Support for JNU students and clear understanding of India’s over stepping the boundaries of democracy with fascistic tendencies is widespread. Most recently Dawn published a very good analysis by India’s expert lawyer A.G. Noorani that terms the offense of ‘sedition’ as a relic of the colonial era whose shelf life had long expired.
How is it possible to organise by purely constitutional and peaceful methods a campaign against a government in respect of its policies without diminishing whatever ‘affection’ it enjoys? The same is true of moves in parliament. The notion of ‘disaffection’ is out of place in a democracy. It is rooted in British law which placed a premium on loyalty and affection for the ruling monarch.
He then quotes former British Minister of Justice Claire Ward speaking on the topic of freedom to criticise one’s government:
“Freedom of speech is now seen as the touchstone of democracy and the ability of individuals to criticise the state is crucial to maintaining freedom.”
If the ability of individuals to criticise the state is crucial to maintaining freedom, what do we have in Pakistan? Allow me to remind my dear readers that our government has arrested over 50 activists in Gilgit-Baltistan for none other than sedition! Fazl-ur-Rehman has even said that social media is leading youth towards ‘sedition’ because they are using to make jokes about politicians. How often analysts and commentators accused of treason on social media for daring to make some criticism of the government or national agencies?
If we can support freedom of speech for JNU students, why can’t we support freedom of speech in our own country?
The arrest and treatment of Kanhaiya Kumar and Indian government’s militant overreaction to protests at Jawaharlal Nehru University have given a black eye to India which claims to be the world’s largest democracy. In Pakistan, the response to this has been a heartening defence of the right to free speech and political dissent, and a strong reaction against hypernationalism. Pakistani media has declared that ‘Calling the brave students of JNU anti-Indian is a slur. They are holding up the best progressive traditions, aspiring to form a more democratic society’ and op-ed writers are saying ‘it is time for everyone to stand up and be counted’ against fascism.
This change of heart and new love of dissent and free speech among our countrymen will sound like sweet music to the ears of those like Asma Jahangir, Marvi Sirmed, and Husain Haqqani who have been hounded and threatened for daring to challenge official narratives and hypernationalistic ideology. After being forced out of Daily Times, now Mohammad Taqi will be given his own talk show on Express News?
No. Not here. Not now.
While we are strongly defending freedom of dissent and rallying against fascism, we are also preparing to send a cricket fan to prison for 10 years for celebrating a player from the wrong country.
In an amazing display of blind hypocrisy, we are defending political dissidents in India and persecuting a poor cricket fan for the crime of appreciating the skill of Virat Kohli. Umar Daraz never organised a protest. He never gave speeches or wrote pamphlets against Pakistan. In this country, such acts are not necessary. According to police, merely holding an Indian flag to congratulate a cricket idol is an act ‘against the ideology of Pakistan’ and must be severely punished by destroying an innocent life.
Our media talking heads can smile and give all the comments on supporting freedom of speech and political dissent, but the joke is on us. India is wrongly handling the protests at JNU, but can we honestly believe such a debate could even be allowed to take place here? If you are unsure, please ask Umar Daraz what he thinks.