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Kiren Rijiju hadn't seen Gurmehar Kaur's war video before tweeting: Such knee-jerk reaction will only fortify online trolls

Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju was in Manipur campaigning ahead of the Assembly election scheduled for 4 and 8 March, when he commented on Delhi University student Gurmehar Kaur's video. Rijiju was reacting to an old video of Gurmehar appealing for peace between India and Pakistan. In the video that has gone viral now, Gurmehar is seen holding up a placard which said: "Pakistan didn't kill my father, war did." Her father died fighting during the Kargil war in 1999.

Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju. File photo. PTI

Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju. File photo. PTI

The video resurfaced after Gurmehar started an online campaign against the ABVP and the violence that broke out in Ramjas College last week over an invite extended to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Umar Khalid. Coming down heavily on the 20-year-old, Rijiju had said "the soul of the martyred father" must be crying as she is being misled by people who celebrate when soldiers die in action. In addition to this, Rijiju had also tweeted out saying, "Who’s polluting this young girl’s mind? A strong Arm Force prevents a war. India never attacked anyone but a weak India was always invaded."

Interestingly, in an interview with NDTV, Rijiju revealed he had not seen Gurmehar's video on India-Pakistan peace before tweeting. Speaking to the channel, Rijiju said he had no idea what the controversy was about.

"I didn't know what the Gurmehar controversy was about. A journalist showed me her tweet. I responded to what Gurmehar said about her father."

He also said that he was unaware of the rape threats made to the 20-year-old student. Tired of the controversy that her tweets and video created, Gurmehar left her PG accommodation in New Delhi and moved back with her family in Jalandhar for security issues. Gurmehar had said that she has had enough and pulled out of the students' campaign on Tuesday.

"I didn't know she was being given rape threats. How would I know this has become a story in Delhi? You have the right to run any story, create a controversy," Rijiju was quoted as saying by NDTV.  Rijiju jumped into the controversy when he hinted that Left-wing politicians and leaders are influencing students. After Rijiju's comment, the focus of the ongoing fracas in Ramjas College shifted to Gurmehar.

Rijiju's claims that he was not aware of the controversy around Gurmehar seems odd especially since he has repeatedly tweeted on the issue. Was the minister suggesting that he was dishing out opinions without understanding the issue?

Rijiju's admission brings forth a point which has so often been repeated — in the age of social media there is hardly any difference between fact and fiction. In addition to this mayhem, everyone has a knee-jerk reaction to the chaos around them. Sample this excerpt from Rijiju's NDTV interview:

Rijiju: I was busy campaigning in Manipur. Some journalists came to me and showed me her tweet. I was out of network area. This group of journalists showed me a video that showed her saying that her father was killed by the war and not Pakistan. So only to that point, I said that there is no war going on with Pakistan right now.

NDTV: Did you see the full video or just that line?

Rijiju: I have not gone through anything. I didn't have time.

NDTV: How can you comment on anything when you have half information?

Rijiju: That's what I am saying... I don't have to say anything about that girl.

The fact that some sections of media, a few political leaders and the innumerable trolls reacted to a video of Gurmehar which was not even the point of discussion, shows that no one cared to find out when, where and why was the video recorded. They heard 'Pakistan', 'Kargil', 'Muslims', 'India', 'War', 'Army', 'Kashmir' — all of which are a recipe for severe online backlash. No one cared to dig deeper, not even the Union Minister.

Fact: Gurmehar Kaur's video was recorded early in 2016 and had nothing to do with Ramjas College.

Fact: Rijiju had no clue about the video, yet he thought it was more important for him to be vitriolic rather than act like a responsible minister.

A young, feisty, independent 20-year-old was chased away from the city where she was studying. Online trolls made her life so miserable that Gurmehar decided to pack her bags and move back in with her parents. The focus had shifted to Gurmehar after a particular Union minister dished out a severe opinion based on his misplaced notions of nationalism and not knowing all the facts.

If elected Members of Parliament start hunting down dissenters, shutting down free speech and generally respond to every opinion that differs from theirs, they are fortifying every online troll. It sets, or rather has set, a very dangerous precedent where a minister of the ruling government mimes what an ordinary troll would say.

Social media is an unpredictable platform and since it has enabled every person to have an opinion, it's foolish to think that there won't be a backlash. Gurmehar too must have thought that her video and her campaign would start a dialogue, but maybe she was not prepared for a government representative to come down so hard on her and not even know what he was outraging about.

Updated Date: Mar 02, 2017 19:00 PM

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