July 23, 2017

Lest they be called anti-national | Smita Gupta

The Hindu

Lest they be called anti-national

July 12, 2017 00:02 IST
Youth Congress activists hold placard and raise slogans during a protest to condemn the militant attack on a bus in which seven Amarnath pilgrims were killed and 19 others injured, in New Delhi on Tuesday.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Protesters have to double down on patriotism in these times of vigilantism

On July 7, the lobby of Delhi’s Constitution Club was crawling with armed policemen. Inside, in a T-shaped hall, the recently formed National Campaign Against Mob Lynching (NCAML) was due to release the draft of a proposed law, MASUKA, or the Manav Suraksha Kanoon (a law to protect human beings). Activists, journalists and concerned citizens milled around, waiting for the chief guest, Prakash Ambedkar, to arrive.

Ticking all boxes

Within minutes of Mr. Ambedkar’s arrival, the electronic screen behind him that till now was displaying the #StopMobLynching logo faded out. In its place appeared a tribute to Indian soldiers who guard the snowy heights of Siachen. Then, in the second surprise of the day, one of the organisers requested the audience to stand up for a rendering of the national anthem.
The NCAML was born in the wake of government indifference to the recent spate of mob lynchings across the country. Young people as different as Pune businessman Tehseen Poonawalla, Jawaharlal Nehru University students Kanhaiya Kumar and Shehla Rashid, Gujarat’s new Dalit youth leader Jignesh Mewani and actor Swara Bhaskar came together to confront the ugly phenomenon of mob lynching. Overcoming the diversity of their social and economic backgrounds, and differences in political outlook, they asked a team of experts to draft a new law whose passage they now hope the government will ensure in Parliament.
As I sat listening to the young voices speaking their parts fluently and convincingly, interspersed with video bites of colleagues who weren’t able to make it to the event, I kept asking myself: what’s the connection between our soldiers at Siachen, the national anthem and mob lynchings?
And then it all became clear: since any protest these days against the government, or any act that appears to be a criticism of its shortcomings, is likely to be construed as anti-national, maybe even an act of sedition, the NCAML team had decided that before it became the target of the prevailing vigilante culture, it needed to tick at least two boxes — “I love and honour our brave soldiers” and “I am patriotic, I stand up for the national anthem” — before it embarked on dealing with mob lynching.
Indeed, when the NCAML campaigners came in that day to hold their press conference, the first question posed to them by the policemen on duty was: had they come to remember Burhan Wani, the Hizbul Mujahideen commander who was killed in an encounter in the Kashmir Valley with Indian security forces a year back on July 8, 2016?
Clearly, the NCAML knows what it is doing, but that such precautions have to be taken is a tragic comment on our times.