Of Martyrs and Patriots

When Delhi University student Gurmeher Kaur’s April 2016 campaign advocating peace between India and Pakistan was noticed by the Twitterati after she posted a photo with her holding a placard denouncing ABVP’s violence, it kind of turned the “pro-soldier right and anti-soldier left” debate on its head. The debate, in which apparently the Left has no argument patriotic enough for the Right, has for some gobsmacking reason continued to dominate Twitter for as long as I’ve been active on the site, or at least my own timeline. And like most arguments on Twitter, it barely makes sense.

The right-wingers, lovingly (just kidding!) called Bhakts, cry hoarse all the time about how you should not curse your life as whatever you’re going through, “the soldiers are dying at the border”. This expression, used in different phraseologies, is used to stifle even minor dissent against the government, government actions, politicians and ‘patriots’.

The expression gained traction after demonetisation was announced. The long queues and daily torments suffered by common people was coolly justified by saying “soldiers die for our country, can’t you even stand in queues for our country for a few hours/days/months?’ No matter how ridiculous it sounded, everybody, from fake (and I supposed paid) trolls to well-known government-friendly news anchors, all used the same argument, if it can be said that, and with a seemingly straight face.

When 20-year old Gurmeher’s last year’s campaign video became known a couple of days ago, the text on the placards she was holding was quoted, selectively quoted, misquoted, interpreted, and misinterpreted by sundry people like it always happens on Twitter. ‘Patriots’ had readied their keyboards to attack Gurmeher after her anti-ABVP stand, only to stop and think again, for she had turned out to be a martyr’s daughter. Damn it.

When the Leftists realised that the martyr thing could work in their favour, they began to play up the fact that she was the daughter of a solider who had died in action and was also supporting them against ABVP goons. That is after they had all along ridiculed the Bhakts ‘liberally’ for playing the soldier card all the time. The Right-wingers on the other hand, still anxious to retain their patriotic and pro-army credentials, were for a while at a loss as to what to do. But when they saw the last year’s video, all hell broke loose.

Bhakts were particularly bothered by one placard among several Gurmeher had been showing the camera one after another. It read, “Pakistan did not kill my father, war killed him.” Completely missing the context and not fathoming that she was making a larger point about war and violence, the message escaped their thick heads, and they went utterly berserk. There were some glorious responses which sum up not just Twitter but also current political discourse. “Your [Gurmeher’s] father would have shot you in the head”, “fucking commie”, “Bitch!”, “Randi” to mention a glittering  few. Trolling and flinging obscenities at a martyr’s daughter became the new definition of patriotism.

At the time of writing this, that definition is the current one.