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Constitutional right to dissent: Civil society steps up pressure, as "absconding" JNU student leader reappears

Khalid Umar
By Our Representative
Civil society has sharply stepped up its campaign on the “constitutional right to dissent” amidst Umar Khalid, 28-year-old PhD student of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) reappearing on the campus along with his colleagues Anirban Bhattacharya, Rama Naga, Ashutosh Kumar and Anant Prakash.
More than 200 senior civil society activists have joined India's senior academics in writing a letter to the President of India expressing their “shock and concern” at the alarming increase in reports from several academic institutions in India of high-handed behaviour on the part of the authorities against dissent (click HERE for the letter and list of signatories).
The National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), the apex body of large number of mass organizations, has declared that it would join left-wing political parties to hold a massive rally on February 24 at Parliament Street on the "constitutional right to protest, in which “thousands of farmers, workers, fisher folks, and adivasis with participate.
Khalid appearing on the campus, declared was “not a terrorist”, even as Delhi Police waited outside the campus to nab him for charges of sedition. He told a gathering on the campus, efforts were being made to call him a Jaish-e-Mohamed activist, with false stories floating around that he had been to Pakistan twice, that he was a mastermind, and that he had made calls to Gulf and to Kashmir.
Referring to the harassment meted out to his sisters and father, he said, “For the last six years in the JNU campus I never thought myself as a Muslim. The first time I felt like a Muslim was in the last 10 days.”
The letter to the President said the harassment of students on “frivolous and baseless charges” was “shocking”, adding, “We fail to understand why and how organising and debating to protest/ commemorate certain events in the troubled history of Kashmir any matter should become an act of sedition.”
Condemning the police action, the letter underlined, “We would also like to draw your attention to the rapidly growing tendency of cynically defining ‘anti-nationalism’ for sectarian ulterior motives in order to further terrorise people through self-appointed vigilante groups.”
“Any serious academic institution will fail in its endeavour to nurture informed citizenship if it is not a place for dialogue, debate and dissent”, the letter said.
The letter quotes the Report of the Education Commission (Kothari Commission) of mid-1960s, which said, universities are the “dwelling places of ideas and idealism” and theirs “is the pursuit of truth and excellence in all its diversity – a pursuit which needs, above all, courage and fearlessness.”
The commission had further noted, “Great universities and timid people go ill together. . . universities are pre- eminently the forum for critical assessment of society – sympathetic, objective, unafraid…”
The letter warned, “An atmosphere of fear and distrust will only teach the young to be timid and subservient, not the best qualities to cultivate democracy and create proactively thinking and questioning citizens of the future.”
Those in the civil society who are likely to join the rally in Delhi on February 24 include, apart from NAPM, are Bhumi Adhikar Andolan, which has been fighting against the efforts by the government to come up with pro-industry amendments in the Land Acquisition Act, the All India Union of Forest Working People, the All India Agricultural Workers Union, and CPI-M’s farmers’ wing All-India Kisan Sabha.

Comments

Anonymous said…
All this reminds me of Nazi Germany.
Anonymous said…
All this reminds me of Nazi Germany.

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