As you read this, two teenagers are facing jail threat for making memes. No, not for using Snapchat's puppy filter on PM Modi's face in which case the champions of freedom of expression would be out in full force to defend the meme-makers' rights (rightly so), but for calling someone's opinion 'shit'.
That someone, ironically, happens to be a champion of freedom of speech herself. She is Gurmehar Kaur, who burst onto the scene in February after questioning ABVP's protest against invitation to sedition-accused Umar Khalid to a Delhi University college. Six months later, she is reporting two teens to police for these memes:
Harmless as they look, a free speech activist should ideally allow harsher criticism too. But Gurmehar found this meme 'defamatory'. And even before reaching out to the teens, reported their Facebook page to the police.
The screenshots of her messages leaked by the meme-makers show Gurmehar threatening a "legal charge" and warning them about a destroyed career.
"You still have colleges to apply to, future and CV's to make and a legal charge will not help with any of it (sic)," Kaur's message says.
Update: Threat is more real this time. The kid wants to deactivate his page and Twitter. pic.twitter.com/ySKkMwbLpm— Jon Yadav (@AndColorPockeT) October 4, 2017
And that's not all. So perturbed did she get that she sought contacts in Facebook to get the meme pulled down.
Finally, as controversy erupted on social media with many users calling her out for her over-reaction, Gurmehar did not respond and, instead, blocked her critics on Twitter.
OMG lady MEYMEY BANAYEGA Deepak Sharma @mehartweets blocked me— Nirwa Mehta (@nirwamehta) October 5, 2017
Kaur comes as quite thin-skinned and averse to any form of criticism or disagreement in this episode. But that's not the point. What's concerning is that for someone who is almost always introduced by the national media as a "student-activist" for free speech and peace, who is making a career as an FoE warrior, and who continues to enjoy the media spotlight and a massive social media following thanks to these tags, her actions are shockingly out of line.
It's appalling how just a few six months ago when Gurmehar hogged much space in the media for taking on ABVP, she was waxing eloquent on the need for absolute freedom of speech.
About her #studentsagainstABVP campaign that, surprisingly, put the entire blame of the Ramjas violence on a single student group without evidence, she said:
"This campaign is against anyone, anyone, who takes away the fundamental rights of a student for freedom to speech. It's a university, not a site of war where anyone comes and beats you up. It has to be a safe space."
In an interview to Rajdeep Sardesai, she advocated FoS like this:
"I may not agree with one person's statement. I may not agree with one person's opinion but I can't go and slap them or throw stones at them and tell them, no you cannot say it."
True, Gurmehar didn't go slap the teens but, like a typical 'free speech warrior', threatened to evoke draconian laws to get her way. This is something that noted journalist and award-winning author Manu Joseph only very recently pointed out in an interview.
Commenting on the hypocrisy of "gladiators of freedom of expression" in a chat with Anand Vardhan of Newslaundry, Joseph shared how some "left-liberals" tried to defame him and professionally destroy him over disagreements.
"...Let's not forget that putting or trying to put someone in jail is as bad as physically harming that person. Just because you can hide behind the law and say that we are only trying to egg the legal system into acting against you..." Joseph said of his experience, adding that "I always knew that what they meant by freedom of expression is that they want to protect what is suitable to them."
Kaur's response, sadly, falls into this pattern: protecting what's suitable to her and destroying what is not.
(Disclaimer: The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of ScoopWhoop.)