Dunce(s) of democracy

It felt like an Autumn afternoon, but Winter had set in. I was visiting my alma mater, my hair, much longer than what is encouraged there. I sat at my usual spot on a stone bench by the parking, avoiding eye contact and hiding from everybody who may recognise me.

In the 40-odd minutes I spent there, I saw: Enveloped by an inexplicable energy, students were no longer insulated from the goings-on outside the walls of their campus. They felt the need to wear black and stand in protest with placards.

India is churning. Her children (read students) are vying every day to reiterate the principles they believe the government should stand for. They are doing this outside of their comfort zones, fighting “self-appointed guardians” so eager to attack them at even the slightest “deviation” from narrow definitions of patriotism.

“Are you anti-national, an urban-naxal? Do you work for Pakistan? Are you an ISI agent?” are some questions students of this country have been asked in the past month.

That these questions stem from the assumption that things students are doing isn’t in the interest of India, and an even stronger assumption that everything these so called guardians do is in the interest of India, isn’t only amusing any more. It is disturbing.

Just yesterday, a group of people tried to extort support for the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Bengaluru. They put up pro-CAA posters outside a college—JNC (Jyoti Nivas College)—with pictures of the prime minister, the home minister and a new member of parliament, demanding endorsement from passersby and students.

When students refused to sign, they were met with the usual rhetoric: “Are you not an Indian?” The students did not budge even as some of them were (verbally) abused. Professors trying to defuse the situation were not heard by this outsiders’ group.

JNC is not the only educational institution that has its students voicing their opinions. And Bengaluru is not the only city that has its streets punctuated by anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests.

That dissent is a safety valve of democracy is an established fact, but unfortunately in India, it is being met with authoritarianism. Where there is no formal authoritarianism — in the form of police force — there are goons. January 5 attack on JNU.

If India believes in a tomorrow, we must understand that it lies in the hands of those holding placards in protest today. They want a debate even after they’ve been attacked with iron rods. They want a dialogue even after being accused of being anti-national. They want to talk even after “permission” for the same has been denied repeatedly.

History is proof that the mild-mannered children of India don’t take kindly to use of force. Not during the Mughals, or the British, or during Indira Gandhi.

A zeitgeist is in the making and history will see those attacking students instead of having a dialogue with them as dunces who failed to understand this democracy.


PS: As we near another Republic Day observation, here is how it is defined: “A state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.”

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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