Evelyn Beatrice Hall, an English writer, best known for her biography of Voltaire named ‘The Life of Voltaire’ wrote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. This quote clearly portrays the true meaning of freedom of expression and as a third-year media student, the phrase is something I hear a lot, but is something that I still can’t completely understand. I think it has something to do with the fact that when the phrase is put into practice, it rarely represents its literal meaning.
Now, there have been moments, where I’ve questioned the way things work such as the legal system and education system, why Donald Trump is winning, you know, just like everybody else. However, I’ve never really said it out loud, at least not enough to make a difference. Kanhaiya Kumar, student leader at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi voiced his opinion and it resulted in chaos. On February 12, Kumar was arrested for sedition on the charge of shouting anti-national slogans at a university rally. The event was organised by students, who denounced the hanging of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri terrorist. However, Kumar was granted bail by the Delhi High Court on March 2 — provided that he would not participate in any ‘anti-national activity’.
In my opinion, if someone was able to go through all that, and come out even stronger,still holding on to the belief that there is a problem that needs to be addressed, he should be heard. Just because he is a student, it does not mean that Kumar’s opinion is of less importance or not valid. According to figures released by the Election Commission of India, around 23.1 million of the total eligible voters in the 2014 general election were aged between 18 and 19 years. With that in mind, and considering the fact that students are the future of every society and are eligible to vote, why aren’t they allowed to criticise the way their leaders run their country?
Al though it is debatable whether Kumar actually voiced anti-national statements or not, but irrespective of that, why were his comments given so much attention? Is it because it really was sedition or because it matched the definition of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of anti-nationalism? I think criticism that stems in a democratic country, should play an important role in its improvement, and especially, if that comes from young student who represents a whole student party.
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), freedom of expression is the right of every individual and students are the future of our world. So if they can’t hold opinions and make a difference, how will we work towards a better tomorrow?
— The writer is a media student at University of Sharjah.
The International Government Communication Forum (IGCF), held in Sharjah, is an annual forum that shares global best practices in fields of government communication and aims to build a platform for better communication between governments and their citizens. This column is a collaborative effort with Gulf News featuring work by UAE-based students as part of that initiative.