Is 20-year-old Lady Shri Ram College student Gurmehar Kaur’s mind polluted? Is she a “political pawn“? Is she an “attention seeking liberal Army brat“? Is she a supporter of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), thus making her condemnation of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad’s (ABVP) alleged attack on students of Delhi University’s (DU) Ramjas College politically motivated? Is she anti-national?
That Kaur is the target of such allegations and innuendos from Right-wing websites and similarly-aligned social media commentators is hardly surprising, given her allegations that ABVP was responsible for the violence at Ramjas College last week. What is interesting, though, is that all this vitriol is being directed towards the daughter of a soldier who died in action. Kaur’s father, Captain Mandeep Singh, died fighting in a militant attack in Kashmir when she was two years old.
While attacking Kaur, her opponents brought up a video she featured in last year, where she’s seen holding a placard that reads, “Pakistan did not kill my dad, war killed him”. For this sentiment, she was patronised, pilloried and even compared to Dawood Ibrahim on social media. Kaur has also claimed to have received rape threats on social media, forcing her to approach the Delhi Commission for Women on Monday.
Apart from the luminaries on social media, rashtravaadi websites, whose standard response to dissent is the ‘soldiers-are-fighting-at-the-border-so-how-dare-you’ argument, are at the forefront of the campaign to discredit Kaur.
In an open letter to Kaur published on the website OpIndia, a self-described “proud Indian nationalist” Soumitra Kandpal writes that “if you think that these thoughts of Umar Khalid [a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University who was scheduled to speak at Ramjas College on February 21] and others are correct”, then “logically your father was wrong and his sacrifice was in vain”. While admitting that “it is your democratic right to think in this way”, it is a “sad state of affairs”, says Kandpal. Kandpal signs off by pleading with Kaur not to “desecrate your father’s memory by siding with likes of Umar Khalid who does not value your father’s sacrifice for this great nation”. The letter essentially infantilises Kaur and suggests she doesn’t doesn’t understand her own position or its implications.
Incidentally, Kaur has not said anything to suggest she shares Khalid’s views. She has only expressed her objections to ABVP, that too in a very specific context of causing disruption and unrest on campus.
Over on Postcard.news, another Right-wing watering hole that describes itself as “countering the lies of the Mainstream Media” the articles on Kaur essentially slander her.
“Did Gurmehar Kaur’s father really die fighting in Kargil war?” runs the headline of an article posted yesterday, which incorrectly claims that “she is part of the team who invited and organised (sic) Umar Khaleed”. The article then goes on to unveil the “biggest media lie on which media narrative was based — she is daughter of father who was martyred at Kargil war (sic)”. Here’s the truth as Postcard.news knows it:
“With all due respect to her father supreme sacrifice. I unfortunately bluntly differ because fact is a fact. Gurmehar Kaur father Captain Mandeep Singh didn’t martyred in Kargil war. He was posted 4RR at Kupwara and while fighting against terrorist he sacrificed his life (sic).”
It is heartening to see such commitment to facts and accuracy from a website that recently uploaded an article headlined “Watch! Scientist capture photograph of soul leaving the body, you will be shocked to see the video!” (they didn’t and you won’t).
Furthermore, it appears the author feels that any soldier who lost his life after the ceasefire was officially announced on July 26, 1999 does not qualify as a Kargil war martyr. Captain Singh lost his life 11 days later on August 6 when militants attacked a camp of the 4 Rashtriya Rifles in Kashmir’s Kupwara district. However, as this report by Maj. Gen. Ashok Krishna (Retd) illustrates, army operations in Kargil continued much longer after the ceasefire was announced. These involved counter-insurgency and mop-up operations, including the incident in which Captain Singh lost his life. Hence, to claim that he wasn’t a Kargil martyr is not only an insult to his sacrifice but also factually incorrect.
Also, despite Postcard.news’s anxiety about ‘media lies’, the circumstances of Captain Singh’s death were revealed by the mainstream media itself – namely the Indian Express, which accessed his Battle Casualty Report. Interestingly, this particular Postcard article has amassed 15,000 shares on Facebook in two days. In contrast, the IE story has just 3,700 shares, an obvious indication that sensationalised rants against ‘liberals’ and the media get more traction on social media than level-headed reporting.
Another article on the same site (with 6,000 shares) claims that “the rape threat was a well orchestrated event by media and AISA [All India Students Association] member Devojeet Bhattacharya”. It doesn’t offer any evidence for the claim, but a similar rumour has been doing the rounds on Twitter, also sans proof.
In an ‘expose‘ on the website AajKiAwaaj.com (tagline: “21st century generation voice”), it is alleged that “Gurmehar kaur is not doing all this just because she supports freedom of expression or she wants to debate over Kashmir or bastar aazadi (sic), but it seems like very well planned propaganda against Central government by few left organizations and AAP Party who is always known for their stand against Modi and RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh]”. The article relies on information provided by one Sonam Mahajan on Facebook (according to the website she “exposes the propaganda of Breaking India agents day and night”) who posted screenshots of Kaur’s FB posts in AAP’s favour.
Even if Kaur is an avid AAP supporter, this does not discount her criticism of the government or ABVP.
Mahajan’s Facebook post also takes personal digs at Kaur, going so far as to question whether Kaur really is a martyr’s daughter. “Not too long ago, she was seen selling her father’s sacrifice (if at all she’s really a martyr’s daughter) for earning social media likes and advancing her career in the field of attention-seeking,” Mahajan writes before going on to compare her appearance from the year-old video to her recent pictures. “But we must appreciate Gurmehar Ji for this beautiful makeover. She has gone really fair, maybe the Made-in-Canada whitening creams supplied by Khalistan enthusiasts are really working,” Mahajan speculates.
Apart from the jibe about her complexion, associating Kaur with “Khalistan enthusiasts” seems to be an attempt to link her with Sikh separatists just because she belongs to a Sikh family.
The outrage against Kaur is in stark contrast to the usual reverential attitude that the Right-wing reserves for the Army and its kin. The Army and security forces are a critical element in the nationalist agenda and across the world, the Right is more inclined to focus upon its triumphs. Criticism of institutions that cement the idea of the nation and uphold a government’s agenda is not encouraged. When those on the ‘other’ side do so, dismissing the criticisms is easy. It is harder to ignore complaints coming from within the military fraternity, like in the case of Border Security Force (BSF) soldier Tej Bahadur Yadav, who criticised the government and the force’s top brass for discriminating between soldiers. Yadav was labelled a “bad hat” by the BSF and was accused of “intoxication, AWL [absence without leave], fighting with seniors, offending their orders” and his allegations were given scant coverage by the custodians of nationalism on television.
Kaur’s case is more complicated because there’s an alarming degree of conjecture at play. Her appeal for peace has been construed as a pro-Pakistan stand. It’s been assumed that she is opposed to the Army and dishonouring its triumphs.
From the way Kaur’s case has appeared on Right-leaning websites, it appears voices within the Army and their kin are championed only if they further the government’s agenda of demonising an enemy, the way Major Gaurav Arya and Major General (retd) GD Bakshi’s do. For a subculture that has developed out of the conviction that their points of view are ignored or suppressed by mainstream media, it’s ironic that their response to opinions they find disagreeable is to react precisely the way they claim the Right is pilloried. It’s also worth noting that, judging from the way channels like CNN-News18 and others have debated Kaur’s video, the arguments voiced in these Right-leaning websites appear to be filtering into mainstream media.
Will that help the Right’s persecution complex?