I’ve been meaning to write something on Shehla Rashid shooing off a reporter belonging to the Republic TV from the Press Club of India, but I desisted for two reasons. First, the JNUSU elections were on, and I wanted to make sure that nothing I wrote could be even remotely read as interceding on a particular political constellation’s behalf. Second, Shehla is a student of JNU, and as a faculty member I have restrained myself from commenting on student-related matters, even at a time when a section of them had begun the most false, motivated and malicious slander campaign against some of my colleagues; and no, I’m not referring to the ABVP, though they had done precisely that; and therein lies another irony. I decided to break that restraint, and will break it again if I deem it necessary.
What Shehla did has evoked mixed reactions on social media, and I’m not referring to the gutter trolls for whom abusing her has become their dharma. I am referring to posts written by some more liberal-minded people who seem to be shocked that she didn’t let a journalist do his `job’. I’ve even read a post saying that though the journalist worked for the Republic TV, he was `secular’ and should have, for that reason alone, been allowed to do his `job’.
Those who’ve not forgotten the aftermath of 9 February 2016 will also remember how two vicious TV channels launched an all-out war against JNU. They will also remember the saga of `doctored’ tapes on which our students were hauled up on charges of sedition. They will also remember how Umar Khalid was invited by Times Now, and then heckled and abused by the anchor, who didn’t even allow him to speak. They will remember the vicious abuses which Kanhaiya, Umar and Shehla were subjected to, and the last two are still subjected to by the paid trolls of today’s political dispensation. They will remember how Kanhaiya, Umar and Anirban were subjected to death threats, and how Shehla was threatened with the most unbelievable and horrific forms of sexual abuse.
They should also know how each of them has stood up to every one of these threats, and fought tooth and nail to keep the progressive and democratic ethos of their politics alive. Agree or disagree with the specifics of their politics, but there can be no doubt that they’re all on this side of the fence, standing firm with people like us. against the wolves on the other side of the fence. They should also know how their commitments have prevailed over all odds, and how their voices have made a difference. They should also know how each of them have been able to balance rigorous academic demands with the equally rigorous political demands of their ideologies. They should also know that their politics is infused with deep humanism and empathy for the poor, the marginalized and the downtrodden. They must remember that each of them is a critical, well-read and articulate thinker who can take on anyone anywhere in a civilized debate.
They should also know that they are angry at the patent injustice they’ve faced and are continuing to face at the hands of the government, the university and the media. The journalist in question may have been `secular’, but are so his employers and the ideology they overtly support? That must weigh in somewhere in the discussion too.
Shehla was angry when she asked the journalist to leave, and I don’t see anything wrong in her anger.