Campus protests reveal the west’s hypocrisy The Statesman 07 May 2024 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar

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Campus protests reveal the west’s hypocrisy The Statesman 07 May 2024

Since 17 April, pro-Palestine sit-in demonstrations have impacted multiple US universities, bringing education to a standstill. Riot police employed force to take down protestors encampments while arresting thousands. Clashes between students and riot police are being reported across the US as also between pro-Palestine and pro-Israel demonstrators. Protests on this scale were last witnessed during the Vietnam war. Within days, protests spread to universities in UK, Canada, France and Australia. In most countries, riot police were called in to quell the protests. 

Protesting students are accusing Israel of committing ‘genocide’ in Gaza while demanding that educational institutions ‘divest’ from businesses linked with Israel as also companies providing military equipment to them. Most US Universities invest their funding, donations as also earnings, in shares of major companies including defence suppliers. US’s Brown, Northwestern and Rutgers universities are few universities to have come to an agreement with protestors.

Authorities classify these demonstrations as anti-Semitic, controlled by ‘professional protestors.’ Professionals guiding protests is a global phenomenon and not a discovery of the West. Professionally organized protests in India, funded by anti-India organizations and lobbies abroad, when quelled by employment of police power led to India being accused of ‘subverting freedom of speech’ and lowering its ‘democratic credentials.’ Why are those institutions and nations, which questioned India, silent now? Hypocrisy!  

In the US even professors were manhandled and treated worse than criminals, but not a single entity objected. Universities across the west are threatening students with suspension if they do not terminate their protests. Not a single voice is raised in support of demonstrating students but many supported protesting Indian students and farmers. Hypocrisy!

Even President Biden backed the crackdown mentioning, ‘Dissent must never lead to disorder.’ He added, ‘Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing cancellation of classes and graduation — none of this is a peaceful protest. Threatening people, intimidating people, instilling fear in people is not a peaceful protest.’

But this is exactly what the US condemned as suppressing ‘freedom of speech and right to protest’ when India cracked down on Shaheen Bagh, JNU and Farmers protests. Why double standards?  

In the US, Green Party presidential candidate, Jill Stein was amongst those arrested and handcuffed. There was not a word of criticism or support in the media. The mere suspension of Rahul Gandhi from parliament by courts resulted in a series of comments by US and European government spokespersons and their media. Lesson for the west- never point your fingers at others.

US media, which led the charge against the Indian government in its handling of different protests, is currently backing employment of force rather than negotiations. New York Times proudly headlines, ‘Crackdowns at four college protests lead to more than 200 arrests.’ CNN’s headlines, ‘How universities are cracking down on a swell of tension months into student protests over Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.’ The Washington Post mentions, ‘How a Columbia protest sparked a student revolt.’

In no case were authorities accused of employing brute force, even though videos emerging from campuses showed use of disproportionate force by riot police against peaceful protestors. There were no tweets backing ‘peaceful protestors’ from Rihana, Greta Thunberg, Malala and Mia Khalifa. Possibly they were not paid to tweet or cautioned by authorities.   

In contrast, the New York Times headlined on the farmers protest in India, despite the government avoiding employing force, ‘Modi’s response to farmer protests in India stirs fears of a pattern.’ The Washington Post headlined, ‘Protesting farmers are teaching India a hard- but much needed- lesson.’ The CNN stated, ‘Angry farmers once forced India’s hardline leader into a rare retreat.’ Rihana tweeted, ‘why aren’t we talking about this?! #FarmersProtest.’ Mia Khalifa tweeted, ‘I stand with the farmers.’ India was singled out because the farmers protests were largely western funded and professionally managed.

During the JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) protests of 2016, Washington Post headlined, ‘Indian students called it free speech. The government called it sedition.’ New York Times mentioned, ‘Sedition arrests in India inflame old free-speech tensions.’ Wonder why the same concept of ‘free speech’ becomes ‘antisemitism’ when it comes to continental US and other European states but remains ‘free speech’ in India’s case.

Western media avoided commenting on the crackdown in US universities because they adopted a similar approach in their own nations. However, feel it is their right to comment when protests arise in other nations assuming it as their right. The BBC supported the US government when it headlined, ‘Columbia students defy deadline to disband pro-Palestinian encampment.’ Al Jazeera did defend the protestors when it headlined, ‘Generation gap: What student protests say about US politics, Israel support.’

The US Department on Human Rights which finds fault with every other democracy, including India on freedom of speech, will maintain silence and blame protestors in campuses ignoring police highhandedness and use of disproportionate force. While both Trump and Biden support Israel, it is likely that the brutal crackdown will impact Biden more than Trump.

India was amongst few nations which showed the US the mirror, but only gently, when its spokesperson mentioned, ‘we are all judged by what we do at home and not what we say abroad.’ Indian media reaction was also not at the level expected, possibly due to ongoing elections. Comments from the Indian spokesperson should have been more forthright.

In Germany police employed force to break up pro-Palestinian demonstrations at Humboldt University. Berlin, which comments on Indian democracy, on its part, blocks peaceful protests. Hypocrisy.

In Canada, protestors established encampments in multiple university campuses. Demands are being raised to employ force to evict them. Trudeau had mentioned during his bilateral with PM Modi during the G20 summit, ‘Canada will always defend freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and freedom of peaceful protest and it is extremely important to us.’

India must remind Canada that the freedoms which Trudeau has sworn to protect must not be tampered with. Further, there would be many Indian origin students amongst those protesting for whom the government would be naturally concerned, as Trudeau was during the farmers protests.

It is payback time for India. Keeping quiet and displaying niceties is never globally appreciated. No nation would thank India for not commenting on their internal matters.       

 

 

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