Exercising Freedom of Speech: War of Words at the Freedom Square!


12 March 2016| 6:30 PM: Clashing sessions, public talks, and addresses, the ‘Freedom Square’, formerly known as the ‘Admin Block’ is living up to its name. Every day students, faculty members, outsiders and media personnel gather at the Freedom Square, at 5 o’clock in the evening, to discuss, listen, engage, sway, denounce, critique and sway to the words that come floating to their ears. Needless, to say, at times it is a cacophony, with the speakers sometimes being asked to use three mics, to drown the voice of the speaker speaking at the other camp!
Infrastructure is scarce for one, forcing them to rely on portable battery-charged speakers, but they more than make up for the lack with the strength in number and feverishness of enthusiasm. Unfortunately for the other equipped with electricity-run sound-systems and microphones, loyal spectators are few, though people do keep drifting in (and also out).

So, the lectures on ‘critique of insular nationalisms’ are sprinkled with slogans of ‘vande matram’ and, public assemblies called to provide testimonies from victimized sections of JNU, with black ribbons tied on their mouths is interspersed with calls for ‘azadi, azadi’.

The Square is thronged by converts, preachers, defectors, drifters and flâneurs alike. Prof Paranjape will be proud; his wish for “intermediality” and “diatopical hermeneutics” in the campus appears to be on its way to fruition!

It has become the new ‘cool’ these days! You go to the Freedom Square to get some learning in exchange of your opinions, censure some politicians and few others; if you are lucky you might get featured on national television (it is dotted with news channel troupes most of the days), gawk at the speakers, watch cultural performances, have a laugh at the caricatures and posters, buy a t-shirt or a badge, hobnob with the professors, sit, stare, stand, sigh, yawn… the opportunities are endlesss!


What was that Chinese greeting that talked about living in interesting times? Years from now, we will, like Wordsworth on the French Revolution, be heard exclaiming “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!” Or maybe we should refrain from going into ‘extremes’ offering such exaggerated panegyrics, considering our freedoms are freedoms only up to a certain limit.

Yesterday things turned even more dramatic. The medium was poetry. And while thunder lightning, and strong winds bellowed around the Pink Palace; sarcasm, vitriol and ridicule, as much as passion, zeal and emotions flowed freely from the sound-systems. The raconteurs continued belligerently in what appeared to be a fight-to-death, to rob the other group of its audience members.

The poets, Gajendra Solanki and crew stood up to the challenge, stringing verses on the most revered of all themes, ‘patriotism’. The hunkar and jhankaar at times giving way for lyric and longing:

Bheegte yeh nayan kar rahe hai naman
Keh rahi hai pawan, meet ki hai chubhan,
Toot-te yeh kafan, chhod-ke avaran,
Chhoo kar ja rahe, aapke charan

On the other side, the poet Imran Pratapgarhi stepped up to fuel the passion and stir the atmosphere (which given the weather, was already pretty charged!) by the JNUSU (minus the one, you-know-who). His voice resounded with good amounts of caustic lashings:

Tha shehensha ko guroor bahot,
Rab ne uska guroor tod diya,
Kal thi jo chappan inch ki chaati,
Ek Kanhaiya ne sab sikod diya

The stretched heavens remained emblazoned with dazzling flashes in anticipation of a torrential downpour from the Gods that be. The evening on 12 March at the Freedom Square aspired for those glories, in the cantankerous rambunctious outpourings.

Why was I reminded of Flaubert’s words, to the effect: “Human speech is like a cracked tin kettle, on which we hammer out tunes to make bears dance when we long to move stars.”

The writer is a research scholar at JNU. Views expressed are personal, for comments please write to rounthecircle.jnu@gmail.com.