One Year since Gurmehar Kaur Campaign Polarised Opinion & Social Media
In February 2017, a young girl from LSR was trolled viciously for a peace message she had put out on a video. A year later, she is back with a book and her voice is stronger than ever, in the online space and off. Online trolling of women has reached unmentionable levels of depravity. Rape and death threats are routine. Women’s voices continue to be shouted down. While social platforms like Twitter and Facebook have announced measures to tackle trolling and abuse, the fact remains that it continues. Often with impunity. This week, SheThePeople will speak about trolling of women in the online space because we need to stop women from being scared off expressing their views on social media. And we need to stand up to hate. Jessica Xalxo remembers the Gurmehar Kaur Campaign.
Gurmehar Kaur. Naam toh suna hi hoga.
Today, the name Gurmehar Kaur does bring to mind the image of a student Peace Activist and Author. But a year ago, Gurmehar Kaur was a name embroiled in a juxtaposition of views – her past and present colliding on a battlefield devoid of her picking, and her side declared by those who chanted “anti-national.”
But much like when two colour mix, this meeting of free politics for peace and right-wing politics, blurred the lines of black and white, with one side gaining ground and painting a beeline – straight to Gurmehar.
It was in February 2017 that she joined the Save DU campaign, through a Facebook post, to take a firm stand against the violence that a peaceful protest of the student groups, All India Students Association (AISA) and Students’ Federation of India (SFI), experienced at the hands of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and the Delhi Police.
It was conducted to oppose the violence that the ABVP and Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) had inflicted on the Ramjas College Campus, where they disrupted the college’s conference on “Cultures of Protest”, in order to force the college authorities to withdraw former JNU students Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid as Speakers. Like the first protest, this campaign too, was one of peace. But much like when two colour mix, this meeting of free politics for peace and right-wing politics, blurred the lines of black and white, with one side gaining ground and painting a beeline – straight to Gurmehar. Suddenly she wasn’t a human anymore but a Facebook post. One that changed everything.
Flashback to almost a year previous to the Save DU campaign, in April 2016, when the #ProfileForPeace video featuring Gurmehar was released by Voice of Ram. In this video too, Gurmehar was campaigning for peace. She asked the governments of both India and Pakistan to put aside their differences and work towards progress, before war takes any more lives on both sides. All she did was call for peace, the words on her placards screaming in the background of her speaking silence. It was this video that was brought to the forefront as a response to Gurmehar’s standing with the Save DU Campaign. And it was the very nationalist individuals who repainted a peaceful video to tear one human being apart.
Withdrawing Save DU Campaign
We live in an era of our country where even peace is politicised and steeped in a powder keg, meeting with responses of violence. What is one to do?
Well, Gurmehar did withdraw from the Save DU campaign. In her own words, “I’m withdrawing from the campaign. Congratulations everyone. I request to be left alone. I said what I had to say… I have been through a lot and this is all my 20 year self could take 🙂 The campaign is about students and not about me. Please go to the March in huge numbers. Best of luck. To anyone questioning my courage and bravery.. I’ve shown more than enough.”
At the time, it seemed as though the entire nation’s precarious political balance was thrown askew and the vessels that rattled, they made noise in the name of Gurmehar. Of course, like all vessels, their emptiness held no weight on who Gurmehar is.
“Overnight, I was an anti-national. And I did not know why. I did not know why I was being called Kargil martyr’s daughter — of course he is my father and I am immensely proud of that identity, but that was not the matter of concern at that point of time. I am a student of Delhi University, and restraining my right to speech by violence curbs my existence as a human being. That is what I was fighting for. It was not about politics, it was about my friends and peers who were thrashed for speaking their mind. How does my father, who died for a war that he did not create, come in to the picture?,” Gurmehar said in an interview to FirstPost.
In her TED talk, she responded to some comments aimed at her saying, “Some people told me, ‘Your basic moral values have disrupted the country’s political narrative.’ But then, what does this say about the country’s political narrative?” Violent political attacks are wrong (in this case, cyber violence with threats of physical violence) and they’re even more problematic when the vehemence is then redirected against a supporter more than the protest itself. If such a change in priorities is possible when it comes to the matter in focus, how strong and important was the political dissent for the issue in the first place? Did it serve an important purpose? If not and if ever, why the need for violence, whether cyber, verbal or physical?
“The video that garnered so much controversy was made much before the trolls started hitting out. People had given me a lot of love when it came out first. But these trolls want me to harbour hate towards another country. I don’t feel any hate towards anyone, I respect and love people all the same. I can’t contain hate, there is simply no place for it in my life. I have enough negativity in my life – the loss and the pain it brings is massive, so no. No hate for me.” she said in an interview to Edex.
There’s nothing that Kaur didn’t overcome in the past year. She was even on Time’s list of 10 Next Generations Leaders for 2017, rightfully heralded as a Free-Speech Warrior.
Even when she goes about her life as a normal DU student, she is here and present, more than ever, in every citizen’s fight within the nation to exist, speak, and act, and to do so peacefully and ethically, on their own terms.
Gurmehar Kaur is the voice of many
Gurmehar Kaur is stronger than ever and back with her first written novel and memoir “Small Acts of Freedom.” Though in reality, she has never been gone. Even when she goes about her life as a normal DU student, she is here and present, more than ever, in every citizen’s fight within the nation to exist, speak, and act, and to do so peacefully and ethically, on their own terms.
She is the voice of many and an important one at that. If there’s anything that the past 2 years have shown (yes, we go two years back to remember JNU), it’s that when political forces brand free speech as anti-national and incite violent reactions, it doesn’t lead to the degeneration of the youth. It has only revealed that the youth have a deeper and more nuanced understanding, and peaceful approach to politics. And they won’t back down. Politicians should be a lot more responsible about whom they term anti-national and whom they accuse of sedition. They owe it to the youth, they owe it to the nation. They need to educate themselves and do some research that is worthy of their positions instead of releasing declarations based on stories and opinions of equally charged political leaders and their propaganda. They’re in the eye of the political storm, they must try to understand all sides of the story and be sensitive in their approach and discourse, especially when engaging with citizens.
Anti-nationalism has become a mantle adopted by the right-wing to justify their words and actions for which they are never to be held accountable. We can’t be ruled and controlled by politicians playing a twisted game of words. Not when the meaning of those of our own words are at stake.
In an interview with Livemint on her book “Small acts of Freedom,” Gurmehar said, “Writing was one tool I had. I used the only weapon I wanted to. I was not going to have anyone else tell my story. I will control my own narrative. I also have a sense of freedom now. The story has gone. I have handed it over to readers.”
Jessica Xalxo is a young professional in the fields of social change, film, writing and education. A positively empowered student, she takes on every challenge as a learning opportunity and tries her best to live life intentionally.