A Note of Dissent

JNU case: We've forgotten the lessons of Germany 1933 and India 1975

It is important to appreciate how quickly civilised nations can sink to evil.

On the night of February 27, 1933, four weeks after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor, the Reichstag building housing the German Parliament caught fire. Marinus van der Lubbe, a mentally challenged, unemployed Dutch bricklayer and Communist was arrested and tried for arson and attempting to overthrow the government. Found guilty, he was executed. Claiming it to be a Communist plot, Hitler got the 86-year old president, Paul von Hindenburg, to sign the Reichstag Fire Decree. It suspended habeas corpus (a writ deployed to release a prisoner from unlawful detention), freedom of expression and of the press, the right of free association and public assembly. It also allowed the State to open citizens’ letters and tap their telephones.

Then came the Enabling Act of 1933 which gave Hitler the authority to pass any law without going through the Reichstag. It was, in Hitler’s words, necessary “to carry out the political and moral cleansing of our public life”. Thereafter, anyone who remotely opposed the National Socialist credo was fit for arrest, forced deportation, torture and extermination. As for the Jews, since Hitler and the Nazis believed that they were rat-like sub-humans, they were rounded up, lynched, their properties destroyed, businesses confiscated and they were finally herded to extermination camps like Auschwitz, Dachau, Sobibor and Treblinka.

The horror in Germany happened because it was allowed to by its people. Hitler and the Nazis enjoyed the silent, vocal and often boorish assent of most Germans. In the name of a “strong nation”, citizens overlooked everything.

Emergency nightmare

We too had our dictatorship: the Emergency. Three events put an end to 28 continuous years of democracy. The first was a major railway strike organised by George Fernandes, which the government brutally suppressed. The second was the huge anti-Indira Gandhi rallies organised by Opposition leader Jayaprakash Narayan who called for a non-violent “total revolution”, attended by tens of thousands of people, and the third was a ruling on June 24, 1975, by the Supreme Court’s Justice Krishna Iyer that granted a “conditional stay” on an earlier Allahabad High Court judgement. The high court had found the prime minister guilty of misusing government machinery for her election. It declared her election to Parliament void, and barred her from contesting elections for six years. Hearing her appeal, the Supreme Court allowed Gandhi to continue as the prime minister but barred her from participating in Parliament debates or voting, and referred the matter to a larger bench of the court.

The next day, armed with questionable legal justification provided by Siddhartha Shankar Ray, who was West Bengal chief minister at the time, Indira Gandhi asked President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to declare a state of internal emergency. Which he did.

That night, a deliberate power cut in Delhi prevented newspapers from publishing the next day. The police fanned out to arrest opposition leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Vijayaraje Scindia, LK Advani, Jayaprakash Narayan, Acharya Kripalani, Morarji Desai and hundreds of others, including a student leader called Arun Jaitley. Several thousands were arrested and incarcerated till early 1977 without any legal recourse. Civil rights and liberties were suspended, the media was severely censored, the Maintenance of Internal Security Act or MISA was further strengthened to allow indefinite preventive detention, search and seizure without warrants, and wiretapping to destroy political dissent. The Supreme Court, under Indira Gandhi’s nominee Chief Justice AN Ray, upheld the power of the State to detain anyone without the need to give reasons, effectively depriving citizens from the right of habeas corpus.

Led by Sanjay Gandhi, goons and cops took over. This period saw thousands of forced sterilisations, slum clearances under the gun, indiscriminate arrests and police beatings. The Youth Congress ran amok, presiding over a jungle raj where Sanjay Gandhi’s real and imaginary wishes were every Congress thug’s command. It was a 21-month long nightmare. Bereft of public protest – since all those who could dissent were in jail – the Emergency was either silently accepted or loudly cheered.

Universities as areas of dissent

Now consider the Jawaharlal Nehru University case. I don’t know of any university of repute that hasn’t thrived on academics amidst a milieu of counter-culture and dissent. Not Calcutta University. Not Delhi. Not the Sorbonne. Not Berlin or Heidelberg. Not Oxford or Cambridge. Not London. Not Berkeley. Not Kent State. Not Chicago. Not even Harvard. I have studied and taught in some of these places and know what I am writing.

Assuming that pro-Afzal Guru and anti-India statements were made, do these constitute sedition? Does it warrant the police to sweep into a university and arrest a dozen students or more? Does it permit goons, some masquerading as lawyers and led by a BJP MLA, to beat up students, teachers and journalists attending an open court? Is this act of student protest so profoundly detrimental to the unity and polity of India for the Home Minister to claim that it was masterminded by Hafiz Saeed and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (a claim made on the basis of a tweet from a fake Twitter handle)?

Here, as in other cases spreading across India, the agents of the State can only be one of two. They are either perennially incompetent, or they, and their ilk, represent something far more sinister – the beginning of a party-sponsored goon rule, where any dissent is violently crushed by self-styled vigilantes of nationalism.

Why do I write this? Because it is important to appreciate how quickly civilised nations can sink to evil. Because I treasure India’s civil liberties and the constitutional right to free speech, because I feel that these are being increasingly trampled upon by politically-organised rabble. I write this because I believe that such acts are either being silently witnessed and assented to, or lustily cheered, because I fear that once we cross the Rubicon, we will be in a frightening territory of a State-sponsored “might is right”, “jiski laathi uski bhains” [he who owns the stick owns the buffalo] type of society.

Are we, as a society, just and fair? Do we believe in the saying, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” or do we humiliate and crucify dissenters? It is time to ask these questions… before time runs out. In the meanwhile, please feel free to call me a seditious anti-nationalist.

Omkar Goswami is an an economist and chairman of CERG Advisory Private Limited.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.