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An open letter to Ms Martina Navratilova

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Entrepreneur working in the field of education.

Ms Navratilova had recently tweeted a New York Times article which claimed to highlight authoritarian approach of the Indian government.

Dear Ms Martina Navratilova,

I grew up in the era when you dominated women’s tennis and have immense respect for you. And the admiration only grew when you partnered another one of my favorite players, Leander Paes. Recently I read an article by you in the Hindustan Times about the Freedom of Expression being threat in India in recent times, in the backdrop of the incident at the Jawharlal Nehru University (JNU) and its aftermath. I fully back your views on the Freedom of Expression and believe that any individual should be free to question the government in a democracy. There is, however, a few small things I would like to highlight here.

What is the purpose of a debate or a discussion? I believe any debate or discussion should be for a constructive purpose and should involve all differing opinions. What happened at the JNU failed on both these counts.

Firstly there was no discussion. It was just a bunch of “students” who had gathered to do sloganeering (when the permission sought was for a cultural program). Pray, what is going to be achieved by such an act when they could have held a discussion on the issue with the student wing of the ruling party, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), which also has a sizeable presence at the JNU. The protagonist in the whole episode, Kanhaiya Kumar, is the president of the JNU Students Union and could easily have organized an open seminar to get different views on board. What stopped him from doing so? Can this also be termed as intolerance to a contrarian point of view?
Second and more important point is the objective of the whole exercise carried out by the “students”.

Do you believe raising slogans like “Bharat ki barbaadi tak jung chalegi” (we’ll battle till the decimation of India), “bandook ke dum pe azaadi” (freedom by use of the gun) is a civil way to raise any issue in a democracy? It is simply a call for war against the nation. How do you have talks when one party openly threatens the other with violence? How does raising such slogans build a better nation? I would like to reiterate here that I am all in favour of questioning the government at each step. Questioning and holding responsible cannot be achieved by abuse and slander, it has to be rational.

You point out how you grew up in a authoritarian Czechoslovakia where there was no freedom to air ones opinion or question the regime and the NYT article you tweeted also goes on to say that anything said against the ruling party is seen a sedition. I am clueless as to what in those slogans and the entire program of 9th Feb, 2016 was directed at the government? The NYT with every anecdote mentions the right wing but never once does it mention that Mr Kumar and Rohith Vemula were left wing activists (not that it matters but any unbiased article should have mentioned it). It very cunningly brings in a caste angle with the story of Rohith Vemula who was suspended for physically assaulting an ABVP leader on campus, but fails to mention that the current ruling party has the most members in the parliament from the backward castes. I could go on and on about the NYT article but lets not waste our time over a viciously biased opinion (not news report).

If you wish to see how free people are to express their opinion about the ruling party and the Prime Minister all you need to do is check the twitter timelines of some leaders from opposition parties (@arvindkejriwal, @ashutosh83B) most of what they claim to be dissent is vile abuse. For the anti-poor part you can check the 2016-17 budget which has been dubbed a “Robin Hood” budget.

I would request you not to judge based on only one side of the story. India is as free as it ever was and hopefully it will continue to improve on the social parameters.

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Entrepreneur working in the field of education.
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