Congratulations, fellow Indians. The news is that Gurmehar Kaur "has fled''. At 7:23 am on 28 February, she put out two tweets announcing she is opting out. "I'm withdrawing from the campaign. Congratulations everyone. I request to be left alone. I said what I had to say. I have been through a lot and this is all my 20 year self could take :)"
Serves her well, purred her critics. In their worldview, Gurmehar sinned. Because according to them, she is not just a student, she is allegedly an 'AAPian', a term you could soon find in the Roget's Thesaurus as a synonym for 'anti-national'. And what's more, she dared to take a stand against hooliganism on campus. She dared to speak out against the student wing of the ruling party. She forgot the ABVP has the right to disrupt, vandalise, abuse teachers and fellow students on campus.
Did Gurmehar actually think she could get away with this? So the nationalists led by the combined force of a minister and an MP showed Gurmehar her place. Kaur became the latest addition to the long list of 'sickulars', 'libtards' and 'gaddaars'.
Conspiracy theorists with an over-fertile imagination claim Gurmehar is part of a larger conspiracy to target Narendra Modi (pray, where did the prime minister come into this?) Others accuse her of being a mask of a 'commie' agenda. Some mock her, saying she pressed 'escape' when she knew her game was up. This is the gang that plays to the gallery on cacophony-hungry television studios or on the battlefield called a smartphone, taking advantage of Twitter's tax-free status that also allows anonymity behind an egg.
I hope India has not killed Gurmehar's spirit. No one knows where Gurmehar is now. She is not at her accommodation in New Delhi so the assumption is that she must have gone back home to Jalandhar. TV reporters have been dispatched to Jalandhar to track her down because "khabar ko play up karna hai". OB vans are permanently parked outside her PG accommodation near Lady Shri Ram College where she studies, compromising the privacy of the other girls who live there.
The media has been on her trail for over 72 hours now. So much so that she had to tweet a public request and also tell individual reporters to stop spamming her phone with texts and calls. A colleague told me yesterday that Gurmehar is no longer the strong girl with spunk and courage. "She is an emotional wreck now, who fears she may soon be homeless because of all the media attention. Landlords don't understand all this standing-up-for-what-you-believe-in, nonsense. They only see that she has drawn unwanted attention,'' she said.
The media has contributed to this in a large measure. The nature of the beast is such that conflict sells. And thanks to the likes of Virender Sehwag and Randeep Hooda reacting to a year-old video where she made a larger point about peace between India and Pakistan, the issue has snowballed from being a mere campus dispute to an Indo-Pak issue, where she was accused of praising the enemy nation that killed her father. An RSS ideologue took insensitivity to a new low by accusing Gurmehar of trolling her late father. Can anyone even imagine the havoc the abuse, rape threats, vitriol must be playing with Gurmehar? Hate has been institutionalised and Gurmehar has been its victim.
It is time media took a step back and give Gurmehar breathing space. Because if this is the price to pay for showing spine, no independent-minded youngster, especially a girl, will ever do what Gurmehar did.
The ABVP now alleges the rape threat was issued by AISA. The AISA points to Gurmehar's placard that says, "I am not afraid of ABVP''. Frankly it does not matter if the threat was red or saffron. That the threat of sexual violence has wrecked this young girl from within, is more worrying.
But in the middle of all this, the real story has been forgotten. On 21 and 22 February, the literary society of Ramjas College and its English department had organised a seminar on 'Cultures of Protest'. With its focus on Kashmir and Bastar, professor Nandini Sundar was initially pencilled in as a speaker on the troubled Maoist zone. But eventually the dates were not suitable for Sundar and Umar Khalid was brought in because his PhD work is on adivasis in Bastar.
Some members of the organising committee had apprehensions about whether Khalid's presence could create trouble. But the principal gave them the go-ahead. That was a refreshing change because other colleges have indulged in self-censorship after incidents of trouble on their campus. In August 2015, when Kirorimal College organised the screening of Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai, ABVP members disrupted the screening. Ramjas' decision to go ahead was applauded and the liberal principal praised.
A day prior to the event, a student with ABVP leanings warned a first year student of English (Hons) to watch out for trouble the next day. And as predicted, objections were raised by ABVP, just a couple of hours before Khalid was to address the seminar. The police was called in and they reportedly told the principal that it cannot promise "protection'' if Khalid was to speak at the seminar. Khalid, who was on his way to Ramjas college, was asked not to come.
But just cancelling Khalid's talk was no more enough. Having tasted blood, the protesters went for the kill. The event had to be called off. Professors say it is unfortunate that when the curriculum teaches feminism, decolonisation, theatre of revolution and that authority should always be questioned, organising an event on 'Cultures of protest' is branded as a "lab for separation''.
The Ramjas students and faculty were held hostage on the following day. What was worse is that teachers were heckled, abused and assaulted. They were told to go to Pakistan, warned to find another job and a chair was thrown at two lady professors, shocking everyone around. Outside professor Prasanta Chakravarty was assaulted by non-Ramjas students. Ironical that those who take pride in Indian culture and celebrate Guru Purnima, were the first in attacking those who teach them.
Fear rules Ramjas now. Students as well as lecturers are scared to come into college because the ones who beat up and threatened the students roam free. The college has borne the brunt of this game of one-upmanship played out between the ABVP and the AISA.
The mistake the organisers of the event made was to take the space for debate for granted. They now realise it comes with terms and conditions attached.