In this ballyhoo and hullabaloo, we all seem to have lost our balance and forgotten that we are alluding to a girl who is just 20! What Gurmehar Kaur stated was at best immature and at worst very naive. There certainly was a case for her older well-wishers to have counselled her in private. But did she really deserve the vilification that came her way! Bear in mind that she is only 20 and should not have been taken that seriously. There is no doubt that some political formations did try to make a political capital out of her; but they always do! The questions that we have to ask ourselves is whether what she stated constitutes an insult to our very professional and brave armed forces, whether what she stated could constitute sedition, and whether her rantings could be construed as within the legitimate parameters of freedom of expression, which is a sine qua non in a democratic set up. Ashoka points out that the suggestion that what she stated was seditious is not just absurd but deeply mischievous. The Supreme Court in a number of judgements has averred that sedition cannot be inferred unless there is a call to violence even if a call to secession is made. Here’s his opinion piece, exclusively for Different Truths.
A demure 20-year-old student, Gurmehar Kaur, who had lost her father in the Indo-Pak conflict 18 years ago came out with a post in the social media that was suggestive of a Pacifist mind-set. Little could she have realised the nightmare escalation, which continues to have reverberations. Hardly a day goes by when one or the other of the popular television channels does not put it up for voluble discussions, which inevitably becomes bad tempered and loses focus. The social media is even more vituperative towards this youngster barely out of her teens.
Many have taken the position that her position as adumbrated in her post in the context of routine transgressions by the Pakistani state apparatus, which had led to an unacceptably high number of military casualties is an affront to the memory of our jawans. There have been others, who have ascribed political motives to her. The most hurtful for her I suspect would have been the posts that have suggested that she had besmirched the memory of her late father, a martyr. Even a governmental minister made this excruciatingly cheap and unworthy remark. There was another Member of Parliament, who went on to equate her with a dreaded international gangster; a more insensitive remark would be hard to imagine but then we have now learned to accept that our politicians can only display cheap and semi-literate traits devoid of any decorum or decency. There have been huge rallies both in her favour as well as against her.
In this ballyhoo and hullabaloo, we all seem to have lost our balance and forgotten that we are alluding to a girl who is just 20! We have all been through that stage and I do not know of others but I can vouch that I did hold certain views at the time, which would be deeply embarrassing to me today!
In my view, what she stated was at best immature and at w orst very naive. There certainly was a case for her older well-wishers to have counselled her in private. But did she really deserve the vilification that came her way! Bear in mind that she is only 20 and should not have been taken that seriously. There is no doubt that some political formations did try to make a political capital out of her; but they always do! I very strongly believe that the rantings from some of our politicians are far more offensive and dangerous but they are almost never acted upon. Azam Khan questioned India’s claim to Kashmir and he remains a minister on this date. A buffoonish minister suggested that those who did not vote for his party were closet Pakistanis. I do not recall such a sustained onslaught on them as I witness against this girl.
The questions that we have to ask ourselves is whether what she stated constitute s an insult to our very professional and brave armed forces, whether what she stated could constitute sedition, and whether her rantings could be construed as within the legitimate parameters of freedom of expression, which is a sine qua non in a democratic set up.
Before I commence to unravel these conundrums, I think it would be important for me to state my own position. I am an ardent and a proud Indian and my commitment to the Constitution is absolute. For those who have been familiar with my antecedents, my filiation towards this sacred document has strong personal reasons as well. I believe the Constitution imbibes the Indian state with certain values that define it – and it to these values that owe my total allegiance to. I have never been a believer in the George Bernard Shaw doctrine that defines patriotism as a state of mind which makes us believe that our country is superior to all others just because we were born in it! Indian state is what it is because of the values it represents that are etched in the Constitution! And I firmly believe those entitle us to entertain justifiable pride. In other words, my pride in my country and what it represents is not a knee jerk reaction but value based and thought through.
The suggestion that what she stated was seditious is not just absurd but deeply mischievous. The Supreme Court in a number of judgements has averred that sedition cannot be inferred unless there is a call to violence even if a call to secession is made. I was flabbergasted that a senior lawyer like Arun Jaitley overlooked this. The suggestion was so surreal that even to discuss it is superfluous even to discuss it. Plenty of army wives spoke on the issue and while they took umbrage to the remarks, none suggested that they constituted sedition. An iconic figure like Deepa Malik, also an army wife, spoke on the issue and took a very balanced position.
Let us also remember that perhaps the first person to call for division of independent India and separation of the South as Dravida Nadu was EV Ramaswami Naicker popularly known as Periyar. He was never tried for sedition. A few years before the independence, even Chakravarti Rajagopalachariar, a fierce patriot had called for a separate South India. While Periyar remained controversial, Rajaji was and shall always be one of the foremost historical icons.
I must admit that I experience a sense of bemusement amalgamated with outrage when I come across an Indian politician claiming to speak for our jawans. Nothing could be more patently hypocritical and I wonder why the Fourth Estate has not taken it upon itself to blast this cheap political mendacity.
I have had the good fortune of having worked in 11 countries both developed and developing and most of them have been functioning democracies. I have myself observed the respect and veneration that is extended to the armed forces in those democracies. Having served in the armed forces in regarded a badge of honour; and here I do not include the conscript armies as in Israel but 100% voluntary forces. Many who serve in the army for a few years later move on to other professions and their service record always holds them in good stead as it is seen as the most convincing evidence of readiness to serve the country and if necessary die for the values it seeks to uphold.
I have myself observed offspring of monarchs, presidents, prime ministers and senior leaders line up for military service with pride. Many of them have no hesitation serving as Privates. I recall when the Falklands War broke out, there was some suggestion that the Queen’s second son Prince Andrew, who was a serving naval pilot would not be sent. The Queen was absolutely adamant that he needed to be with his regiment right where the action was and that is the way it worked out. That is why military service is held in such a high esteem in those countries.
Can we really cross our hearts and say that this happens in India! I would stand corrected but I have not seen a senior Indian politician encouraging his/her offspring to serve in the armed forces. Our services are pathetically short in terms of human resources both at the commissioned as well as non-commissioned levels. Our borders are being subjected to attrition activity by inimical forces and casualties continue to mount up. But have we seen a single politician offspring at the borders! On the contrary every politician is continuously scheming to place offspring and kin in the only profession in India where they can de facto evade accountability and hoard unaccounted wealth within the shortest span – yes, in politics!
Politicians of all shades are always in the forefront claiming to speak for our jawans. But none is ready to demonstrate commitment to the motherland by asking their kin to serve in the armed forces and be at the forefront to fight for the country. Bal Thackeray always claimed to speak for his country and used the most unconstitutional measures to demonstrate that. I do not know whether he ever encouraged his sons to don the uniform and witness the action, which by his own admission troubled him so much. What prevented Sonia from encouraging Rahul to see the real action – or for that matter Mulayam or Laloo or Rajnath! The answer of course is very simple. The military discipline would not have agreed with these scions brought up in the lap of luxury.
I would always continue to regard the Indian politician’s stated concern for the services as odiously hypocritical and revolting unless they can see the merit of having their own kin expressing their readiness for supreme sacrifice. On a personal note, my ambition, while a student at the boarding school at Lucknow was to join the Air Force. NCC was compulsory in those days and I had opted for the Air Wing for over four years and participated in all its activities including aeromodelling and camps. I still recall the major disappointment when I was advised that my poor vision ruled me out of my stated ambition.
Paucity of discipline in our society has also made me a convert to being a firm supporter of National Service for at least two years. That is the only way we can bring our armed forces the prestige they richly deserve for the work they do.
Lastly, there is the vexatious issue of freedom of expression. Where does it end and where does it begin! Freedom of expression as I stated is a sine qua non in a democratic society. Its parameters however are still being worked out in most countries. There were heated debates in the last few days on where this freedom ends. Many senior lawyers including the very erudite Aryama Sundaram expressed their opinions and cited several rulings.
I was surprised, therefore, that the supposedly most landmark ruling on freedom of expression was not brought into the discussions. Texas versus Johnson was a ruling be the US Supreme Court that is frequently alluded to. The Court had to rule on whether burning of US flag was covered under the freedom of expression.
Justice Anthony Kennedy is in my reckoning the most respected judicial figure we have in the world today. His concurring note in this matter was:
For we are presented with a clear and simple statute to be judged against a pure command of the Constitution. The outcome can be laid at no door but ours. The hard fact is that sometimes we must make decisions we do not like. We make them because they are right, right in the sense that the law and the Constitution, as we see them, compel the result. And so great is our commitment to the process that, except in the rare case, we do not pause to express distaste for the result, perhaps for fear of undermining a valued principle that dictates the decision. This is one of those rare cases.
Though symbols often are what we ourselves make of them, the flag is constant in expressing beliefs Americans share, beliefs in law and peace and that freedom which sustains the human spirit. The case here today forces recognition of the costs to which those beliefs commit us. It is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt.
In other words, actions by others which may not just be offensive but positively revolting to us would have to be accepted as a price for living within a democratic setup as long as it is not violent.
Justice Kennedy a Reagan appointee was always regarded as a conservative. The judgement coming from him therefore is worth mulling over.
©Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad
Photos from the internet.
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Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad is a physician /psychiatrist holding doctorates in pharmacology, history and philosophy plus a higher doctorate. He is also a qualified barrister and geneticist. He is a regular columnist in several newspapers, has published over 100 books and has been described by the Cambridge News as the ‘most educationally qualified in the world’.