Ramjas violence: Arun Jaitley's remarks in London show freedom of speech in India is under threat, says a former JNU dean

Zoya Hasan said that the debate over free speech is not an "equal debate" as the ABVP has powerful backers in the Centre.

Arun Jaitley’s statement that free speech is a debatable concept has come under attack from veteran political scientist Zoya Hasan, who has warned that freedom of speech in India is under “dire threat.” Hasan said that the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) was protesting for nothing as JNU student Umar Khalid hadn’t event gone to speak at Ramjas College’s “Culture of Protest” event.

“What is the ABVP protesting against? Umar Khalid didn’t even attend the event,” Hasan, the former dean at the JNU’s School of Social Sciences and a former member of the National Commission for Minorities, told InUth.

Her reaction comes three days after Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley weighed in the ongoing spat involving the ABVP, which was sparked last week after Delhi University’s Ramjas College invited Left-wing student leaders Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid to speak at a literary event. The ABVP supporters have been accused of carrying out violence against students and protesters who oppose ABVP’s political line.

Also read: Who are Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid? And why does the ABVP call them anti-national

Jaitley, who is also a former ABVP leader, was seen supporting the ABVP in the remarks he made at an event at the London School of Economics (LSE) over the weekend.

“If you believe you have free speech then you have to be ready to concede free speech to counter your view. Freedom of speech did not extend to assaulting a country’s sovereignty,” Jaitley was quoted as saying.

The veteran right-wing leader also cautioned in London that freedom of speech didn’t extend to “assaulting a nation’s sovereignty”, accusing some universities of becoming home of “alliance of subversion” between those on the “ultra-left” and those with a “separatist agenda.

Hasan, a former JNU academic, picked on Jaitley’s argument on free speech to claim that the ongoing debate “wasn’t among equals.”

“The ABVP has got the support of the government and has other influential backers. There can’t even be a debate here. The ABVP is way too powerful currently,” Hasan remarked.

Beside Jaitley, junior home minister Kiren Rijiju has also thrown his weight behind the ABVP’s political argument. Rijiju on Monday questioned a DU female student, and daughter of a martyred Indian Army soldier, who had taken to Twitter to criticise the ABVP.

Rijiju tweeted after DU student Gurmeher Kaur started an online campaign against ABVP activists for carrying out violence against fellow DU students who embraced differing political views,

(Source: Twitter/ Kiren Rijiju)

There was a massive outpouring of support for Kaur after she reported that she had been issued rape threats by alleged ABVP sympathisers since she took a public stand against the student group.

Also read: Shekhar Gupta, Barkha Dutt lash out at Randeep Hooda, Virender Sehwag for mocking martyr’s daughter

However, a sizable section of India’s public including high-profile personalities like former cricketer Virender Sehwag and Bollywood actor Randeep Hooda also expressed oblique support for the ABVP.

(Source: Virender Sehwag/Twitter)

The RSS-affiliated student body is facing the flak for attacking students and threatening women with rape since last week when the student affair snowballed into a national debate.

Critics of the ABVP’s political views, which include students with no affiliation, organised a protest march from DU’s Khalsa College on Tuesday. According to InUth’s reporters who covered the march, DU’s teachers and students participated in the anti-ABVP march which was themed around “right to dissent.”