Indian intellectual circles are a weird place. Consider the case of the now forgotten Irom Sharmila, the great crusader against AFSPA, the champion of civil liberties and fundamental rights. Imagine a situation where Irom Sharmila had fought elections in these Delhi circles, or one those Delhi University colleges where civil liberties is cool currency. There is no doubt that she would’ve won the election with a landslide.
But far away from this ‘liberal’ la la land, on ground zero in Manipur, the people had something else to say. One can delve into the constitutional parameters of AFSPA, that would have to be a different piece. The 90 odd people who voted for her maybe knew more about the law. This is not to downplay Irom Sharmila’s struggle, or to disregard the cause of fundamental rights, but the harsh electoral truth. Perhaps AFSPA doesn’t play that much of a role in the life of an average Manipuri after all. This should not be something to judge Irom Sharmila by, but is rather a comment on how out of touch with reality, the intellectual circles in some Universities are.
Imagine as an apolitical student, eager to learn stuff, entering one of these colleges. The great crime that this system does, is that it exposes the young mind to large section of highly biased and one sided opinion, as fact. This happens when the persons ‘cognitive’ abilities are not developed to the extent where one can appreciate what is ‘left’ from the ‘right’. This large body of literature, at the expense of a clear balanced view, is peddled as the ‘neutral’ or mainstream, to further affirm ideology and narrative in key subjects of history, sociology, religious studies, law, etc.
These days, unfortunately even international ‘academic’ opinion, is highly biased giving further affirmation to this cult. In any case the whole bunch of University professors (some exceptions) are avowedly left-leaning inculcating, promoting and instilling those ideas through generations of students in these circles. Before the young kid knows, he is a cog in a hyper engine, seeking affirmation from the meticulously installed facilities of promotion in these circles.
But this comes with access to top writers, movie makers, documentary makers, internships with lawyers or NGOs, ‘research’ work with professors etc. At that stage, any human would automatically react by thinking that when some meaningless ‘activism’ and words are leading to such vast social affirmation, why not.
It thereby becomes ‘cool’ to talk about issues of ‘brahaminical’ hierarchy, Hindu fascism, the ‘oppressive Indian state’, ‘fluid gender identities’, ‘peace and Islam’ and not forget, the lovely Naxals. In India, most ‘highly rated’ University professors are nothing but John Oliveresque, pop culture band of shallow intellectuals.
Let me clarify, I’m not from one of the Delhi University colleges. And sorry to break your bubble, but none of the so called elite colleges of the Delhi circle are nearly as good as they think they are. Not to mention the fact that English honours from Ramjas or the Irfan Habib’s History honours isn’t taking anyone anywhere especially when all you did through college was read obscure ‘literature’ on LGBT rights or feminist science fiction (yes, that’s a thing).
I remember how difficult (and eventually futile) it was to argue for a student body in my university. We never wished to have competing political parties at our University but to have a single student body, just to voice concerns of the students. Think of that and imagine these student body superstars of Delhi. Put that in perspective with these student body superstars of Delhi. We were no activists, and certainly not the entitled ones replete with paparazzi and celebrity fan following.
The latest group of rock star student ‘leaders’/youth icons to come out of the Delhi intellectual factory are Umar Khalid, Kanhaiya Kumar, Shehla Rashid and Gurmeher Kaur. The magic word for their circles and the journalists and writers defending them, is ‘freedom of expression‘. Ostensibly, everyone must have the freedom of expression and speech to say whatever they please even if it means to defends terrorists, even if it spreads secessionist rhetoric and even if it conflates and spreads unwarranted hatred towards alleged ‘manuwadis‘.
This is not a legal article on the contours of Article 19(1)(a), nor is this an article highlighting the importance of a union state as the great Alexander Hamilton did it in The Federalist, this a mirror to the superstar ‘activists’ and to all the students aspiring to be one.
Let me start with Mr. Khalid. He must indeed have an unequivocal right to speech and expression as enshrined in our legal system. I know purists wish for absolute freedom of speech but it is a difficult argument to press, especially when speech may incite people violence against the State or a community. While sedition is indeed a tricky subject to deal with, there is some speech which oscillates very close to its boundaries when it incites violence against the state. Consider this, Hafiz Saeed, the dreaded terrorist, the head of the JuD, has barely carried out any violence by himself personally. But it is his speech and the propagation of his speech that incites people to violence. Hence, his speech comes at a cost, and mostly at the cost of Indian soldiers or civilians. Similarly, if such speech justifies violence against the state, can such speech be considered free? Perhaps it can, maybe it must or the hypocrisy of defending violence is shared by both sides on the subject. But one thing is for clear, free speech cannot exist in isolation and this is without even referring to article 19(2) or the fundamental duties.
The opinion may vary but personally, I think people should be allowed to say what they want. Now contrary to what the law says, let us assume that he does have the said right even if he promotes the disintegration of India. Umar Khalid must have the freedom of speech even if he is a disgraceful citizen. The issue here is not his expression, the issue is when his utterly laughable speechs, ideas and designs are promoted, propagated, institutionalised and instilled amongst the impressionable minds in these circles. The issue is when at the cost of millions of more articulate students across the country, these circles and the media is providing a platform such elements of hate. This freedom is celebrated, when it actually is the most convoluted manifestation of the said freedom. One is indeed entitled to his views and the right to express them just like I must be when I express my less than praiseworthy views on the prophet, the quran and islamic history. I am no expert on the subject, but then Umar isn’t an expert on free speech either.
Next up is Shehla Rashid. Nothing can be said for someone who thinks that ISIS is the same as the concept of Hindu Rashtra. This is actually the product of the lazy intellectualism prevalent in India which terms ‘all religions as the same’ or the new ‘every religion has bad aspects’. Here, the facts that terrorist or the ISIS uses the quranic references and hadiths to justify their actions is brushed aside as merely a matter of ‘interpretation’. Anyone with any sense or knowledge of the subject of the Caliph, or the history of the middle East or the history of Hinduism and of India, cannot ever fathom to say that. Ms. Rashid is from JNU and talks about brahmisnism, hates RSS and ABVP, can speak English, so the Delhi circles adore her. Not to forget her staunch opposition to freedom of speech and freedom of press when it comes to News channels not ready to give them prime time space. I fell off my chair when I read a TOI blog referring to her as ‘exceptionally brilliant’. I mean, get a life.
I’ll leave Gurmeher and Kanhaiya alone. They probably live their life in a John Lennon inspired world of no boundaries with ‘all the people living life in peace…’. Maybe when Gurmeher grows up and realises how the world works she may think otherwise. I still respect her opinion and activism though, even though it is thoroughly misinformed and juvenile. She is trying something noble and suicidal and one has to appreciate it. I just lost respect for her when she played in to the hands of the Lutyens studios as she started losing public opinion. The shift from the India-Pakistan peace initiative to the ‘internet threats to women’ narrative and was cheap and shallow. The random anonymous low life who did threaten her never deserved that kind of attention. I guess that is the last resort, a sort of feminist brahmastra, to be used when one is losing out on the public opinion. Apart from this, her stance on blocking Shefali Vaidya’s speech (alleging that it is hate speech) and hounding teenagers for making memes, is predictable and typical. Mr. Kanaihya is difficult to understand considering he has rarely taken a stand on anything apart from his allegations of rape by Indian army. He speaks in rustic Hindi, so is instantly likeable. I guess these intellectual circles also miss that sometimes and he might be their subaltern clown, the one who keeps them entertained.
Together, this foolish four, form the Kardashians of the Indian intellectual scene. They are close to the media, they are stupid, they have no exceptional talent, they barely have the skills to survive in the real world and no one knows why they are famous.
As hard as it may be for this establishment and the media to believe, a young India, exists outside these posh privileged circles. Students, debates, elections and leaders exist in other colleges as well which deserve perhaps more attention than all encompassing ‘youth agenda’ driven by the old media establishment. This young India doesn’t care what Samosa of Ramjas or the Ganga Dhaba of JNU. And frankly, doesn’t want to know about it. The other India, young and energetic, is not looking of mindless activism for the television, they are looking for opportunity. Opportunities to express themselves. The same opportunity that is so widely, and alarmingly unfairly, is available to the elite only to be squandered on moonshine garbage of equating everything they don’t like with ‘hindutva’ or worse, Indian Imperialism. The other India doesn’t aspire to be amongst these pretentious bunch of students and professors, who perhaps exercise more freedoms than anyone else in the country but still prance, preen and shout about asking for aazadi.
That aside, the other young India, outside these circles, is not free. It is stuck. It is stuck with a loan, with the fear of placements, with the fear of making a career, with the agony of the bad mess food, with the hope of making their parents proud, with hope of marrying their sweetheart and with belief of making the world a better place. This India needs a voice. A voice which doesn’t come from fashionable and entitled bunch of ‘student’ activists from Delhi propped up by nostalgic editors hoping to relive the 70’s which are never coming back.