There is a fair degree of wrong with what some students of JNU did. They claimed to be holding a cultural event and instead held one on Parliament attack death convict Afzal Guru despite not having permission. They also reportedly shouted slogans against India and about the battle for the liberation of Kashmir.
Now look at the fallout. A case of sedition has been filed. The Home Minister, his Minister of State and Human Resources Development Minister have vowed action. "Anyone who raises anti-India slogans or tries to put a question mark on nation's unity and integrity will not be spared," Rajnath Singh tweeted in an indication of what was to follow.
And the arrest of students has begun with that of JNU Student's Union head Kanhaiya Kumar, who has been sent to three days in police custody.
Under sedition, those convicted face anywhere between three years to life imprisonment. As Congress leader and Supreme Court lawyer Kapil Sibal pointed out to a news channel, it's a law that the British enforced to prevent people from furthering the fight for independence. In its text, the law says that if you attempt to bring hatred against the elected government, you deserve to be thrown into jail for life.
Understand the gravity of these implications. You're basically threatening to throw away students' lives because they were politically incorrect. Because you'd rather that every one of them comply with one stream of thought that is convenient. Because rather than challenge their beliefs and debate, you'd intimidate and frighten them for the rest of their lives. And this is all from a government that claims to be a 'tolerant' one.
Is shouting slogans against the country weakening it's structure or the fabric of unity that held it together for almost 70 years? Is Kashmir on the boil because of the event? We essentially are in a situation where we'd prefer to play with people's lives, because we'd rather not debate with them about the strength of law in the nation. We'd rather muscle them into a jail using the law instead.
Because we would rather believe in a hash tag, and believe in theories like shutting a university down rather than reflect on what's driving this angst. Because we'd rather intimidate those saying inconvenient things and try to make an example of them, to prevent anyone else from doing the same in the future.
If a nation is this worried about the acts of a few students and can see in them such frightening qualities that we need to threaten them with life imprisonment, we really need to be worried. Shutting away students for being anti-national because they shouted slogans is perhaps the best way of giving fuel to those who fire anti-nationalism.
Let the University take action as per it's own norms, and let that take its natural course. But let's not pretend that shouting slogans against India is on par with a section of law typically used in cases of terrorism and one that requires two Union Ministers to get involved.
To prove those who accuse you of violence wrong, you don't take them down in the most heavy-handed way possible. Evidently the government has already forgotten the one lesson it should have learnt after the Rohith Vemula suicide.