How will arresting students protect national pride?

Kishwar Desai
Kishwar DesaiFeb 20, 2016 | 16:31

How will arresting students protect national pride?

Whilst students are at risk of being arrested or beaten up in court rooms, journalists protest on Delhi streets and some universities are up in arms against police repression, it is interesting that on opposite ends are two different narratives about India. There is the narrative about "Indian pride" on the extreme Right, and on the extreme Left is the story of "Indian victimhood".


The two have co-existed for a long time, but recently the proponents of "Indian pride" have decided to aggressively assert themselves, perhaps because they felt those talking of "Indian victimhood" had been far too visible, for too long. Yet, at what price? Even if one section of the students at JNU complained, should the police have intervened so ruthlessly in a university environment, which must allow debate and discussion, of every kind?

Yes, while it was shocking for many to see students shouting "unpalatable" slogans, why not just let them let off steam, and later talk to them? Should extreme measures be taken?

Yet, even more shocking, this time round, were the lawyers who began beating up journalists and students as an expression of their wounded national pride. They might have been expecting immediate rewards from their masters, just as, it is possible, some of the implicated JNU students might have been seeking immediate patronage from their ideological gurus. But that is not important. The important part is allowing free speech without oppression and with complete security.

And as regards the violent behaviour from the lawyers - yes, we have seen violence of this kind before, but in the earlier days, this aggression was not in the courts - but mainly on the streets, between illiterate rival gangs. Now those gangs have "educated" members, who don't care for differing opinions.  


The narrative of the "Indian pride" proponents is very simple: "We have arrived and we are the best." There is a huge pleasure in this narrative because it means we can allow the status quo to flourish, the only change is of the ever increasing glow of a shining India. On the other hand, those dwelling on the narrative of the "victimised India" at the extreme Left, do offer solutions pertaining to social change - though these, too, can be equally simplistic. "If you bring a revolution and independence from the present regime, everything will be all right."

But while both these extreme positions assert themselves, there is always a middle ground which should be reserved for dialogue. It is possible for the government to occupy this centre ground, and encourage interaction.

I still remember the story of a Delhi university student in the '70s who had joined the Naxal movement enthralled by an extreme Left ideologue. He quit college and escaped from the police, undercover, to the rural areas because he had been told that the revolution was taking place in the villages. He went out there and waited patiently, but he saw no revolution.


He came back and joined the IAS! A complete about turn for the revolutionary Naxal, who might have been on many police lists, once upon a time.

He told me his story when he was working as a prized officer with the government. THAT is how fickle students (and indeed, any human being!) can be.

These students are young. If you don't agree with them, advise them, don't arrest them. Perhaps, just give them good jobs?

Last updated: February 20, 2016 | 16:31
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