The past week has been full of turmoil in India. Tempers have been running high in the country over anti-India slogans in one of Indian’s most prestigious universities- Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). What has made the matters worse is that fake tweets, doctored videos are being used to discredit the institute and taken up as evidence. Certificates of nationalism are being handed out by irate mobs. The excessive use of force by the Govt. is another grave concern. But what has been most troubling is the reaction of many a queer people, who have joined the chorus of lynch mobs.
The government reaction to the JNU incident is deeply troubling. I won’t delve into who chanted anti-India slogans, and whether it constitutes sedition, as enough columns have been already devoted to it in media. But one must ask today if dissenting voices are to be labeled anti-national?
TV shows and debate around the issue has revolved around pro-Afzal slogans. The oft repeated point is, the Supreme Court handed out the death sentence, and hence questioning the judgement is sacrilegious. But one must ask, are judgements by Supreme Court always correct, and does a citizen of this country not have a right to protest when a person is handed down death sentence to “satisfy moral conscience” of the society, even when all legal remedies are closed? The queer community was outraged when the same Supreme Court called the LGBT population as “miniscule minority”. Protests were held instantly at various cities, and the judgement was criticized. At Bangalore, where I protested along with hundred other people, slogans of “Supreme Court Down Down” were also shouted. There were posters like “Supremely Let Down”. Would that make us all anti-national then? Every year on the day of the judgement protests are held in India. Are we all disrespecting the Supreme Court then? As of now the curative petition has been admitted by the Supreme Court. But if the court was to rule again in favour of Section 377, do we then not have a right to protest? What if the opponents use the same reasoning to brand the queer community anti-national?
Almost a decade back, when the LGBT movement was yet to gain the kind of traction it has gained today, any mention of the topic online would invite a barrage of comments that would label it as a “western influence”. Even today, opponents call it a “western influence”. This government went cracking down on NGOs that it claimed were being funded by western countries and going against “national interest”. Greenpeace being the prime example. But how does fighting for environment and tribal rights become anti-national? Many of the NGOs operating in the LGBT space also receive foreign funds. What happens if the government turns hostile to them, claiming they are receiving foreign funds and spreading western vices? In fact, many homophobic countries and their governments use the same excuse in their opposition to LGBT rights! Would a crackdown on LGBT individuals and organizations be acceptable if they were to be labeled “anti-national”, as is being done in the case of JNU on the basis of fake tweets? Even as I write this, the PM has again spoken out against NGOs. How long do we remain mute spectators?
A video that is being shown repeatedly by all TV channels, and which was the source of controversy, has students shouting, “Hum Kya chahte? Azaadi”. JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar has also been charged with sedition on the basis of this. TV Channels have run another doctored video showing him shouting just the “Azaadi” slogan without running the complete clip. The Azaadi song is a generic song that has been sung not only in JNU, but in many other protests. It was sung by women protesting against sexual violence after the Nirbhaya Rape, it has been sung in pride parade in Delhi and in other queer protests as well. In pride parade, the same song/poem is sung as “Hum kya chahte? Azaadi, 377 se Azaadi” along with other lines. What if a part of it is played again and again by TV Channels? Should then the members of LGBT community be charged with sedition? Be called out as anti-national?
Today we have allowed TV debates to label people and institutes as anti-national that should be closed down. But has the LGBT community forgotten the frequent “busting of gay parties” and the sensationalist news that the same TV channels used to run? TV9 did a similar “righteous” sting operation in 2011 where it claimed to “expose” gay parties and sex rackets. Every now and then newspapers run some horrific homophobic and biased stories. We have a largely supportive TV and print media today, but if the same channels were to oppose LGBT rights and claim it as western influence and anti-national, will it be justified and acceptable?
Another thing that should concern us all is the connivance of the police with the mobs when a lawyers went around thrashing journalists and JNU students in court premises. Pride parades have been peaceful in India till now, with no counter protests as such. There was one such counter protest during Chennai Pride some years ago, but both were largely peaceful. But emboldened by the active support from the government and the police, if the same people who have also opposed homosexuality and gay rights, were to engage in a confrontation at a pride parade, or LGBT event, with police remaining as a mute spectator, will that also not concern you then? In fact, such things have already happened in the past, where art shows of artist Balbir Krishan has been attacked and had to be cancelled as well.
The JNU controversy is nothing but an attempt by the Government to give out the message that any ideology/remark that doesn’t conform to the government’s stand will be dealt with in the most brutal way. As P. Sainath told in his speech, this is not an attack on JNU, but an attack on dissent and attempt at “criminalization of dissent”. This government has not spelt out its stand clearly on the issue of LGBT rights. If it were to turn hostile openly and crack down on LGBT events and label them anti-national, will we not speak out and seek support from other groups? We protest against a colonial law like Section 377 which has been used to harass and blackmail. We must also protest against Sec 124-A (Sedition), another colonial law which was and still is a tool for harassment. Today, we either stand with JNU, or risk perishing our own freedom.