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Gurmehar Kaur

Gurmehar Kaur

The mental stamina of Lady Sri Ram College student, Gurmehar Kaur, who stood up against the rising fascism in India, particularly in the academic institutions, is a challenge to millions of Indians who have become either indifferent or silent supporters of fundamentalist forces. The twenty year student of literature showed the guts to post on Facebook her message and a profile picture holding a handwritten placard that read: "I am a student from Delhi University. I am not afraid of ABVP. I am not alone. Every student of India is with me. #StudentsAgainstABVP".

RSS’ student-wing Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) had on Feb 21 locked down the Ramjas college seminar room and pelted stones in protest against an invitation to two JNU students, who according to the ABVP are “anti-nationals”, to address a seminar. Umar Kalid and Shehla Rashid were invited to speak at the seminar, ‘Culture of Protest’ organized by the Literary Society of Ramjas College. The college authorities cancelled the seminar after the ABVP protested. Khalid, a JNU research scholar, was charged with sedition last year, and Shehla was the face of the movement demanding release of the students arrested in that case.

On Feb 23, a protest march was organized at 1.00 pm from Ramjas College to Maurice Nagar police station to protest against the ABVP’s actions. The protests turned ugly as the ABVP clashed with agitating students. A few journalists covering the event were injured during the clashes. The members of the left leaning All India Students Association (AISA) had alleged that the police did not react when the ABVP activists allegedly turned violent. “The police are giving protection to the ABVP. We were lathi-charged even though we were protesting peacefully. ABVP was pelting stones and Delhi Police was standing silently,” said Shehla.

Gurmehar responded with courage to the vandalism by the ABVP. "It was not an attack on protesters, but an attack on every notion of democracy that is held dear in every Indian's heart. It is an attack on ideals, morals, freedom and rights of every person born to this nation," the 20-year-old literature undergraduate said on Facebook. She was allegedly threatened of rape and trolled.  At the same time, these threats did not stop her and on Feb 27, she stood against them openly on social media, saying she will not be ‘cowed down’ by the ABVP and their threats. On Feb 28, English department faculty of Lady Shri Ram College, where she is studying, issued a unanimous statement extending their support.

It was reported by NDTV that when Gurmehar Kaur lost her father, Captain Mandeep Singh, in the 1999 Kargil War, she was only two, and,   as she once put it , "grew up hating Pakistan and Pakistanis". At six, she tried to stab a woman in a burqa "because of some strange reason I thought she was responsible for my father's death". That is when her mother made her understand that it was not Pakistan, but the war that killed her dad. Unfortunately our present rulers in Delhi, because of their ideological indoctrination, do not have the common sense to understand what Gurmehar’s mother taught her daughter. That is why Kiren Rijiju, Minister of State for Home, tweeted out saying "Who’s polluting this young girl’s mind? A strong Armed Force prevents a war. India never attacked anyone but a weak India was always invaded."

Gurmehar’s mother, Rajvinder, responded to all those who called her daughter anti-national in an interview with India Today saying, "It hurts when she is called anti-national but I am proud of her”. “She was brought to be a free-thinker. I gave birth to her but it is me who is learning from her," Gurmehar's mother added.

In an interview to NDTV at the launch of his book 'Collective Choice and Social Welfare: Expanded Edition', Dr. Amartya Sen condemned the violence on the campus of Delhi University's Ramjas college, calling it "wholly anti-democratic". "To say we can't discuss a certain point of view even before the discussion begins is highly dangerous," he said. “Anti-national is a peculiar term to come from a minority government. It shows that there is a level of arrogance there. A 31 per cent vote share certainly does not allow you to label remaining 69 per cent to be anti-national,” Dr. Sen said, referring to the BJP’s vote share in 2014 general elections. At least there are a few individuals like Dr. Sen who have the guts to stand up against the anti-democratic forces nurtured by the Sangh Parivar.

Ever since the BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014, RSS men have been appointed as the heads of educational and cultural organizations under the central government in view of further saffronizing education and culture and controlling the thought process of Indians. ABVP has constantly raised the bogey of “nationalism” to thwart academic discourse not by any counter discourse but by violence and force that is characteristic of this gang, according to AIFRTE (All India Forum for Right to Education). “In doing so, it is imposing the fascist brahmanical-hindutva agenda of RSS in universities across the country crushing every voice of dissent and criticism”, says a statement issued by AIFRTE.

The situation in the country is going from bad to worse. The fascist forces are gaining momentum day by day. The Sangh Parivar outfits under the patronage of the BJP governments at the centre and in some states have started issuing death threats to their opponents, particularly the Chief Minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan. Kundan Chandravat, a local RSS functionary, made a shocking offer on March 2 in Madhya Pradesh's Ujjain, saying, "If anyone gets me the head of Vijayan, I will give him my property, which is worth around 1 crore."

Resorting to further threats he said, “Have you forgotten Godhra? When they killed just 56 of us, we sent 2000 of them to the Khabristan. Now, the communists have killed 300 of us in Kerala. We will now adorn Bharat Matha with a garland of three lakh heads.” The statement of the RSS leader makes abundantly clear that the 2002 Gujarat riots were well planned by the Sangh Parivar outfits.

As usual the RSS, which is the ideological mentor of the BJP, disowned the comments and condemned the statement. "The RSS does not subscribe to any views advocating violence and strongly condemns it," said a statement. At the same time the Madhya Pradesh Home Minister, Bhupendra Singh of the BJP said he was "sure" that Mr. Chandravat "did not mean what he said". "He must have been just overcome by emotions due to increasing deaths of Hindus in the region," the state minister said. As the Home Minister he is responsible for maintaining law and order in the state. He should have ordered the prosecution of Mr. Chandravat for appealing and encouraging openly to take away the life of an Indian citizen who is also the Chief Minister of a state in India. Instead of taking action, he tried to justify the crime committed by Chandravat. This is the game played by the members of the Sangh Parivar. One member condemns violence and the other member justifies it. Because of an array of condemnation of his offer from different quarters, Mr. Chandravat reluctantly withdrew his statement on March 3, but he did not have the courtesy to express apology. The withdrawal of the statement appears to be eyewash. 

Silence by large majority of Indians will only encourage the fascist forces to carry on their assault on freedom of thinking and speech, which is the basic right of every human being. The opposition political parties, particularly the Congress, have miserably failed to counter effectively the fascist forces. The Congress should have taken the leadership to bring together all political parties that believe in pluralistic democracy on a common platform to protest against the assault carried on by the fundamentalist groups on free thinking and speech.

A young student like Gurmehar Kaur is a hope in the prevailing atmosphere of gloom. Let hundreds of Gurmehar Kaurs emerge to destroy the demon of fascism in the land of Ashoka, Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar.

#(Published on 13th March 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 11)