From right to express to cyber bullying

An account of the controversy surrounding DU student, Gurmehar Kaur and ace cricketer, Virender Sehwag

Media is flooded with the news of the clashes in Ramjas College, Delhi University between the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists and students over the ‘Save DU campaign’. The campaign has been started in support of student’s right to freedom of speech. Jawaharlal Nehru University students Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid were invited to the North Campus for a seminar. Even though Khalid and Rashid did not turn up for the event, ABVP students launched into violent protests and vandalism. Condemning the violence that erupted on the campus and saw many of her friends injured, 20 year old Gurmehar Kaur shared a protest image on Facebook that read “I am a student from Delhi University. I am not afraid of ABVP. I am not alone. Every student of India is with me. #StudentsAgainstABVP”.

Gurmehar Kaur is a student of English Literature at Lady Sri Ram College for Women, Delhi University who came into the eye of the storm when her Facebook post turned viral and one of her past video messages as a peace activists asking for friendly relations with Pakistan surfaced online. As the daughter of Kargil War martyr, Mandeep Singh, she received flak from ruling establishment and politicians for her ‘anti-nationalist’ post. The year-old post is a part of Profile for Peace campaign created by activist and ad filmmaker Ram Subramanian.

The seemingly optimistic post turned on its head when Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju said “who’s polluting this young girl’s mind?” and “Kargil war must not be exploited”. BJP MP Pratap Simha went a step ahead and posted a picture collage comparing Kaur to fugitive underworld don, Dawood Ibrahim.

With the matter gaining political winds, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi praised Kaur for standing up for her thoughts and intolerance. Congress spokesperson, Manish Tewari lashed out at Rijiju for intimidating and trolling Kaur, saying this is the worst form of bullying. Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu, however questioned the opposition for fuelling student unrest and violence. He further stated that freedom of speech does not mean the right to offend.

As cyber bullying in the forms of trolls and memes started making rounds on Kaur, cricketer Virender Sehwag made the least appetising statement by holding a placard, similar to Kaur’s older video saying ‘I didn’t score two triple centuries, my bat did’. Actor Randeep Hooda who liked this picture was equally drawn into the controversy with netizens taking sides. Soon, Bollywood celebrities joined the debate with Javed Akhtar expressing his displeasure at Sehwag’s tasteless meme. Mahavir Phogat, the Indian amateur wrestler and senior Olympics coach hit back at Akhtar for his ‘uneducated’ jibe at Sehwag. Actress Vidya Balan came out in support of Kaur. It was later that Sehwag clarified that he had tweeted in plain humour and did expect it to escalate into a crisis. He also took a backseat by saying that everyone has a right to expression.

While celebrities and cricketers were busy echoing their thoughts on the issue, Kaur distressed by the hate mails, spams and rape/ death threats withdrew from the social media sphere by deleting her Facebook account and moved home to Jalandar. She had previously planned to be a part of the protest march on February 22 to mark against the vandalism and atrocities caused by ABVP students. However, she cancelled taking part in the protest and left for home. It has been reported that a female constable has been posted outside her home.

It is sad to notice that a bright student who chose to voice her anger and frustration at the growing level of intolerance in educational campuses across the country has been snubbed at largely by the political establishment and the youth icons of the society. Without getting into the political nitty-gritty, it is time we realize cyber bullying or trolling is the worst form of intimidation. The anonymity offered by social media to its netizens becomes a big tool in the hands of such social perpetrators.






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