An Open Letter To Smriti Irani From 'An Intimidated and Confused Student'
Dear Smriti Irani,
Ma’am, I heard your speech yesterday. I am still currently stuck to my laptop watching the live telecast of the Rajya Sabha debate where you’re currently speaking. And I must say, you have great oratorical skills. I, just like million others, listened to you give an exceptional speech, and thought ‘our HRD minister is perhaps a better speaker than three-fourth of our politicians put together.’ However, once your speech was over, I tried to recall the point of your 50 minutes monologue, and realised that it was simply a rebuttal to your opponents in the parliament. Yes, students are being used for political motives, and I’m glad that you highlighted that. However, your speech did not address the issue at hand, and fell short to become a mesmerizing anti-opposition soliloquy. The questions bothering us, the large section of the public, were not answered. Instead letters were read out, textbooks were scorned upon and ‘who elected the VCs’ was discussed.
Ma’am, I’m not a politician. I am a research student (not from JNU or Hyderabad University). As a student, I have a few crucial questions that I felt you missed to address. Evidently, I have no political agenda, and am simply a concerned citizen who feels that prominent issues are not being discussed in the sessions and the parliament has reduced to a battlefield for the politicians to belittle each other.
My questions, repeated by various citizens of the general public with no political agenda, are as follows:
1. Why are we seeing a trend of the ABVP dragging the central government in university level issues? More importantly, why is the Central government taking personal interest in the complaints made by ABVP? There exists a hierarchy within universities, and issues can surely be handled within the institutions without interference from the Central government (who, I am sure, have various pressing issues at hand given that you are ruling a populous nation with various social and economic issues). There is reason to believe that it does not matter who appointed the VC. If the current central government pressurizes the VC, he/ she is likely to abide regardless of whether they personally agree with the government’s demand.
2. I am not going to argue with whether the sedition law should exist or not and will refrain from sharing my personal opinions on the ambiguity of the law. The reality is that, at present, it does exist, and can be used regardless of its vagueness. However, I do want to ask you, the education representative of the government, a couple of questions regarding what the government believes is considered seditious. I only ask so as to avoid ambiguity in the future, so that tomorrow us students don’t face such charges just because we were oblivious to what our government, or even certain sections of the public, thinks is ‘sedition’.
- Do you believe that Kanhaiya Kumar’s speech can be charged under ‘sedition’? From the information provided to the public, it seems like he was asking for freedom from social evils, which we had, perhaps naïvely, assumed is simply not chargeable under 124a. There are millions of people who have voiced a similar wish for such freedom from poverty and discrimination. Are we to not do that in the future?
- I have yet to come across a proof of Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya sloganeering for the destruction of India and war against India. On the contrary, I have come across JNU students’ interviews stating that outsiders raised those anti-India slogans. So I am going to refrain from blaming these slogans on the two before the court can, because it’s only ethical and sensible to do so. Do correct me if I am unaware of something, I only speak on the basis of what little information is being provided to us.
From that information, what we do know for sure is that these two students questioned Afzal Guru’s execution, and therefore organised an event against the hanging of Guru. I’m assuming that’s all that even the government knows, considering that investigation about them chanting other slogans is still underway. So ma’am, my question to you is, does the government believe that vocally sympathizing with Afzal Guru (and other persons convicted by the court as enemy of the nation) seditious? Considering that the student-wing of your party filed the complaint against these students, I am going to assume that your answer will be yes. Then ma’am, my follow up question to you is that, given that PDP’s stance on Afzal Guru is coherent with these students’ stance, why is the government not prosecuting them. Your party instead is forming an alliance with them. Furthermore, if publicly sympathizing with someone who the court has declared guilty is a crime and is ‘anti-national’, then why are those who glorify Nathuram Godse not prosecuted? If your government can impeach one person for being a sympathizer of a State criminal, then why are you not impeaching the supporters of Godse? Do you therefore think it’s understandable that we, the public, feel that you’re participating in ‘selective justice’?
- Tomorrow, if an Indian student studies topics like ‘Did the British rule in India have any advantages?’, ‘The state of affairs in Kashmir’, ‘Will diversity or conformity make or break India?’ – will these be considered seditious, and therefore charged at a judicial level, because these topic are hurting sentiments? Will the students publishing or speaking on such topics be criminalized? Again, I only ask so as that we the students don’t naively believe that our government is tolerant enough let us pursue such research, only to be arrested! Let me make a clarification here ma’am – when we study such issues, it’s not because we are not nationalistic. In fact, it’s the opposite. We love our country, and more importantly we love the people of our country and therefore want to work on the betterment of our citizens. Sometimes in order to improve, one needs to first understand the problems and raise those problems for an open discussion. However, if raising problems that hurt one’s sentiment is seditious, then ma’am please do let us know what topics we are allowed to research, debate and publish on and what we’re not allowed to research, debate and publish on. Alternatively, please define and constrict the sedition law to avoid ambiguity – perhaps consider what Mr Shashi Tharoor has to say on the matter.
3. Does the government know who raised the ‘war till destruction’ slogan? As far as we know, none of the arrested students have said this. Did the government’s student wing mistakenly file a complaint against the wrong individuals? Of course we cannot know for certain who said what until the court’s judgment post investigation – so do you think it was appropriate to put the blame for such slogans on those select students before the completion of the investigation?
4. What do you have to say about the lawyers, one of who is clicked with some leading BJP members, taking the law in their own hands, and beating up a child?
5. What does the government have to say about the polluted Delhi Police allegations? Is the Delhi Police actually polluted? Is it not a concern for the Centre that police is allegedly permitting goons inside the prisons to beat someone up? I ask you this because the Delhi Police is answerable to the Centre, and not the State. Therefore, you must have some more information, as compared to us, on these allegations and can therefore let us know.
6. Do you think it’s fair that Kanhaiya’s bail plea has been delayed by days, while these lawyers (who have evidently broken the law) got their bails in a few hours?
7. What do you make of the news channel, one that you personally called during one of their ‘debates’, propagating the anchors’ views without any disclaimer? I do not see Times Now showing a disclaimer during the credits of The Newshour stating that the opinions expressed here are solely or Arnab Goswami’s (considering that the microphone of the opposition in the debate is usually silenced). Neither do I hear them use the word ‘allegedly’ while blaming someone. For this point, I ask your personal opinion, as it is not the government’s prerogative to handle such opinionated broadcast. Do you think it’s acceptable for channels to propagate their personal opinions and doctored videos under the façade of ‘news’? We can all agree that the majority of our population is inclined towards television (rather than print media) and is therefore, hugely impacted and influenced by what the TV shows them. Do you not think that the action of certain anchors repeatedly tagging someone ‘guilty’, ‘anti-national, ‘deshdrohi’ BEFORE the court’s judgment, led to a huge chunk of the population getting influenced, indoctrinated and poisoned? Do you think that it incited anger and violence in sentimental people against students (who might just turn out to be innocent in the court of law)? In that regard ma’am, do you think it’s appropriate for our country to file a defamation/ slander lawsuit against these news channels for inciting mob mentality, anger and violence in the people of India by propagating opinions without disclaimers and doctored videos?
8. My father was in the army. From there stems these two questions:
- My father being in army does not imply that I am a soldier. So do you think it was appropriate to imply that Umar Khalid is a terrorist because his father was an Ex SIMI member?
- Do you think it is appropriate to cynically exploit the honour of the uniform to justify allegations (before the court’s judgement), doctored videos, police excesses and a general environment of intimidation? In other words, do you believe that one can only either support our forces or these students?
9. My last question to you is, do you personally think the intention of these students was to harm our nation?
As a child and a student I can tell you, I do criticize the people I love, but I would never harm them. I hope you do answer these questions. If not to us, then at least to yourself. I repeat, my agenda is not political; I am just a concerned student.
An Intimidated and Confused Student