In an age of aggressive social media driving the national narratives, one man’s trolling becomes another man’s freedom of expression. And, one man’s defiance becomes another man’s sedition. The unsavoury row over the anti-ABVP campaign launched by a 20-year-old Delhi University student Gurmehar Kaur, daughter of a martyred Army officer, has brought into focus the derailed and concocted debate on nationalism. What began as a group clash between ABVP and Left-affiliated AISA (All India Students Association) at Ramjas College in Delhi has degenerated into a no-holds-barred social media battle marked by bullying, trolling and even threats of violence and rape. The entry of politicians and public figures of all hues, making statements for and against Kaur, has further muddied the waters. It is shameful that a young woman was hounded, mocked and abused on social media for airing her views and standing firm in condemning violence allegedly perpetrated by ABVP activists on the campus. The genesis of the clash was an invite to the controversial JNU students Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid to address a seminar on ‘Culture of Protests’, which was later withdrawn by the Ramjas management following ABVP’s objections. Kaur’s Facebook and Twitter campaign ‘I am not afraid of ABVP’ went viral, receiving both bouquets and brickbats. However, the debate soon took a nasty turn over her earlier Facebook video showing her holding a placard that read ‘Pakistan did not kill my father but war did.’ A spate of mocking memes and tweets, including former cricketer Virendra Sehwag’s ‘I did not score two triple centuries. My bat did’, added viciousness to the troll culture.
The cacophony of the Twitterati has only steered the debate in the wrong direction. As a result, the core issues of violence on campuses and freedom of expression without fear of intimidation have been relegated to the background. What came to the fore was a vicious clash between hyper-nationalism and the right to be defiant. Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju waded into the controversy wondering who was polluting the young girl’s mind while actor Randeep Hooda described her as ‘political pawn’. Expectedly, the Congress and AAP jumped to her defence, saying she was a victim of state intimidation. The public discourse could have been sane and meaningful if it remained focused on the issue of intolerance on campuses. Like any other citizen, Kaur is entitled to her opinions on student politics and articulate them freely. But, to say that Pakistan did not kill her father amounts to trivialising his martyrdom. Kargil was not a war that India wanted to wage, but it was thrust on the country. All ideas should be open for a debate without resorting to personal threats, hounding and trolling.