17 February 2016

Open Letter to Prof Parnal Chirmuley

This open letter is in response to the opinion voiced by Prof Chirmuley in this article

(The words in blue are from the original article with those in black, response to them)

Dear Mr Parnal Chirmuley,

You are the Associate Professor, Centre of German Studies, School of Language, Literature, and Culture Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. By this very designation, you are supposed to be moulding young, impressionable minds about what's right and wrong. However, having read through your entire opinion piece, I find myself, as a tax payer, ashamed that my tax money goes to pay salaries of the likes of you as well as subsidise the education of the students whose lives you obviously are spoiling. This open letter is therefore aimed at highlighting the dangers of your thought process, not for you, of course, not for me, never, but for something I hold dearly and close to my heart (and wish you too did). My motherland, Bharat Mata (There, I just got labelled as a Sanghi bhakt, didn't I? Never mind. Am happy to be called so).

Here is yet another ‘half baked’ piece by an academic you might be tempted to call an anti-national, simply on account of institutional affiliation. This is how Arnab Goswami described the entire spectrum of serious, sober, well informed, nuanced, if anguished engagement by the academia with the present moment of crisis unfolding at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, where student leaders are being arrested, picked up for interrogation, intimidated, as though they were dangerous criminals, because a few ‘anti-national’ slogans were heard on the campus.

If you felt what was happening in the institution you represent was wrong, what have you done about it, Sir? If Arnab Goswami (or any one else, for that matter) described the entire sequence of events which unfolded in the JNU as anti-national and amounting to sedition, I don't see anything wrong in it. What exactly is a “few 'anti-national' slogans”? Like “Down Down, India” and run away? Or softly whispering “India is to be broken into pieces”? By not reacting and opposing it, are you also not party to the act? Did you bother to inform concerned authorities to take requisite action against those “few” when it happened? Collusion to illegal acts is also illegal (that, sir, is the law, not my opinion, by the way). Let me also enlighten you, sir, since you seem to be blissfully aware that the few slogans included “breaking India into pieces, Pakistan Zindabad and Azaadi for Kashmir”, all of which are seditious, and that's putting it mildly.

We are all used to media trials now. Those of us watching things from the ‘inside’, as it were, are watching the disturbing repercussions and consequences of this trial. The social media are awash with calls baying for the blood of innocent students, calling for a shutdown of the country’s most prestigious university, ranked as the best by the State’s own ranking mechanisms. Many are given to an outright dismissal of the news media, but most recognise its vital importance in sustaining a democracy. That is also why there is great alarm at journalism that is not only irresponsible, but an instance of criminal intimidation, using hate speech to incite violence against those who voice their opinions and stand by a progressive politics.

When you say you are used to media trials, you seem to forget that our own beloved (oops my own beloved) Prime Minister has been the biggest victim of media vilification. There was not one single day when 2002 did not flash on my TV screen on at least one of the news channels as if 2002 riots was the only event that happened in India since Independence (and by the way, including Times Now too). Where were you then? Where were the calls for “sustaining democracy”? Why didn't you react against this “criminal intimidation” as you love to call it? While the Congress and other parties hostile to BJP were using hate speech to incite hated, why did you remain silent? That Mr Modi not only lived through it, but also went on to prove to each of those hostile news channels how wrong they were and how people of India knew better is a different story. 282 seats for the BJP itself and 300+ seats for the NDA was as decisive as it could possibly be, in the opinion of voters. Obviously, as a secular JNU professor, this has been the biggest upsetting factor for you. You hoped against hope till May 2014 that opinion polls were wrong and Congress-led UPA would somehow be back in power. Your upset at it not happening is resulting in this outpouring.

Arnab Goswami of Times Now is on the front lines of this parallel war against nuanced thought, against honesty, against intellectual freedom, and against truth. Over the past week since ‘news broke’ (yes, the truth is shattered to pieces when presented by Him), he has used a range of careful strategies to achieve the end of the demonization of public education. It is easy to see these if you put aside the sick froth of vitriol.

First, he asks the wrong questions, deliberately, to mislead the audience. Here is an example: ‘Why did Kanhaiya not try to stop those slogans???’. Absolutely everyone in their right mind knows that the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) did not organize this program, that Kanhaiya Kumar and other JNUSU members went there in their capacity as elected representatives to alleviate the confrontational situation created by the right wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). Kanhaiya’s speech is ample testimony to this fact. Arnab does not ask why the law on sedition (124[A]) is inapplicable, and what can be done to stem this travesty of justice.

Who gave you the absolute right to determine what's right and wrong kind of questions? You would prefer that Mr Goswami question why JNU was being attacked for expressing their opinions when those opinions were merely supporting a convicted (and executed) criminal? Of course, you would. Since when did nationalism mean anything to the Left leaning people anyway? If my memory serves me right, the Left parties were in the forefront supporting China against India in 1962 war. Maybe, that is your concept of “free speech”, but, am sorry, sir, it is not mine.

What exactly do you mean by “everyone in their right mind”? Again your opinion of right? If Kanhaiya Kumar went to alleviate the situation created (as you put it, by the “right wing ABVP”, why didn't he utter one word against the open anti-national speeches that were on display in the campus? Am sure you too would have been aware of the event being planned and could have asked you what your contribution was to try and prevent the open adulation of an anti-national terror perpetrator but I will give you the benefit of doubt here, sir.

He uses specific terms repeatedly, ad nauseam: ‘Anti-national’, ‘secessionist’, ‘unpatriotic’ are urgent favourites. In fact, exactly a year ago, when he did the same to civil rights activists protesting the harassment of Priya Pillai of Greenpeace, there was an open letter signed by prominent feminists, lawyers, and civil liberties activists pointing out that this was hate speech, that this was incitement to violence against those who expressed their views. They rightly pointed out that in the current political atmosphere, such figures are subjected to hate crimes, and are even killed. What he does is not to simply wipe out the possibility of nuance in a discussion, but rather use every weapon – be it language, gesture, or decibel – to brand people in order to feed into the imaginations of fear and anger among the viewers. It is always people from minority communities, civil rights activists, prominent voices from women’s and people’s movements, everyone from the Left that are subject to this vitriol. He has never levelled these accusations against the organization whose very emblem (the Khaki Shorts) is said to be an import from Italian fascism. Interesting, isn’t it?

Since you quote Ms Priya Pillai of Greenpeace as an example, let me remind you, sir, that Ms Pillai was intent on going to a foreign nation in an attempt to defame my country. If Ms Pillai had protested in India itself, I would have supported her right to freedom of speech and expression. However, when the aim is becomes only to paint my nation black outside the country, especially when India has been desperately looking for foreign investments to boost development, and the move is likely to affect the investment climate, I would definitely term it as anti-national. Greenpeace, incidentally, was also under the government scanner for illegal foreign funding and not following the laws of the land. That, even if not related, does tend to indicate the slant of the organisation and its members. When you talk about minority communities, you conveniently chose to ignore the fact that in no other nation is the minority community safer than in India. I would request you to refute it with facts, if you can, and I will accept it gracefully. About the Left activists, I have already told you about their stand vis-a-vis nationalism. Equating khakhi shorts with Italian (deliberate?) fascism is laughable and I will deign to comment on something you typed out merely out of frustration.

He uses coercion and intimidation through the means of right wing members on his panel. On Monday night, the only time He was quiet on the show was when Sambit Patra of the BJP shouted at Shabnam Lone, Saba Naqvi, and Waris Pathan and challenged the three to chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai after him. This is extremely dangerous intimidation. And he does this on absolutely every show.

Asking Indians to chant “Bharat Mata ki Jai” is intimidation? Seriously, sir? I don't even have feel the need to comment here! Unless of course, Shabnam Lone, Saba Naqvi and Waris Pathan are not Indians.... unless.....

One other strategy is suggestion: he ‘suggests’ through the apparently casual use of words such as ‘infiltrator’ as he did on the same show, that JNU is not a university, but a space that harbours ‘infiltrators’ from across the border. A baseless, yet devastating allegation. With serious consequences.

As fresh inputs from IB reveal, there have been infiltrators from across the border. One of your dear students, Umar Khalid, has also been identified as having visited Pakistan and having links with the dreaded terror organisation Jaish-e-Mohammed. The IB has also indicated that outsiders frequent the hostels of the JNU and even stay there for lengths, unauthorised. If I were in a position of responsibility in any such university, I would either be angry or upset. You seem upset at having been caught out.

What are these consequences, and are they limited to a few students? No. We have seen that the Delhi Police has begun picking up young people for ‘looking like JNU students’. A woman journalist covering the court proceedings at Patiala House was asked if she is a JNU student, and was told that they would ‘break her phone, and break her bones’. Faculty members present there with legal representation for Kanhaiya Kumar, both women and men, were roughed up and beaten by men dressed as lawyers. A CPI activist was brutally beaten up by BJP MLA O. P. Sharma who was present there.

If indeed men “dressed as lawyers” were present in court, that is illegal and I would whole-heartedly support you in opposing their actions. However, the version I heard was completely different, about how Kanhaiya wanted to incite violence even in the court premises and how the lawyers opposed it in their own way. Well, you are entitled to your opinion on this.

But between Monday and Tuesday, the tide has turned. A journalist was beaten right inside the courtroom, with the police watching. On Tuesday, journalists marched together in protest against the violence unleashed against the Fourth Estate. Lawyers came forth and categorically condemned the condemnable.

We must remind ourselves that journalists are also amongst the bravest, ferreting out the truth at great risk to themselves, from the State, from warlords, from disease, bearing a deep commitment to the voice of the oppressed and the dispossessed. Why go as far as Ken Saro-Wiwa - there are examples closer home. Take note, nationalist Arnab. In 1886-7, Dwarkanath Ganguly set newspapers alight with his expose on the ‘Slave Trade in Assam’ that laid bare the indentured ‘coolie’ system in Assam, that continued even after the abolition of slavery in British dominions. Ganguly went to great lengths, undertook arduous journeys, took great risks to expose this dark history. So much so that this was taken up as an important issue in the nationalist movement. He showed integrity and great bravery, lauded in the history of journalism, that resulted in real change for oppressed people. Arnab is a traitor to that tradition.

The tide has indeed turned with journalists coming on to the streets, except that something similar was prominent by its absence when one of their own was brutally killed just a few days ago. Oh, that happened under a secular government in Uttar Pradesh. My bad, sir. This support against the Modi government is obviously justified. I fully endorse your statement that “journalists are the bravest, ferreting out truth....”. Unfortunately, we no longer have journalists in India. Instead, barring a few, they all have been replaced by news-traders (easier and more apt term would be Presstitutes) who sell their soul to the highest bidder. News as produced by them and shown ad-nausea on channels and printed in newspapers are no longer fit to be called news. Instead, they have degenerated to opinions, something akin to what you have published today, sir. Reporting no longer is honourable and I don't hold a torch for Arnab either. However, you chose to tarnish just one individual here. Just because he refused to subscribe to your opinions on what reality is/was? That's being judgemental, sir.

This needs saying: not only is this form of journalism doing a disservice to society in spreading lies and misinformation, it is taking on the role of fascist propaganda machines that single out individuals for intimidation, coercion, and at times elimination. Do not forget Narendra Dabholkar, M. M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare. As I write this, we have information that faces of students have appeared on posters put up in parts of this city, urging the public to lynch them. In doing what Arnab does, he is guilty of incitement to violence against an entire academic community, the very foundation of a young nation. Who, I might ask, is anti-national in this case? And a society that targets its young minds is teetering on the brink of fascism. For this, I will lay the blame at the feet of the likes of Arnab Goswami.

Finally, we both seem to have got something to agree upon. Journalism is now restricted to spreading misinformation. I too said the same in the last paragraph. If faces of students have appeared on posters, it is condemnable but why blame Arnab for the same? When face of Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon were put up prominently in your “esteemed” University campus, did you protest against it? Instead of blaming Arnab, thank him for opening eyes of those students who have still not been brainwashed into supporting terror perpertators in the name of free speech. Thank him for preventing more Afzals and Yakubs being born. By the way, Malda too happened to be in India and your knights in shining armour made their reporting prominent by lack of it. Outrage? No, Malda was secular violence!

I am sure no parent sends their children to learn to be anti-national. And, as a professor there, you would be the one accountable, if one of the alumni was found indulging in seditious activities. Would you be able to bring yourself face to face with his/her parents when they question your involvement in preventing such occurrences? I, sir, would lay the blame at the feet of everyone, every professor, every teacher and every citizen, who did not raise his voice against what happened in JNU (and now in Jadavpur University too). If not directly by act of commission, you are indirectly responsible for it by the very act of omission. Think over it.

Your sincerely,
One concerned Indian