To question, to challenge, to verify, to ask for accountability from the government is the right of every citizen under the Constitution. These rights should never be taken away otherwise we will become an unquestioning moribund society, which will not be able to develop any further.
Justice Deepak Gupta rightly captured the essence of dissent when delivering a lecture in an event organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association on 24 February 2020.
I am certain I am not the first person that has felt the need to talk about dissent, its importance and the manner in which several citizens have been denied this right under the present government. Many intellectuals and digital media houses have kept the discussion around dissent alive by practicing it themselves. And for that, we are grateful.
But I want to use this opportunity to highlight the impact of the present circumstances in our country on students like me.
In a country like India, where a majority of the population is too burdened with their own problems to keep a check on the government and speak up on issues that impact society at large, we share a greater responsibility to make their problems and voices heard.
We, the students of this country, have to come forward and build a country we wish to breathe in.
“Education is the most powerful weapon,” they say and India invests an unfathomable amount of resources to build a sound educational infrastructure.
But is it only to produce a herd mentality nodding to every ifs and buts of the government? When they call upon students to contribute to nation building, is this what they expect?
The sequence of events in the past few years show that the government will do everything in its power to curb the voice of students, including but not limited to labelling them as anti-nationals, tukde-tukde gang and several others. Prestigious institutions have now been declared a ground for budding separatists, thanks to the unwavering dedication of ‘Godi media’. Students are being charged under atrocious laws like the anti-terror law, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, and sedition, declaring them ‘terrorists’ and ‘traitors’.
Judiciary and media have let people down
Democracy stands tall with the support of four pillars — executive, legislature, judiciary and media. While the first two pillars form the core of any democratic institution, it is the judiciary and the media that safeguard the principles of a democracy. It is their duty to ensure checks and balances on the actions of the government. Unfortunately, these revered institutions have failed the people of India.
There have been countless instances where the Supreme Court of India was expected to step in, but it chose to turn a blind eye. Activists are being arrested under draconian laws, comedians are being taken to task for cracking jokes, journalists are being put behind bars for anti-government reporting. Will justice be served to them? We should pray these people live long enough to witness the day they will be set free because we know the pace of justice in our country.
The present state of the media is deplorable. News channels provide every content, other than news itself and every other story is ‘Breaking News’ for them. Every incident has a hidden communal angle, every dissenter is an anti-national. To slightly tweak a legal principle: ‘Questioning Opposition has become the rule, questioning government the exception’.
So called ‘nationalist’ TV anchors go around distributing certificates of nationalism. TV debates provide an open platform for people to come in and spread hatred. News channels house the power to fuel mass movements and campaigns for the betterment of the society. It also has the capacity to accelerate communal divide, misguide people and divert important issues. It is clear what news channels are prioritising in today’s time.
The politicians in the country openly and repeatedly threaten protesters, going as far as to say, “Shoot the bloody traitors”. The right to protest peacefully is a fundamental right and the same has been reiterated time and again by the apex court. However, the present regime has been alarmingly intolerant to public protests and have been employing new tactics to defame the protesters instead of attending to their legitimate concerns.
The recent remark by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the floor of the Parliament, referring to protesters as ‘andolanjeevi’ and ‘parjeevi’, in an attempt to downplay the credibility of the ongoing farmers protest, reflects how this government views protesters in general. The person who should be the flag bearer of democracy in India is now resorting to cheap wordplays to curb the very essence of democracy — dissent and protests.
A person can never please all sections of the population. It is only natural that certain groups will find particular comments offensive. However, the extent to which tweets are scrutinised is petrifying. We need to learn to listen and acknowledge various point of views. Why are we being trained to cherish a single line of thought?
Witnessing such series of events fills me with insecurity. I am left wondering what the future holds for us. Even though we live in a free country, our minds have been trapped.
Will they trap our souls too?
We, the students are the leaders of tomorrow. We have in us what it takes to lead the country into greater prosperity. But will we be able to accomplish our goals with our voices snatched? All we want is to speak our mind out. Is it too much to ask for?
I am a law aspirant. I take an avid interest in the political developments in our country. I want to contribute my bit to the progress of my country. I will soon step into college. I will be introduced to student activism. Pondering over what life has in store, makes me all jittery. More so, when a thought strikes my mind — will I be able to exercise my right to dissent?
Stuti Agrawal is a student of Modern School, Barakhamba Road, New Delhi