JNU issue again: A response to a friend

March 27, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

[It seems people have lost interest in the JNU debate, and have moved on. But a friend commented on one of my blogs on this issue. This is a response to that comment. You may find it repetitive, old issue and uninteresting.]

Thanks Anjali, for reading and commenting on my blog post “Welcoming Umar Khalid”.

I have written many blogs on this issue and have answered all these questions in them. Some of these blogs are:

1.   Common Indian: between the devil and the deep sea

2.   Spreading confusion through JNU issue

3.   The point and the counter point: JNU slogans

  1. Kashmir: Illegal occupation by India?

5.   Indoctrination in JNU?

6.   Freedom of speech and slogan shouting: A rejoinder to Professor Partha Chatterjee

All are available on the same site in the months of February and March. However, rather than referring you to this material I am responding briefly to the issues you have raised in your comment.

You have raised several questions, some of them are numbered separately some are not, so the numbering below does not match exactly with numbering in your comment.

  1. Glossed over facts: according to you Umar says that they (JNU) stopped Indira Gandhi but protested against others, and they had the right to protest. My question is why protest freedom of speech? Protest the content if you like, through your own statements. How can one champion as well as protest against the same thing? If their protest was right why are they so angry about others protesting their kind of freedom of speech? My point remains valid with taking pride in one instance of ‘stopping’ and several others protested by disruption and hackling. What I am saying is that JNU (Umar Khalid included) brand of freedom of speech is ‘freedom of speech when I use it’ and ‘victimisation and canard when others use it against me’. This is double standard.
  2. He did not shout Kashmir ki azadi tak jang rahegi: I have videos where he is seen shouting many slogans, and ‘jang rahegi’ comes without disruption in the flow and in the same voice. The JNU lobby says that 2 of 7 videos are doctored; but no one ever told which two and what portions in them are doctored. This is deliberate obfuscation. He shouted this slogan.
  3. What is the problem in saying kitne Afzal maroge?: you have raised several issues to support this line of argument.

(a) Yes, many people says that Afzal trial had problems. But the problems they cite are connected with Afzal not getting a good defence in the trial court. I have not heard/read any of the lawyers etc. who says that he was not involved. If you have any argument of this nature please enlighten me.

(b) “The judgement itself said that there was no incontrovertible proof” you claim: I have read the judgment, and would like to know where it says that? What the judgment says is: “Short of participating in the actual attack, he did everything to set in motion the diabolic mission. As is the case with most of the conspiracies, there is and could be no direct evidence of the agreement amounting to criminal conspiracy. However, the circumstances cumulatively considered and weighed, could unerringly point to the collaboration of the accused Afzal with the slain ‘Fidayeen’ terrorists. The circumstances, if considered together, as it ought to be, establish beyond reasonable doubt that Afzal was a party to the conspiracy and had played an active part in various acts done in furtherance of the conspiracy. These circumstances cannot be viewed in isolation and by no standards of common sense, be regarded as innocuous acts.” You may agree or disagree with the Supreme Court’s view, but can hardly make it say what you want.

(c) The “hanging was given as a punishment to assuage the collective consciousness”: This is a canard spread against the Supreme Court for many years now, and gullible Indians are swallowing it. The judgment writes on page 77: “The net result of the above discussion is that the conspiracy to commit terrorist acts attracts punishment under sub-Section (3) of Section 3. The accused Afzal who is found to be a party to the conspiracy is therefore liable to be punished under that provision. Having regard to the nature, potential and magnitude of the conspiracy with all the attendant consequences and the disastrous events that followed, the maximum sentence of life imprisonment is the appropriate punishment to be given to Mohd. Afzal under Section 3(3) of POTA for conspiring to commit the terrorist act. Accordingly, we convict and sentence him.” This conviction comes under Section 3(3) of POTA. In the lengthy discussion, and before this there is no mention of “collective conscience”.

Then the court goes on to consider Sections 3(2) and 3(5) of POTA, sets aside the conviction under them.  Then it goes on to consider Section 120(B) read with section 302 of IPC. And the mention of “collective conscience” occurs in this discussion when the gravity of the crime and rarest of rare nature of the crime is under consideration.

Thinking people who consider themselves the custodians and guardians of the truth and justice in the country should read the judgment carefully and should not take their comrades and politicians pronouncements at their face value.

(d) “[S]o if there is a slogan with the purpose that if injustice is done more and more people will rise against it, what is wrong with it?”: Afzal’s involvement in terrorist acts and the parliament attack conspiracy is not doubted, not even by his supporters. Whether he got good defence at the trial court is doubted. Whether capital punishment could be given on the basis of circumstantial evidence is debated. Challenging the nation by a pledge (slogan shouted in public is a pledge, not a discussion) to create more and more terrorists because of these doubts and debates is not justified to my mind. Making a martyr out of him on this basis is not justified. I might be wrong. I am not advocating any punishment for such acts, I am advocating only condemnation from thinking people and asking for clarification from the sloganeers. Please allow me at the least that much. If you want to support these acts this is your choice, go ahead.

  1. “It is now clear that the Bharat ki Barbadi slogans were morphed onto the original videos”: No, this is a wrong statement. I have videos that clearly show people shouting these slogans. Umar Khalid and co. are not shouting these slogans, but slogans were shouted. And Umar Khalid is on record says that the “only problem” he has with these slogans is that the ‘population of India’ with which they want to interact gets agitated by these. Other than that he has no problem; he does not say this last phrase, but it is very clear from the context. And his explanation (I did not know of this before writing the blog you are commenting on) is not satisfactory.
  2. My reminding of security forces dying “is quite similar to the Sangh propaganda”: I am not a card carrying party person; therefore, have the freedom to accept or deny various ideas based on my own reason. Some thing said by Sangh parivar does not become anathema to me if stands reason independently. And I don’t care about name calling at all. It seems to me that upholding the territorial integrity of the country is important for its secularism, democracy and caring for justice to all. If you let it go, all this will collapse. The security personal are dying in this process; they are rendering a useful service to the country. And deserve sympathy from all who enjoy the fruits of this security; in spite of this being their ‘naukari’ and they being paid for it.

That however does not justify the excesses committed by the security forces, and such excesses should be investigated and punished. Umar Khalid in one of a video mentions that “three Kashmiri youths are killed”. This is a reference to the terrorists who were holed up in Pampore. His sympathies are with the three terrorists and not with the security forces in that incident.

Yes, we need to study Kashmir; but not after 90s as you say. Rather after Shekh Abdulla started the people’s self-determination movement before freedom. And if you study carefully you will find that the Indian state in spite of having committed mistakes is justified in keeping Kashmir as an integral part of itself and fighting the terrorism. I cannot go into details of this; but you can read part of it in one of my blogs titled “Kashmir: Illegal occupation by India?”. Khalid thinks, he is on record saying this, that it is illegal occupation by India at par with Pakistan; he is wrong in this; misguided by his professors who mistakenly take the same line disregarding or being ignorant of facts.

  1. “Bogey of border nationalism”: I do not know what you mean by it. I have argued in one of the blogs that territorial integrity is a necessity at this moment from constitutional, moral, and pragmatic reasons. Humans have not evolved to keep themselves organised and maintain social life without some organisational principle which necessarily involves regional arrangements; and therefore, territorial integrity. May be some have evolved; but they have to wait till the majority reaches their level of evolution.
  2. Azadi slogans were for azadi from casteism, poverty, etc.: There were two groups even in the JNU-lobby-supported larger group. There was a more than 2 minute chant where the azadi was azadi for Kashmir and “banduk ke dam par”. Other group was chanting what you say, azadi from poverty, sanghvad, for women, etc. This again an obfuscation to deceive the public.
  3. All these students have sworn by the constitution”: I am not sure whom do you include in all these students. It is good if they have realised it and sworn by the constitution. Umar Khalid, on whom this blog was written, is on record saying that Kashmir’s occupation by India is at par with Pakistan. This is not constitution. More importantly, in one of the videos he addresses his comrades and clearly rejects the Indian state (not present day government, the state), says he does not believe in any nationality, including Indian. And wants to communicate directly to the ‘Indian population’, disregarding the state. This is a different matter that later on he seeks protection from the same rejected state against a section of that very same Indian population he wants to directly communicate with. That only shows duplicity in propounding such theories.

To my mind the original issue was shouting objectionable slogans. Whether that attracted sedition or not is not my point. But many of those slogans attract some legal action and many more condemnation from thinking Indian citizens. The JNU-lobby turned the issue into a freedom of speech issue, and obfuscated on the slogans shouting versus debate on issues. In the process they twisted and fabricated truth just like the BJP and its cohorts. There was no substantial difference as far as regard for truth and reason goes; both used lies, fabrications and disregard for logic. No democracy can survive and progress if the public thinking and reason is deliberately obscured; whether your immediate purpose be justified or unjustified. The nation pays for dimmed rational capability of the people. JNU-lobby at this moment is attacking the public capability of clear thinking with more force than the BJP-RSS lobby. Simply because the JNU-lobby is still thought to be better at thinking through and fairer on the issues of justice and equality. But they have not acted responsibly and have damaged the democracy.


Freedom of speech and slogan shouting: A rejoinder to Professor Partha Chatterjee

March 19, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

Professor Partha Chatterjee makes a strong case for protecting freedom of speech in universities in his well-written article[1] published in EPW March12, 2016,  vol L1 no 11. His argument for the freedom of speech in general and in the universities in particular is sound and one should have no problem in accepting that. However, it seem to me that the article makes several claims that may not be sustainable in a rigorous scrutiny. While agreeing on the general issue of freedom of speech I would like to refute a few claims he makes either explicitly or by implication.

Professor Chatterjee begins his article by quoting Tagore and states that “[w]ere Rabindranath Tagore to utter those words on a university campus in India today, he would be called “anti-national” and arrested for sedition.” This claim I would like to refute. What he quotes from Tagore is as follows:

“Even though from childhood I had been taught that the idolatry of Nation is almost better than reverence for God and humanity, I believe I have outgrown that teaching, and it is my conviction that my countrymen will truly gain their India by fighting against that education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity.… Nationalism is a great menace. It is the particular thing which for years has been at the bottom of India’s troubles.”

Professor Chatterjee’s claim is plainly wrong as much is routinely said about the nationalism and Indian state which actually might be stronger than this statement of Tagore and none of those people are arrested. Being called “anti-national” by some people in the society is as much an exercise of free speech, albeit crude and unjustified, as making statements is. The state authority cannot be directly blamed for that, even if the party in power is instigating that. Just to take one example Professor Nivedita Menon claimed that whole world believes that India has illegally occupied Kashmir, and that 30-40% of the country is under emergency. A parliamentarian stated in the house itself that by nationalism he understands the sentiment that was popular in Italy under Mussolini and Germany under Hitler; and he does not agree with that kind of sentiment. There are many more statements floating freely in the media which condemn nationalism and even India and none of the people who made such statements are arrested. It seems Professor Chatterjee is opening up his article by an unsustainable polemical statement; which does not help bring any clarity to the debate about freedom of speech.

Then he goes on to claims that “[w]e are now being told that it is a criminal act to question within the premises of a university the integrity of the nation or the provisions of the Constitution or even a Supreme Court judgment.” Further he claims that “a fundamental confusion” is being “caused by lazy thinking or deliberate obfuscation, about the actual limits to freedom of speech in the university and the appropriate authorities who can enforce them.” He goes on “[a]re we to accept that the present boundaries of the Indian nation state cannot be critically examined in the classroom or seminar?” Further still he questions “since when are judgments of the Supreme Court exempt from public discussion in India? Can students of law and the Constitution not be expected to answer questions about the Afzal Guru judgment?” I would like to argue that there is nothing in the JNU case (which is the context in which Professor Chatterjee is writing his article) and related government action which justifies his suspicion that freedom of a university is being threatened in the kinds of cases he mentions here. All these claims are patently false. What is actually happening is that BJP wants to capture the universities, and for that purpose is promoting ABVP. In this process it is also bringing in the ‘academics’ of its own kind. But that does not mean that the classroom or seminar discourse is attacked more than it always has been.

However, before I go further it must be stated that the government action on sloganeering students without waiting for the university processes was unjustified and condemnable. (I would also like to state in the present climate that refuting Professor Chatterjee’s claims does not mean supporting the BJP and the government position. All it does is to caution that a just fight cannot be sustained on false charges and polemics alone.)

Actually it seem to me that these charges draw attention away from the real issue which Professor Chatterjee doesn’t even mention in his article. The real issue for which the police entered JNU, sedition charges (rightly or wrongly) slapped on students, arrest of JNUSU president and later two more students; all happened because of the slogans shouted in public gathering and not for scholarly discussions in seminars or classrooms.

It seems to me that Professor Chatterjee thinks that there is no difference in questioning of the integrity of India in a seminar/classroom and shouting slogans in a public gathering. And that is the crux of the matter. The whole JNU discourse constantly talks of freedom of examining integrity, constitution and court judgment in the seminars and classrooms; while the general public sees the matter as that of slogan shouting. Since my understanding of politics, political thought and history is at a level much lower than that of Professor Chatterjee, and therefore, I might be wrong, but I do think that discussion in a seminar is not the same thing as slogan shouting in public gathering.

To make my point through an example I am taking three slogans which were undisputedly shouted by the arrested JNU students. Columns one and two in the following table (headings “Statement-1” and “Statement-2”) represent the kinds of statements that might be given in a seminar. Column three contains the slogans.


SN Statement-1 Statement-2 Slogan
1 We as Indians should be ashamed that our highest judiciary failed to do justice in the case of Afzal Guru. He did not deserve capital punishment. We are ashamed that the judges and the prosecuting agency personnel who managed to hand Afzal are still alive. अफज़ल हम शर्मिंदा हैं, तेरे कातिल जिन्दा है. (Afzal, we are ashamed that your killer are still alive.)
2 If the judicial system works in this unjust manner it will produce Afzalz in every home. How many Afzals will the judicial state will kill? We will make sure that every household produces a Afzal. कितने अफज़ल मरोगे? घर-घर से अफज़ल निकले गा.
3 It is clear on the available evidence that the violent struggle in Kashmir will not end till the Kashmiries get the azadi which they want. We will make sure that the violent attacks on the Indian state will continue till the Kashmir gets its freedom. कश्मीर की आजादी तक, जंग रहेगी. (There shall be war till Kashmir gets freedom.)


Suppose someone states in a seminar or in a classroom that We as Indians should be ashamed that our highest judiciary failed to do justice in the case of Afzal Guru. He did not deserve capital punishment.”  This person is sharing his/her analysis and understanding of the judgment. Allowing others to counter this statement with alternative analysis. All that is happening is at the level of ideas and exploration as to what would be the most rationally justified opinion on this issue. The academics are maintained by the society to do this job, and I don’t think they can be attacked if they do that.

The same person making the second statement is saying something very different. “We are ashamed that the judges and the prosecuting agency personnel who managed to hang Afzal are still alive.” Here the debate is not at all about whether Afzal hanging was justified or not; that question is already supposed to have been settled. Now it is expression of shame that those who perpetrated that injustice are alive; by implication they should have been dead. This also expresses the speaker’s advocacy to kill those people. This may fall short of instigating any particular person to kill them; but attempts to provide a moral justification to kill them, which will be available to whosoever wants to make such an attempt. Therefore, it is an open ideological justification for a violent reprisal. I am not a legal expert and am not sure if the state should ignore preaching theories that justify violent reprisals.

Now let us see the slogan shouted in a public gathering: Afzal, we are ashamed that your killer are still alive.” Like the second statement here the issue of whether the Supreme Court judgment and hanging of Afzal was justifiable or not is already deemed settled. It is assumed to be wrong, no debate. The sloganeers here are expressing self-shame on failure to fulfil a just pledge they have already taken or should have taken. And this public shouting of that shame is renewal of that pledge as well as seeking public support to such an act.

In spite of a feeling of belabouring the point let’s do a similar analysis of the third set of statements and slogan. We have to keep in mind that at this very moment there is violent terrorist movement going on in Kashmir. Whether we like it or not it is powered by religious bigotry as well as political discontent. People are dying on both sides and a foreign power is providing moral as well as all kinds of material support. These are not irrelevant facts. I am saying nothing here about whether this violent terrorist movement is for a just cause or not. (I have my opinion but that is not relevant for the analysis of the third set of statements I am offering here.) All I am saying is that the statements and slogans are happening in this context.

Imagine someone states in a seminar or a classroom: It is clear on the available evidence that the violent struggle in Kashmir will not end till the Kashmiris get the azadi which they want.” This person is offering an assessment of a political situation. Thinks that there is evidence to support it, is leaving it open enough for others to counter through arguments. It is a genuine attempt to make sense of the situation.  I don’t think the Indian state even now is stopping or punishing anyone for such a discourse. There are people in the society who will react to such statements, there might be politicians who would like to use such statements for political gain; but the state does not seem to interfere directly in this.

Now imagine that our speaker in the seminar or classroom states that: “We will make sure that the violent attacks on the Indian state will continue till the Kashmir gets its freedom.” This is not presentation of assessment of a political situation. It is expression of a political commitment at the level of action, the commitment at the level of idea is assumed. The speaker is declaring that there is a group (we) and s/he is part of that group, and that that group will ensure that violent attacks on the innocent Indian people and Indian state continue till Kashmir gets its ‘azadi’. This is a pledge to kill innocent Indians.

I do not know what would be the legal position on such proclamation, but as an ordinary Indian citizen allowing such proclamations unchecked seems to be too dangerous to me. I will come to it later.

Now let’s consider the slogan: There shall be war till Kashmir gets freedom.” As I have stated above there is a ‘war’ going on with foreign help. This slogan is neither a discourse on justification of that war, nor an explanation of it, nor is it an academic prediction. It is a plain and simple war cry uttered in a public gathering. It expresses direct involvement in continuing the ongoing war. It is an expression of a commitment on the part of sloganeers and an abetment and instigation for those who are listening and being influenced.

I, a common Indian citizen, am completely unable to understand Professor Chatterjee’s claims that the freedom of speech is throttled for the statements like given in the first column of the table above, and completely ignoring the meaning of statements like listed in the second column and slogans listed in the third column. Of course, I might be wrong. Professor Chatterjee is a political scientist and maybe he has an argument which justifies treating the statements in the first column and slogans in the third column the same in meaning and intent. That is what his article implies. Actually his article goes further, it implies that an attempt to stop slogans in the third column is tantamount to attack on freedom to make statements in the first column. I would like to learn what could be the arguments for that conclusion, but at present I can imagine none.

Now it seems by the admission of JNU-lobby intellectuals that Maoists do not accept the legitimacy of the Indian state and elected Indian government. They want to overthrow the elected government and capture the state through violent armed revolution. It is being argued that: (1) preaching of such ideology should be accepted in the limits of freedom of speech, and (2) even instigating people to directly participate in such struggle, helping them materially, and helping in keeping their ideological commitment intact; all are part of freedom of speech.

It seems to me the point one in the paragraph above (keeping it at the level of discussion) should be considered within the bounds of freedom of speech. But that has implications that must be accepted. If one is allowed to preach an ideology of capturing the state through armed revolution; I don’t see how one can object preaching an ideology of capturing the state to form a Hindu-rashtra or capturing the state for implementing sharia? What I am saying is that if you allow preaching of Maoist ideology openly; you have to allow preaching Islamist ideology and Hindu-rasthtra ideologies openly as well.

Points 2 above clearly transgress that limit and have to be dealt with legal action. I am not saying that legal action should be sedition, do not know enough about it; but some kind of legal check is required for actions of the kind listed in point 2 above.

Even preaching such ideology in a university sounds too dangerous to me. The young students can be swayed too easily towards idealising these positions. If one listens to the open lectures in JNU and response from the students that does not give one confidence in their analytical capabilities. I am sorry to state, but the general impression the students’ response creates is a dangerous lack of balance and analytical capabilities. Professor Chatterjee through this article which obfuscates between academic discussions and slogan shouting does not help develop that analytical capability. He actually helps in a kind of dangerously woolly thinking and shifts the point of argument.

There are well respected academics whose heart goes to students who want to overthrow the elected government through armed struggle and do not accept the legitimacy of the Indian state. They even want to adopt them as their sons. Well, it is their choice of what kind of children they want. But I assume an average Indian would want to have a dialogue with the child who might have been misled into such an untenable ideological position. And please, don’t attack me for calling these revolutionary naujawaan students ‘children’, I am not doing that. All I am doing is referring to the overflow of parental love and pride in them expressed by respected academics. One wonders whether that implies considering them children though!

The JNU intellectual lobby is constantly and only engaging with the lunatic rightist fringe that abuses on the social media and attacks people in the courts. I do not claim that this fringe is not used by the ruling party, perhaps it is. Still I feel that they are insulting the Indian public by assuming that this lunatic fringe expresses the positions and worries on freedom of speech and nationalism of an average Indian. It is completely wrong. They have lost touch. I am assuming, again I might be wrong, that the kinds of questions and doubts an average Indian has in the mind are what I am expressing here. And the JNU intellectual lobby seem to have no response to these questions and doubts. Professor Chatterjee’s article is no different.


[1]Freedom of Speech in the University, EPW March12, 2016,  Vol L1 no 11.

A survey on freedom of speech

March 13, 2016

I am running a survey on Freedom of Speech here https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/W7VYJ9P .

This mixes up questions on religion and nationalism; and statements and slogans. The basic purpose is not to understand legal position but to understand how some of Indians active on internet think. This survey is not about what is the legal situation in the country, but what YOU AS AN INDIAN CITIZEN THINK.

Please complete it if you find interesting and/or useful.

If you don’t think it to be of any use you are free to state here BLUNTLY.

Those who are interested in the sources of these statements and slogans can see the references below:

Freedom of speech survey


Rohit Dhankar

Statements in books, pamphlets, seminars, public meetings:

He [Ganesha] cannot “compete with his father [Shiva], a notorious womaniser, either incestuously for his mother or for any other woman for that matter”.[1]

[Sita]: “That I’m an unfaithful wife and I’ve slept with Ravan.” “You didn’t do anything of the sort,” said Luxmun. He struck his knee and winced with pain. Sita said : “I did.”[2]

“In the months that followed, the staff of The Curtain warmed to the new task. The fifteen-year-old whore “Ayesha” was the most popular with the paying public, just as her namesake was with Mahound”[3]

“As long as Islam is there in this world, terrorism will be there. Until and unless we root out Islam from this world, terrorism cannot be eradicated.”[4]

“Prophet Muhammad was a homosexual and child molester.”[5]

Kamalesh Tiwati ne hamare Nabi ke sath badtamizi kii hai, yadi Uttar Pradesh Sarkar use saja nahin detii hai to uska sar kalam karne wale ko Bijnaur ke Musalman 51 lakh rupaye ka inam denge. [Kamalesh Tiwari has insulted our Prophet, if the UP government does not punish him, the Muslims of Bijnaur announce a prize of Rs.51 lakh for anyone who beheads him.][6]

“Any person who slaps Aamir Khan will be rewarded Rs 1 lakh by the Shiv Sena. This is important because no one living in our country should dare to say anything against India… Anyone from the hotel staff or the film crew can slap him and take the reward,”[7]

Slogans in public meetings (all from JNU programme on 9th Feb 2016):

  • “कश्मीर के नौजवान संघर्ष करो, हम तुम्हारे साथ हैं” [Youth of Kashmir, struggle; we are with you.]
  • “कितने अफज़ल मरोगे? घर-घर से अफज़ल निकलेगा” [Hogmanay Afzals will you kill? An Afzal will come out of every home.]
  • “कश्मीर मांगे, आज़ादी” [Kashmir demands freedom]
  • “पाकिस्तान, जिंदाबाद, जिंदाबाद” [Long live Pakistan]
  • “Right to self-determination, long live, long live”
  • “अफज़ल कि हत्या नहीं सहेंगे, नहीं सहेंगे” [We will not tolerate Afzal’s murder]
  • “अफज़ल हम शर्मिन्दा हैं, तेरे कातिल जिन्दा हैं”. [Afzal we are ashamed, your murderers are still alive.]
  • “कश्मीर कि आज़ादी तक”, “जंग रहेगी, जंग रहेगी” [Till the freedom of Kashmir, there shall be war.]
  • “भारत की बर्बादी तक”, “जंग रहेगी, जंग रहेगी” [Till the destruction of India there shall be war.]
  • “JNU के जयचंदों को, होश में लाओ” [Bring Jayachadas of JNU to their senses]
  • “देशद्रोहियों को, निष्काषित करो” [Expel the enemies of the nation.]


[1] Scenes and characteristics of Hindostan, p. 177. Oxford University Press, New York, 1985. (As quoted by Ashok Vohra, in a paper read in Udaipur.)

[2] The Ramayana as told by Aubrey Menen, page 243 of pdf version, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1954.

[3] The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie, page 402 in the pdf version I am using. Available at https://archive.org/details/TheSatanicVerses

[4] Anantkumar Hegde, BJP MP for Uttara Kannada, The Hindu 2nd March 2016.

[5] Kamlesh Tiwari, as reported The Times of India, City-Meerut, 4th December 2015.

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1e9L6BAYc4Q (Video)

[7] Punjab Shiv Sena chief Rajeev Tandon, as reported in Hindustan Times, 26th November 2015


Perils of obsession with politics

December 20, 2015

Rohit Dhankar

[There have been many controversies regarding curbing freedom of speech recently. Four of them are used here as examples: Aamir Khan’s statement on intolerance, Professor Vohra’s quotations from a European scholar, cartoon in Lokmat in which “Muhammad is messenger of Allah” written on a piggy-bank, and Kamalesh Tiwari’s calling Muhammad a homosexual and rapist. And a question is raised: why have we responded to them differently? How far that differential response is justified? The blame is placed at the door of a mistaken theory of relationship between politics on one side and knowledge and morality on the other.]

Knowledge and morality are socio-politically determined, goes the theory. The term is “determined” and not constructed or influenced. If it were only “constructed” it would mean formulated in interaction with others and in a given political environment. If it were “influenced” it would mean shaped up to a certain extent by social and political consideration. Both would leave some space and hope for some more objective criteria for calling something ‘knowledge’ and accepting a moral principle. But it is “determined”, that means there is nothing beyond political considerations and there is no hope for objectivity.

Politics, as we all know, is concerned with power and self-interest of individuals and groups. Power is, to put as mildly as possible, capability to influence others’ against their will and against their own interests. And interest, in this theory, as we all know are determined by our material conditions; again ‘determined’ not only shaped and influenced.

Of course, this is a simplification of a particular theory about human ways of thinking and behaving. But I hope this captures the core. Let’s see how we Indians use this theory with regard to freedom of speech guaranteed by our constitution. I will consider four cases to understand how this theory operates in the Indian intellectual mind.

Legal position on freedom of speech

Before we get to our examples, a cursory understanding of the legal position on freedom of speech would be necessary. I am saying “cursory understanding” because I am not a lawyer, just an ordinary citizen making sense of some articles in the Constitution of India and Indian Penal Code.

The constitution of India guarantees freedom of speech. In Article 19(1) it states: “All citizens shall have the right—(a) to freedom of speech and expression; …”. And then by the way of clarification defines limits to this freedom in clause 19(2): “Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.”

So the right to freedom of speech has limits. The state can impose those limits through making laws to safeguard certain things, “public order” included in them. And existing laws, including Indian Penal Code (IPC), can also put limits to this freedom.

Paraphrased for the current purpose Article 153 of IPC reads “153. Wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot—if rioting be committed—if not committed — Whoever malignantly, or wantonly, by doing anything which is illegal, gives provocation to any person intending or knowing it to be likely that such provocation will cause the offence of rioting to be committed, shall, if the offence of rioting be committed in consequence of such provocation, be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both; and if the offence of rioting be not committed, with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.”

This is regarding provocation for rioting “malignantly” and “wantonly” by doing something “illegal”, whether the riot is actually caused or not, such provocation remains an offence punishable by the law. The terms “malignantly”, “wantonly”, “with intent” and “provocation” are not difficult to understand; but may not be easy to establish. With the judicial and law-enforcing machinery like ours this difficulty in establishing is more likely to go against the accused than being used in his/her favour.

“Provocation” has a very serious added difficulty, it places the citizen legitimately exercising her freedom of speech in at the mercy of an unknown citizen who may get ‘provoked’ unduly, which seems to be the case in many instances in the current mood of the country.

The Article 153A creates further difficulties for someone who wants a free-spirited public debate. Here I am focusing on freedom of speech in concern with religious matters, therefore am quilting only the relevant part of the article. “153A. Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, … and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony —(1) Whoever—(a) by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, … or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, … groups …, or (b) commits any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, …, and which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquillity, … shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.”

Now I will not argue that this leaves very little of the right of freedom of speech guaranteed by the constitution in Article 19, because it is quite obvious. I would rather examine how we Indians (particularly the ‘intellectual’ variety) react to attacks on freedom of speech; be the attack from the state or the politicians or the common public. In this I will take four recent incidents and public response to them. The incidents I am using are (1) Aamir Kha’s views on intolerance, (2) Professor Vohra’s speech in a seminar, (3) the piggy-bank cartoon, and (3) Kamalesh Tiwari’s pamphlet (?) on Muhammad.

The Aamir Khan episode

Aamir Khan in a very balanced and sane interview highlighted certain things which worry him. The most repeated part of what Aamir Khan said is: “I do feel there is a sense of insecurity. When I sit at home and talk to Kiran. (Wife) Kiran and I have lived all our lives in India. For the first time, she said, should we move out of India? That’s a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make to me. She fears for her child. She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers every day. That does indicate that there is a sense of growing disquiet… growing sense of despondency. You feel depressed, you feel low.. why is it happening? This feeling exists in me too.”

Let’s note a few things in this:

  • He said nothing about any particular community, religious or otherwise. He was talking about general atmosphere in the country.
  • In the given atmosphere and recent controversies it was easy to come to the conclusion that the intolerance referred to was from a section of Hindu community (usually called ‘Hindutva’ section) and the BJP.
  • He might be wrong in his assessment of the situation, he might even be pretending, but he was well within his right of freedom of speech.

Let’s also note the reaction against his statements:

  • There was no reaction or threat of prosecution from any government.
  • There was some condemnation from the official spokesperson f BJP, but well within the sane limits of expressing one’s views, be they right or wrong.
  • There were usual rubble rousing and highly provocative statement from some minor BJP politicians. Within the limits of law (as far as I could see) but morally depraved.
  • There was a strong and sometimes offensive attack and trolling on social media.

The response from the vocal, intelligent and liberal India:

  • Strong counter attack on social media, sometimes almost as offensive as the opponent group. With equal kind of trolling.
  • Many articles in the media written by intellectuals which came in defence of Aamir Khan and condemned the people attacking him. Rightly so.
  • Accusations on the government despite of the government doing nothing against Aamir Khan.

The strange case of Professor Vohra

Professor Vohra, a well-respected academic and retired professor of philosophy from a highly regarded university was speaking in a seminar held by another university on inter-faith dialogue. In an academic paper he was trying to explore how to interpret faith from in-side and out-side which can be objective and more conducive dialogue. In this process within the well-respected Indian (actually world over) tradition of debate he quoted some foreign scholars as examples of how NOT to interpret Hinduism and defended Hinduism against their, in his view, unreasonable interpretation.

Professor Vohra quoted some interpretations of Hindu gods and rituals by outsiders at length. I am taking one of them, though at length, to my mind most erroneous: “Let me now take up the specific cases of those of our contemporary ‘others’ who have used ‘particularly Eurocentric categories to analyse Hindu religion and folklore’. The first that comes to mind is the description of Lord Ganesha by Paul Courtright. In his book Ganesha Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings[i]  he begins with the elephant’s head of Ganesha for his analysis. He says, “from a psychoanalytical perspective, there is meaning in the selection of the elephant head. Its trunk is the displaced phallus, a caricature of Shiva’s linga. It poses no threat because it is too large, flaccid and in the wrong place to be useful for sexual purpose.  . . . The elephant’s head is also a mask, and, as it is a mask’s purpose simultaneously to reveal and to conceal, it both disguises and expresses aggression inherent in the story. So Ganesha takes on the attributes of his father but in an inverted form, with an exaggerated phallus – ascetic and benign – whereas Shiva’s is ‘hard’ (urdhavalinga), erotic and destructive”[ii].

The cause of Ganesha’s celibacy is traced for opposite reasons to both his father and mother. He cannot “compete with his father, a notorious womaniser, either incestuously for his mother or for any other woman for that matter”[iii]. That Ganesha is an incestuous son is traced to the following anecdote: “Once Parvati asked Ganesha whom he would like to marry; he replied, ‘Someone exactly like you, Mummy’. And Mummy got outraged by such an openly incestuous wish and cursed him with everlasting celibacy”[iv].

Let me remind that these are not Professor Vohra’s views, he is quoting others with references from published and available books. His own views are as follows: Such a partial, biased, superficial approach can be called nothing else but unethical, misleading and highly irresponsible. It is because of such uninformed explanations by the others, the outsiders that the insider is hurt. Such explanations cannot be said to be either objective or scientific as they are based on a one sided vision of the observer and do not take into account the totality of the concerned lived life.”

The reaction against Professor Vohra:

  • ABVP started a strong protest.
  • Some academics including two VCs considered this very objectionable.
  • The Rajasthan Government (through one of it’s Ministers) ordered an FIR against Professor Vohra, which I underside duly filed.
  • There seems to be a talk of presentations in seminars organised by universities in Rajasthan to be submitted in written beforehand.

The response from the vocal, intelligent and liberal India:

  • So far have seen only a few articles written in favour of Professor Vohra’s academic freedom and his right to freedom of speech.
  • Social media revolutionaries completely ignored it.
  • National press took some note, but then forgot it.

The piggy bank

There was an article in Marathi paper Lokmat on ISIS funding. In which the declaration that “Muhammad is the messenger of Allah” is written on the nose of piggy-bank in Arabic. This same claim figures on the flag of ISIS and that is why the artist used it to indicate ISIS funding in the cartoon.

As a result there were protests from Muslims in several cities of Maharashtra and some vandalism as well. The Lokmat has to render an unconditional apology. And perhaps some action against the artist is also taken, but I am not sure of this.

The social media and intellectual variety of Indians completely ignored the episode. It did not concern them much.

The unknown case of Kamalesh Tiwari

Dianik Bhaskar on 30th November 2015 published a news item, some parts of it are as follows (my translation): “In response to Azam Khan Hindu Mahasabha has declared Pagambar Muhammad as gay. They have claimed that Muhammad sahab was the first homosexual in the world.”


“Hindu Mahasabha has issues a statement through a press note. They have said that Muhammad sahab was not only homosexual he was also a rapist. He was also a terrorist. The karyakari adhyaksha of Hindu Mahasabha Kamalesh Tiwari has said that Muhammad sahab had intimate relations with his friend Abu Bakr, because of that Abu Bakr’s 9 year old daughter became a rape victim.”

This statement from Tiwari came after Azam Khan said that RSS leaders are gay, that is why they do not marry. Some say that Tiwari is working president of local unit of Hindu Mahasabha. The national vice-president of Hindu Mahasabha denies this claim.

It seems from the Hindi press that Kamalesh Tiwari is arrested for this statement. There are several protests from Muslim community that demand capital punishment to Tiwari for blasphemy. There are also protest marches from some Hindus demanding release of him.

The social media and intellectuals have largely ignored the issue.

Politics as determining criteria

I have no intention of communicating that Aamir Khan, Professor Vohra, Piggy-bank and Kamalesh Tiwari cases are at the same level in their claims, their social implications and their intellectual content. Aamir is expressing his concerns on an issue of national importance in a very balanced manner. Professor Vohra is analysing in the best academic tradition how religious dialogue should be conducted and how not. The Lokmat was perfectly within its rights in publication of the article and the cartoon. Kamalesh Tiwari is trading insult for insult, with intention of communicating tit-for-tat. But as far as state of freedom of speech in the country goes all four cases merit attention and comment.

So why have the intellections responded differently in these cases? The legal provision leave no doubt that all but Tiwari were clearly within the bounds of the law. There could be some doubt about Tiwari but if we want to protect freedom of speech then we also have to recognise that response to what Tiwari said should have been in the form of counter argument, and not arrest.

It seems that politics as the ultimate measure of truth and acceptable behaviours is the only explanation.

Supporting Aamir Khan against the so-called Hindutva forced fits with the narrative of resisting intolerance; therefore, full support to him and a lot of noise. That noise provides opportunity to push the political agenda.

Professor Vohra’s case actually deserves support more than Aamir’s if one looks at the attack on academic freedom and its possible disastrous results. But professor Vohra may not be on the right side of the politics and then he is defending Hinduism; which is politically incorrect. Therefore, very little reaction to his harassment by the government.

In the case of piggy-bank cartoon the matter is even more serious: a newspaper had to tender apology for doing what it ought to be doing. There was intolerant reaction from the mobs, and vandalism. But no reaction from the intellectual India. Why? The politics of the moment cannot accept fair principles; application of the right to free speech has to be calibrated to suit the politics. If the right is exercised in a manner that Muslim sentiment is heart, it is incorrect use of the right; because the best democracy is that which safe-guard the rights of its minority. But if it is exercised in a manner where the majority Hindu community objects then they are being intolerant; and the right needs to be protected; because if one does not resist that there is a grave danger of majoritarianism.

The Tiwari case is as intentional and deliberate as organising public beef (cow meet, not buffalo variety) festivals. The supposed to be Hindu hurt feelings because of such festivals can be as genuine or fake as hurt feeling to Muslims due to calling Muhammad a homosexual and rapist. However, in India we will allow beef festivals but not a derogatory statement about Muhammad. Again the political determination of truth and acceptable behaviour in play.

The problem I want to raise through these examples is: can we do away with subjective biases and double standards if we accept the theory roughly articulate in the beginning of this article? I don’t think so. To stem intolerance and to protect freedom of speech we need a better and more objective set of criteria than politics can provide us with. I have a suspicion (though am not sure) that the real reason behind the seeming double standards in our intellectual world is neither hypocrisy nor dishonesty as some unfairly accuse. The real reason is the theory of political determination of knowledge and morality. We need to examine it more closely. This theory obliterates difference between knowledge and belief, and undermines independent critical thinking. In the absence of some reasonably defendable criteria the authority of some people becomes all important; and that encourages bhed-chaal, mindless following of the flock. That is precisely what we seem to be doing.


[i] Oxford University Press, New York, 1985.

[ii] Ibid., p. 121.

[iii] Ibid., p. 110.

[iv] Ibid.