Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju on Tuesday said that Lady Shri Ram College student Gurmehar Kaur, who is at the centre of a controversy about nationalism, was free to say and do what she wanted. “My request to everybody is let her have her own way of life,” he said. Rijiju had earlier criticised Kaur for supporting students who have been protesting against the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad – the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Critics have since also targeted Kaur for a video she made in 2016, in which she says her father – a Kargil veteran – had been killed by war and not Pakistan.
On Monday, Rijiju had said, “Who’s polluting this young girl’s mind?” However, on Tuesday the Union minister said he meant the “leftists” when he suggested that someone was influencing Kaur. “It was these leftists who celebrated when Indian Army personnel were martyred in the 1962 [Indo-China] war and raised anti-national slogans,” he said. “But now, whoever makes anti-national statements will be dealt firmly under the law. Everybody has freedom of expression, but must act as per the laws of the country.”
Rijiju’s comments came hours after Kaur announced her decision to drop out of the #StudentsagainstABVP campaign. Her mother said she had left Delhi. The Delhi Police on Tuesday filed an FIR in connection with threats made to Kaur on social media. The student had approached officials on Monday, after she was threatened with rape and violence.
However, Rijiju said Delhi was a safe city and that she should have nothing to fear, reported The Times of India. “That’s [to leave Delhi] her choice. She should be protected and will be protected,” he said. Kaur has, however, received support from the teachers of her college who have released a statement saying they stand with the student. Lyricist Javed Akhtar has also criticised those attacking Kaur on social media. “If a hardly literate player or a wrestler troll a pacifist daughter of a martyr its understandable but what’s wrong with some educated folks,” he said.
Kaur has been at the centre of a controversy since a picture of her holding a placard against the ABVP fracas at Ramjas college went viral. The placard read, “I am a student of Delhi University. I am not afraid of the ABVP. I am not alone. Every student of India is with me.”
She was subsequently attacked on social media by RSS supporters and celebrities alike for voicing her opinion. ABVP supporters had pulled out Kaur’s 2016 video and circulated it, leading to more backlash.
Kaur was mocked by cricketer Virender Sehwag and patronised by Bollywood actor Randeep Hooda. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s intellectual Rakesh Sinha said that Kaur was “trolling” her father. While announcing her decision to quit the campaign, Kaur said, “I have been through a lot and this is all my 20 year self could take.”