ago, on May 4, 1970, the students of Kent State University in Ohio gathered to
protest the Vietnam War. The oldest democracy of the world faltered as the Ohio
State National Guard fired at the crowd and felled four students. Observers
concluded that the US was rapidly spinning out of control. The report President
Richard Nixon commissioned on campus unrest said that “a nation driven to use
the weapons of war upon its youth is a nation on the edge of chaos” — and
Americans were feeling the “chaos”.
the Kent shooting, on May 15, there was a shooting at the Jackson State College
in Mississippi during a protest against racism that the students on campus were
facing. Two students were shot and killed, and 12 others were injured at the
hands of the police.
shootings, there was a nationwide student strike that saw four million turn out
in response to the tragedy. As many as 1,00,000 students marched on Washington.
David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young released their protest
song “Ohio”, a month later, with the chorus, “Four dead in Ohio,” after seeing
the photographs of the shooting.
Nixon, who initially spoke of the protesting students as “bums”, then made an
effort to reach out to them. His intelligence officials could not find evidence
that the protest was stirred by outside agitators. Nixon accepted that the
anger was coming from the students themselves — and it was only growing. The
end of the Vietnam War, it is said, began in Ohio. It changed America forever.
A year after the shootings, the voting age was reduced to 18, giving the
students the right to vote when they were old enough to be drafted. That
generation of voters forced the war to end although it took another five years
till April 1975.
I do not
believe that the worst critics of the students, even those who called them
“bums”, questioned their patriotism for opposing a war that they believed to be
immoral and unwise.
At home in
India too, there have been casualties in January and February and the students
who participated in the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act at
Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, particularly those from Jamia Millia Islamia, have been
booked for sedition and unlawful activities, a euphemism for terrorism. They
had all quietly folded up their protest when the COVID storm hit the country.
There is no evidence to arrest them, and some others who have been arrested
since the onset of COVID-19. So, sequentially charges are added to the
investigation by inter alia adding Section 302 of IPC (murder) and Section 13
of the UAPA. Suddenly it seems that the glorious jurisprudence of Articles 14,
19, 21 of the Constitution too has been locked down. India has chosen to fight
its own children and their mentors and guardians have chosen discretion before
valour. How did you sustain the protest financially for 60 days, is the refrain
that they must answer. How will they manage to defend their honour in court and
afford lawyers, one might ask. Suddenly, a long line of cases culminating in
Anuradha Bhasin remains high on the stated principle of rights and sparse on
practical impact. Rights in ordinary times are not much to boast about. It is
in extraordinary times that rights should matter as the great legal
philosopher, Ronald Dworkin, argues in Taking Rights Seriously.
Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms comes to mind. Hemingway sought advice on the
ending after Catherine’s death in childbirth, from F Scott Fitzgerald, his
friend and fellow author. Fitzgerald suggested Hemingway end the novel with the
observation that the world “breaks everyone”, and those “it does not break it
kills”. In the end, Hemingway chose not to take Fitzgerald’s advice. Instead,
he concluded the novel with these lines: “But after I had got (the nurses) out
and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn’t any good. It was like
saying good-bye to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and
walked back to the hotel in the rain.”
broken and defeated by destiny the protagonist of the novel might have been, in
real life for us there is no walking away from a lifeless statue. Post COVID-19
we have to make a fresh beginning, hopefully united and trusting each other as
we must have been through a life-death experience together. We will have to
crush the infection of hate that seems to have found some spreaders.
Meaningless and misdirected hate must not last. We will have to learn to put
India ahead of anything else — in fact, humanity first. This is something we
have successfully done in our fight against the coronavirus. Fifty years from
now, people will applaud and light candles to say that when India seemed to be
spinning out of control our generation joined hands, hearts, and minds to hold
it firm and sound. We would be remembered for having saved India.
Khurshid is a senior Congress leader and former external affairs minister
Headline: We have to put India, and humanity, before everything else in war
Source: The Indian Express