No Country for Dissent

Politics

No Country for Dissent

Illustration: Saachi Mehta/ Arré

“M

aybe we should talk after you’ve read Arundhati Roy’s essay on how thin the case against Afzal Guru was,” I remember saying into the phone for the third time, my politeness teetering dangerously at the edge of irritation. It was late evening and it had been a long day at the end of an exhausting and exhilarating week, charged with shrill, polarising political debate triggered by the events at Jawaharlal Nehru University. A peaceful meeting commemorating the death anniversary of the accused in the 2001 Parliament attack case had somehow become about sedition, and had been gathering an alarming momentum.

In those early days, it was still easy to think of the proceedings at JNU as an unplanned skirmish. No one could have predicted that what was unfolding might soon acquire the colour of a larger, considered conspiracy, buttressed by a 200-page dossier with precise details of the kind of “immoral activities” carried out in the institution’s hostels. JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar was yet to be attacked on a flight, and his comrades Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya had not been expelled from the university. Back then, the previous few days had just progressed like the punchline of an xkcd comic for me. Except, IRL.

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