Wednesday, September 19, 2018

JNU Student Umar Khalid’s Praise of Kashmiri Terrorist Burhan Wani Deserves the Strongest Condemnation

(First published on Khurpi, dated 11th July 2016)

JNU students Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya (unlike Kanhaiya Kumar whose videos had been doctored to wrongly frame him) had earlier defended calling Afzal Guru a martyr and chanting slogans for India’s ‘barbadi’.  This is deeply problematic and does amount to sedition in my view, though I would respect the judicial verdict on whether or not this amounted to sedition, and I believe that those who actually shouted those slogans deserve legal punishment. Communal hate speech is not always loaded with content of directly provoking violence, nor is it always followed by retaliatory violence from the other side, but is punishable nonetheless and so should this be. These anti-India slogans too were capable of provoking a violent backlash against those raising them by that yardstick. Also, there is some confusion about the very nature of sedition. There are other laws specifically dealing with violence, vandalism or even conspiring to that effect, and sedition is about expression by way of words or other means (like paintings or gestures) to the effect of seeking to undermine the rule of law under the constitutional setup, and does not even explicitly necessitate advocating violence (which calling Afzal a “martyr” does, by the way, amount to), but even advocating disorder or disturbance of law and order comes within its ambit as per the landmark Kedar Nath judgment, and Article 19(2) of our constitution explicitly mentions that freedom of speech and expression can actually be restricted for the sake of the unity and integrity of India. While I understand that free speech fundamentalists may desire sedition, hate speech, outraging religious sentiments etc. as all worthy of being off the statute-book similar to the United States, that has no bearing on the legal validity of the application of existing laws in India till such time as they are applicable. Senior college students are adults like anyone else, and those entrusted with voting for India’s future are expected to not defend terrorism or seek India’s ‘barbadi’. Even if you declare the Indian state (and not the nation in general) established under the constitution to be your enemy, which is different from criticizing a specific political leader or party, that is an abuse of freedom of speech when you claim it under the same constitution. Not to use whataboutism as a line of argument but we didn’t see the left-liberals claiming to be free speech fundamentalists routing for those shouting those slogans routing for the likes of Kamlesh Tiwari arrested for hurting religious sentiments of Muslims.
Also, while it may indeed be intellectually fashionable to talk about humanism without nationalism (for nation-states are, after all, man-made constructs), till such time as nation-states are real, they need nationalist cohesion for progress and security, and just as loving your family over other humans is not inhuman, nor is identification with one’s country, and those Muslim rightists pleased by strong denunciations of nationalism in general should indeed realise that those critiques would even apply to pan-Muslim nationalism, with territorial nationalism based on a shared political and economic destiny being much more rational, and global pan-Muslim nationalism of the “Muslim ummah” variety is anachronistic, even going by the Muslim scriptures, as I have discussed here (I know that some Muslims would question whether I, as not being a Muslim, can give my own interpretation of Islam, but if non-Muslims are not expected to study and analyze Islam, how do Muslims expect non-Muslims to not have prejudiced views about their faith?). Country-oriented nationalism (or patriotism) does not have to be and shouldn’t be the type presupposing the morality of your government in the realms of foreign policy and engagement with secessionist forces to be axiomatic, only complaining about its naivetĂ© or passivity, and one should be open to hearing out counter-narratives, but counter-narratives cannot entail supporting attacking the parliament, and seeking the ‘barbadi’ of a nation, which is a section of humanity, isn’t humanistic either.
Often, opponents of any kind of statist nationalism cite Tagore and Gandhi to validate their views, but what they do is to present a misinterpreted version of what Tagore and Gandhi said. Tagore did indeed lament as to how the division of the world into nation-states became a cause of antagonism, and how nationalist biases often prevented impartial, humanistic assessments in an era that saw two world wars, but Tagore was very clear on the point that human nature had its doses of both good and bad (in his own words – “We must admit that evils there are in human nature, in spite of our faith in moral laws and our training in self-control”), which is why both good and evil shall always exist, and he did not advocate any utopian ideas of a world without borders, presuming that we can all actually possibly happily have a totally fair and reasonable central government accommodating the concerns of the entire human race with all its diversity, when in reality, provinces within countries also have bitter conflicts over resources, and there will always be administrative demarcations of territory for governance. Tagore pointed out in his popular essay on nationalism
“I have often been blamed for merely giving warning, and offering no alternative. When we suffer as a result of a particular system, we believe that some other system would bring us better luck. We are apt to forget that all systems produce evil sooner or later, when the psychology which is at the root of them is wrong. The system which is national today may assume the shape of the international tomorrow; but so long as men have not forsaken their idolatry of primitive instincts and collective passions, the new system will only become a new instrument of suffering.”
While Tagore’s writings make it seem that he was against nationalism per se, an analysis would reveal that he was opposed to chauvinistic worldviews of asserting the infallibility of one’s civilisation, refusing to learn from others, and jingoistic antipathy to fellow human beings of a certain other state, but he did identify with and appreciate his Indian identity.
Likewise, as for Gandhi, while he disliked the institution of the state as an instrument of violence, he did consider the state to be a necessary evil (for human beings do need to be regulated to check crime at the very least), and suggested a decentralised state pattern based on indirect elections in the form of concentric circles with the village at the centre, but not doing away with the idea of government. Gandhi even supported state coercion in the context of land reforms, though he wanted the land reforms to be voluntary as far as possible, and Gandhi too, like Tagore, did identify with and appreciate his Indian identity.

For those questioning the judicial verdict, the Supreme Court did not declare that they were awarding the death penalty to Afzal only on the basis of “collective conscience” and without evidence. There was a reference to “collective conscience” to justify awarding him the death penalty rather than a life term, and that had no relevance to establishing his guilt, which was based on evidence admissible under the Indian Evidence Act.
Whether one thinks the judgment was good in law or not is another debate which someone can initiate only after having read the entire lengthy judgment (and not just by listening to what Guru’s lawyers who lost the case or activists for Kashmir’s ‘freedom’ have to say), but it would be totally wrong to cast aspersions on the Indian judiciary as a whole, thanks to which many innocent civilians – Muslims, Adivasis and others – wrongly framed as terrorists, have been exonerated, including two people even in connection with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, and even Kashmiri Muslims were acquitted in connection with a terrorist attack in Lajpat Nagar in Delhi in 1984. It is the judiciary which has convicted hundreds of rioters in connection with the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002 (in cases relating to massacres such as in the Best Bakery, Ode, Sardarpura and Naroda Patiya, and the judiciary has even been so sensitive as to say fourteen years after the Gujarat riots that even riot victims who have earlier defaulted on loans should not be barred from accessing special loans earmarked for them), hundreds in connection with the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 (though some prominent politicians in connection with the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 are indeed yet to be convicted) and the anti-Christian riots in the Kandhamal district of Odisha in 2008 (in which MLAs like Manoj Pradhan were convicted), and recently, it upheld the right of the Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai to travel abroad and even struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, a UPA legacy the Modi sarkar was shamelessly seeking to retain, as unconstitutional.
Besides, a letter supposedly written by Afzal Guru acknowledging his crime has been verified as being written by him by his own brother, and there are indeed several other such letters too. He even gave interviews acknowledging his guilt, as you can see here and here. P. Chidambaram’s statement questioning the validity of the death penalty awarded to Afzal was most likely politically motivated, given that Rahul Gandhi was being attacked for associating with the pro-Afzal folks, and though the party as a whole disassociated from Chidambaram’s statement, which it had to for Afzal was hanged in their tenure, the Congress often likes to speak in multiple voices to please all kinds of people, as does even the BJP.
More recently, Umar Khalid, a self-proclaimed atheist and secular leftist, has yet again showered accolades on slain militant Burhan Wani – the very same Burhan Wani swearing by a Sunni Islamic theocratic caliphate, the very same Burhan Wani who had threatened to attack Kashmiri Hindus if they return to their homeland in separate colonies (which is indefensible every which way and as for those offering rationalisations and conspiracy theories for the Kashmiri Hindus’ exodus, I would request them to see this pieceand no, Burhan did no one any favour by saying that he wouldn’t target Amarnath yatris or even Kashmiri Pandits choosing to reside in Muslim-majority colonies, and indeed, Kashmiri separatists have been putting up such absurd fig-leaves of moderation with their threats for some time now, and that way, even VHP leader Pravin Togadia once said that Muslims across India should be allowed to only live in separate colonies – but the ‘liberals’ didn’t praise him for not objecting to Muslims’ right to live in India but only opposed his diktat – and he also once said that he’s not against India’s religious minorities and is okay with specific Muslim communities being included in the ST and OBC categories, somewhat akin to Wani saying he has no problem with the Amarnath yatra). The very same Burhan Wani, who was even involved in attacks on elected Kashmiri Muslim village chieftains for having participated in India’s constitutional framework (if non-state actors targeting unarmed civilians for their political opinion isn’t terrorism, then what is?). The very same Burhan Wani, who was a member of the Hizbul Mujahideen not supporting an independent Kashmir but desiring the whole of J&K, including Hindu-majority Jammu and Buddhist-majority Ladakh, to join Pakistan (where POK-ites have their own problems) and which has a history of gunning down even Kashmiri militants seeking independence rather than joining Pakistan, is Umar Khalid’s hero. Think of the Kashmiri Muslim policemen who have been gravely risking their lives (though there have been bad apples among the policemen too) and the secular Kashmiri Muslim intelligentsia and their struggle against the jihadist militants who have even attacked Kashmiri Muslim civilians for voting under the Indian constitutional setup and for daring to defy the ban on running, and watching movies in, cinema halls (for the militants see cinema as un-Islamic), and just see the side Umar Khalid and his ilk have picked.

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