What Kanhaiya Kumar’s Arrest Reveals About The Media In India Today
NEW DELHI: The arrest of JNUSU leader Kanhaiya Kumar has turned into a spectacle, with facts and rational thought taking a backseat to warmongering, distortion and overall irresponsible journalism.
Even as journalists were brutally beaten up, along with peaceful students and faculty, for doing their job while reporting at Patiala Court, the media greats have continued to deflect attention to non-issues. A leading channel, for instance, has forgotten that they are a media channel and not the custodians of Indian nationalism, as the hashtag #StopAntiIndiaCampaign is the focus of their coverage.
Instead of asking the necessary questions that we, as journalists must, the news channels have focussed on irrelevant facts to make a case out for sedition and ‘anti-nationalism.’ They pointed to the fact that Kanhaiya Kumar was present at the event called to mark the execution of Afzal Guru. They have harped on about the raising of anti-India slogans -- a point that has been condemned by everyone, including those supporting Kanhaiya, and Kanhaiya himself. They have deliberately chosen not to show Kanhaiya’s speech -- which would immediately dispel any and all notions of conspiracy and ‘sedition.’ They have defended police action and oppression of dissent, as they work tirelessly to fit into the mainstream narrative of exclusionary nationalism that is being propounded today.
As nobel laureate Amartya Sen said at a lecture organised by the Editors Guild of India, “The silencing of dissent, and the generating of fear in the minds of people violate the demands of personal liberty, but also make it very much harder to have a dialogue-based democratic society.” This is only compounded when the media -- the fourth pillar of democracy -- fails to do its job.
Part of that job is reporting and raising the following points:
1. It is a well established fact that Kanhaiya Kumar was present at the Afzal Guru protests. Kumar has said so himself. Media channels have chosen to report this ‘fact’ as “exclusive” and “breaking news” -- going as far as to ask the question, “If Kanhaiya was there, as our exclusive video shows, why are the students and faculty protesting his arrest?” The question the media should be asking is: What part of Kumar being present is a punishable offence as outlined by the charges of ‘sedition’ under Indian law?
2. It is well-known that anti-India slogans were shouted out at the protests. Media channels have chosen to use this fact to point to the “anti-national” activities of the university as a whole, and to justify Kanhaiya’s arrest.
The question the media should be asking is: Who shouted these slogans? Why have they not been identified. Further, is shouting slogans tantamount to ‘sedition’ under Indian law? (Sedition has a specific context of the imminent call to arms and threat of violence under Indian law. Shouting slogans without the threat of violence can be condemnable but not chargeable as sedition).
3. Everyone condemns the shouting of anti-India slogans. The media is using the shouting of anti-India slogans as a tool to drive a wedge based on a deliberately exclusionary understanding of ‘nationalism.’ Those protesting Kanhaiya’s arrest have all condemned the slogans. What they are protesting is the heavy-handed reaction and the crushing of dissent by the Indian state.
The media has chosen to gloss over the fact that Kanhaiya himself condemned the slogans. He also delivered a passionate speech that leaves no doubt in regard to his fervent constitutional nationalism. This speech has been ignored by the mainstream media but can be viewed here.
4. University students cannot and should not be equated with terrorists. This is another point being overlooked by the mainstream media, who hardly reported Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s major gaffe as he used a tweet from a fake Hafiz Saeed twitter account to draw a link between JNU students and the terror outfit, Lashkar-e-Taiba. Terror is a serious charge. It should remain so. It is irresponsible to link students to terrorist groups without any conclusive proof, more so if that is in the form of a fake Twitter account.
5. University campuses are no place for the police. This was a matter for the JNU administration to handle internally. The police should have only moved in had the Vice Chancellor asked them to. Using the police to act on behalf of the ABVP is a misuse of state machinery, especially as ‘sedition’ charges do not seem justified.
6. The mainstream media has chosen to completely overlook the fact that Kanhaiya Kumar is affiliated to the All India Students Federation (AISF) -- whose parent party, the CPI, has publicly stated that it believes that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India.
7. The mainstream media, while shouting out terms such as ‘anti-national’ and ‘sedition’ has also chosen to overlook the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party that is leading the charge, was in a coalition with the Peoples Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP is currently in talks with the PDP in regard to forming a government. The PDP, on its part, has vocally opposed the hanging of Afzal Guru. This ‘seditious’ position did not stop the BJP from entering into an alliance with the party. However, the organisation of an event criticising the hanging of Afzal Guru has the party up in arms, with the highest levels of its leadership speaking out. Home Minister Rajnath Singh warned of “stringent action” against the organisers of the protest. “Anyone who raises anti-India slogans or tries to put a question mark on nation’s unity and integrity will not be spared,” he said. HRD Minister Smriti Irani said: “The nation can never tolerate any insult to mother India.” There is a clear hypocrisy in the BJP’s support for the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir and its heavy handed response to the raising of slogans by a handful of unidentified people at a university campus.
8. The above fact is the proof in the nationalist pudding, as it reveals that the whole issue has little to do with ‘nationalism’ or ‘sedition’, and is in fact a deliberate attempt by the ruling party to silence dissent and issue a message to university campuses and institutions across India.
9. Instead of asking the important questions, the media has chosen to deflect attention to the rhetoric of ‘nationalism’ -- as if a particular group, voted into power by about one-third of the electorate, has a monopoly on nationalism. These channels have even failed to protect their kin, remaining silent on the fact that journalists, along with students and faculty members, were brutally beaten by lawyers as they peacefully gathered at the Patiala court to do their job.
India is a democracy, the characteristics of which include dialogue and dissent. Students organising an event at a university campus, without the threat of the incitement of violence, does not count as sedition under Indian law. Kanhaiya Kumar outrightly condemned the shouting of anti-India slogans, as has everyone supporting him. The shouting of these slogans, however, cannot and should not be used as a ruse by the establishment, supported by the media, to silence any and all forms of dissent and debate, by punishing the innocent.
It is truly ironic that free, democratic India is having to resort to a colonial law that was used by the British in India to challenge dissent targeted at their rule, especially as the United Kingdom has done away with this law in 2009.
It is truly tragic that the media, instead of doing its job, has chosen to join the fray as a custodian of exclusionary Indian nationalism -- something far above and beyond its mandate.