The debate over Gurmehar Kaur has become so confusing and vitiated that at this point, taking a position is akin to putting the head under a virtual guillotine. Black and white boxes have emerged and in the kangaroo courts of media, you are either a 'troll who bullies a martyr's daughter and justifies rape and death threats' or a 'liberal'. There is little room for measured arguments, littler still for nuance and absolutely none for contrarian views.
In this piece, I shall try to first untangle the obfuscations, decouple the red flags and proceed to weigh the positions of each of the stakeholders. Before I begin, it is important to clarify that on two positions involving the 20-year-old student of Lady Shri Ram College, there can be no debate.
One, the trauma that she and her family members suffered due to the death of her father, Captain Mandeep Singh, in the 1999 Kargil War. She was two at that time. One can only imagine the profound sense of loss Gurmehar grew up with that may have shaped her opinion on war and peace. Even in fundamental disagreement with some of her views, one must have the highest respect possible for her personal loss and basic norms of discourse in an argument must be followed at all times.
Two, strictest action must be taken against the lumpens who have threatened Gurmehar with rape and death merely for holding an opinion. The police must follow up on her complaints and take swift action in accord with the law of the land. Nothing justifies these threats.
Gurmehar's fallacious arguments on war and peace
Let us now turn to the crux of Gurmehar's arguments on war and peace.
The problem lies with the fact that on Kargil War, she draws a false equivalence between India and Pakistan. One understands the position she is coming from but to say: "Pakistan did not kill my dad, war killed him," is to fundamentally rationalise the role Pakistan has played in waging multiple wars against India. Such an argument absolves Pakistan of all responsibility and makes it appear as if both India and Pakistan are equally responsible for the violence. Gurmehar, with all respect due to her, either needs a lesson in history or in logic.
This is a crucial difference, because the arguments that she follows up with, stems from this fallacious position. One cannot but appreciate the sentiment behind her statement that "I fight for peace between India and Pakistan because if there is no war between us, my father would still be here" but one wonders if she is aware of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's famous vow of waging a 1,000-year war with India, or bleeding us with 1,000 cuts. This can only be attributed to stupendous ignorance or willful suspension of disbelief.
Gurmehar says, "I am making this video because I want the governments of both countries to stop pretending and solve the problem".
Really, Gurmehar? Did we suffer four wars because our government was busy "pretending"? And how do you "solve" the problem? By allowing Pakistan's soldiers and ISI-sponsored terrorists a free pass to New Delhi, or by handing over Kashmir?
Such utter callousness in the name of "peace activism" ends up instigating more violence because this minimises the aggressor's responsibility. Pakistan has so far lodged four wars against us and continues its relentless covert and overt campaign of cross-border terrorism. Between 1998 and 2017, there have been 47,234 incidents of terror attacks. No less than 14,743 civilians have been killed and 6,276 security personnel were martyred.
One can only wonder at Gurmehar's unblemished innocence or profound ignorance at drawing these sweeping false equivalences. In this debate, she cannot expect extra marks for being a 'martyr's daughter,' the biggest fallacy in this battle of ideas.
The problem with just being 'Kargil martyr's daughter'
When Virender Sehwag tweeted that he didn't score the triple centuries, his bat did, the cricketer was not ridiculing Gurmehar but exposing the logical fallacy behind her argument.
— Virender Sehwag (@virendersehwag) February 26, 2017
Regrettably, the 20-year-old brought her father into the debate and sought to stymie legitimate criticism of her fallacious argument by hiding behind the identity of her father. Suddenly, she became not a 20-year-old adult who is capable of voting and getting married and taking considered political positions but the 'daughter of a Kargil martyr'.
To a question by India Today on Sehwag's quip, the Delhi University student said: "Of course, he has the right to express his opinion. But is it ethical to make fun of somebody on the expense of their father's death? Am I not a troll or a meme right now? Isn't that making fun of somebody?"
It does little credit to Gurmehar that she flits in and out of her identity as Captain Mandeep Singh's daughter. She takes recourse to it while deflecting criticism, and shuns it when not needed. In a report, The Times of India quotes her as saying: "Don't call me a martyr's daughter if that bothers you. I never claimed anything otherwise. You can call me Gurmehar."
Well Gurmehar, we are not calling you a 'martyr's daughter', you yourself did. And in doing so, you have instigated the talking heads in media who have untiringly labeled you as a "Kargil martyr's daughter", thereby denying you a legitimate voice as an individual who is capable of rational thought and reducing you to your identity as someone's progeny.
The biased role of the media
Now we come to the most problematic part of the debate — the media, especially the English language media. Nearly every debate and every report starts with a biased premise, akin to asking 'have you stopped beating your wife'?
The truth becomes an early casualty and we are left with incessant noise of hardening political positions. It is extremely damaging to label everyone who disagrees with Gurmehar's arguments a "troll" because that is exactly how the jingoists operate.
It has reduced prominent voices to "trolls" just because a Randeep Hooda, Sehwag or Babita Phogat did not agree with its version of events. The media conveniently forgets that individuals (celebrities or not) have the right to freedom of expression just as Gurmehar does and while we applaud the Lady Shri Ram College student for expressing her opinion, we must also respect the opinion of those who disagree with her. Calling Sehwag, Hooda or Phogat a "troll" not only shows the so-called liberal media's lack of tolerance but also lowers the discourse and lets loose the dogs of abuse on social media.
The media must take the lion's share of the blame for obfuscating and vitiating the debate by provocative headlines like 'Former India cricketer trolls student' or 'Randeep Hooda justifies trolling her in Facebook post' — the latter a particularly unkindest cut because Hooda was driven to the point of desperation in pointing out via Facebook that he respects Gurmehar's opinion and was only pointing to the fallacy of her argument. In his clarification, too, titled 'Don't Hang Me Over A laugh', the media chose to hit him below the belt.
The media has chosen to be on the side of Gurmehar. There is nothing wrong with that. But in denying others the right to criticise her opinion and by constantly referring to the 20-year-old Delhi University student as a 'martyr's daughter', the media has fallen into the trap of identifying itself with the jingoists who use nationalism or patriotism as a trope to block all criticism.
One can understand the liberal media's frustration. Tired at being the wrong end of the nationalism debate, it has jumped at the chance of a slain soldier's daughter denouncing war, little understanding the pitfalls of doing so.
Campus politics: Left under ABVP threat
Which brings us to another part of the debate. The violence at Ramjas College and Gurmehar's stance against ABVP are part of a larger war being fought in the campuses of our universities. It is not as if students have suddenly turned violent. What we are witnessing now is a bloody turf war between various Leftist student unions, the incumbents of power in campuses, and ABVP, the challengers who now want a share of the power pie.
Pushed into a corner, the Left feels threatened at its last bastion of influence — the academia. It is also the most important since this is where opinions are made and then the narrative is set. This is the place where teachers mould minds of young students and make them not independent thinkers but mass-produced indoctrinates with a skewed world view who have no tolerance for contrarian opinion and dissent — a phenomenon I have discussed in some detail in my yesterday's Firstpost piece.
It is here that the 'Last Battle of Panipat' will be fought as the Left, threatened by the rise of Right-wing challenge, lodges a bitter battle in every campus of every Indian university and college. The ferocity of the battle and the violence points to the iron grip Leftists enjoy and the new-found political muscle that ABVP wields. Crucially, this is also a battle where it is decided who is a 'liberal' and who is not, setting the cue for media to follow.
Politics at large: BJP vs the Opposition
The final piece of the jigsaw falls in place when we look at the alacrity with which the BJP or other Opposition parties have jumped into the battle to milk the debate. As the ruling party, the BJP's role has been a disgrace. It chooses to remain silent when a Muslim cleric announces a fatwa for beheading Islamic scholar Tarek Fatah but throws its senior ministers into the ring to lecture a young girl on patriotism. The Congress, facing a massive erosion of mass base and footprint, hauls itself into the ring to land a few punches against Narendra Modi using Gurmehar as the launch pad. Arvind Kejriwal follows suit with his brand of opportunism. This just points to the vacuousness of our political debates.
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Updated Date: Feb 28, 2017 15:33:12 IST