Gurmehar Kaur – Does Freedom of Speech Exist in India?

The uproar surrounding Gurmehar Kaur, the Delhi University student whose social media posts triggered a massive ‘patriot war’, refuses to die. Although the Lady Shri Ram College student has distanced herself from the row, serious questions remain concerning a citizen’s freedom of speech, as well as the mocking or insulting of anyone based on background, race, or religious affiliation.

What spiralled this latest clash was former cricketer Virender Sehwag’s tweet targeting Gurmehar Kaur. In an obvious dig at Kaur’s post which said, “Pakistan did not kill my dad. War killed him”, Sehwag tweeted: “I didn’t score two triple centuries, my bat did.”

The video shot nearly a year ago by Gurmehar Kaur for the organization ‘Profile for Peace’ appealing for peace between India and Pakistan, saw people from both countries participate in great numbers. Sehwag’s belated retort mocking a martyred soldiers’ daughter was repulsive, but more shocking was the support it got from other public figures.

Last week Delhi University’s Ramjas College witnessed violence involving the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Now a political slugfest is underway over a Facebook post by Kargil martyr’s daughter Gurmehar Kaur against the ABVP. Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju asked: “Who’s polluting this young girl’s mind?” When pressed to explain who he felt was “polluting” Gurmehar Kaur’s mind, Mr Rijiju said, “Gurmehar is young, she hasn’t seen the world yet. She has the right to frame her opinions. But people are using her as a pawn. Leftists are using her points. In the interest of this nation, for the security of this nation, we have to be absolutely clear that these people should not pollute young minds of India.” These statements coming from the Minister of State for Home Affairs makes one question the political system where the intentions of anyone taking a stand are immediately questioned.

Revelations followed that the 20-year-old Gurmehar received threats of rape and death, for which she sought the help of police as well as the Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal – threats so loosely thrown around in society that we should feel ashamed just witnessing the drama rather than clearing up the mess. For now, Gurmehar has departed Delhi, but she has left us with questions to answer.

We live in a democratic country where everyone wishes to have Freedom of Speech. Do we raise our voices when it counts? Do we stand up against the people we admire? Do we honour what we preach?

Watch furious nonsensical debates pan out on various media. Wonder whether the concept of Freedom of Speech truly prevails in our society. We all have read Sehwag’s tweets, but hardly anyone of us confronted him. Wrestlers Yogeshwar Dutt and Mahavir Phogat ridicule Gurmehar Kaur. Do we raise our voices here? Geeta Phogat, the first Indian woman wrestler to win gold at Commonwealth Games, echoes sister Babita’s views: “If you speak against nation, people will obviously not like it. Irrespective of gender, the person won’t be spared.”

Statements such as these coming from elite sportspersons who have brought India fame sadly hurt even more. How is asking for peace anti-national? How is Freedom of Speech subject to people’s whims, and how does gender even come into the picture? We should be ashamed to support those grinding the nationalist sword on this cold stone.

As a society, we should stand up for everyone’s right to speech, because no matter what happens in a democracy we are entitled to speak, wrong or right. As for Gurmehar; keep your head high girl, you’ve set a precedent that many will follow.