in inducing fear not just in JNU but across campuses.
A year down the line a lot has changed. And the Ramjas incident, less intense in its viciousness than what had happened in JNU earlier, has elicited a huge response that is reverberating across the country, amidst sections that had earlier kept silent, or even believed what they were seeing on television at the time. Despite the effort of the media even now to project the fracas as Left vs the rest, there are not many believers, with the students and Professors of all Universities in Delhi joining the large protest in DU.
The JNU incident brought home the dangers inherent in an intolerant dispensation to the students directly. And since then there has been a concerted effort to organise the dissent and claim the democratic space, strategically. Students thus have taken the lead to join the security for instance in JNU, and the cops who were stationed there for a while, to take videos of every single event and ensure that these are available. Ramjas is a case in point where the lies have not worked as videos of the cops punching girl students, and ABVP cadres physically abusing peacefully protesting students are available in plenty.
Secondly, the social media that was not being used by the non political students has now become a major tool to counter one sided propaganda. The students opposing the politics of intolerance entered cyber space, countering the rape threats, the death threats, the abuse with videos, parody, humour, songs, jokes, memes that have for perhaps the first time brought amazing creativity into the public space. The trolls are now often chased away from walls, and even when not, are faced with a daunting counter offensive coming from real and not fake IDs. As cricketer Virendra Sehwag found out when his tweet against Gurmehar Kaur drew a volley of responses on the lines of ‘we admired you but now we realise we admired your bat.’
This has prevented the media and the ABVP from exploiting the Ramjas incident for their own ends. And the fact checks that the students in particular have been vigilant about over the past one year has helped public opinion reach an informed space. This was evident in the thousands who marched in Delhi University against the violence that the RSS student wing indulged in, and in an assertion for democracy and the space for dissent and debate.