JAIPUR: Celebrities and others who trolled her and attempted to make her look bad only ended up exposing themselves, says Delhi University student and author Gurmehar Kaur, who was at the centre of a national debate on free speech and dissent last year.
The 20-year-old Lady Shri Ram College student, daughter of army martyr Captain Mandeep Singh, said she would always stand for peace, “no matter how anti-national” that makes her.
The literature student had launched the social media campaign “I am not afraid of ABVP”, following the violence in Ramjas College over their seminar “Cultures of Protest” last year. She was trolled online for her stand against campus violence and for appearing in an earlier recorded video in which she was seen holding a placard that read, “Pakistan did not kill my father but war did”.
Former cricketer Virendra Sehwag, Olympic medallist Yogeshwar Dutt and wrestler sisters Geeta and Babita Phogat were among the celebrities who took to social media to question her views. Sehwag shared an image of him holding a placard saying, “I did not score two triple centuries. My bat did”.
“They tried to make me look bad, but ended up exposing themselves. I was a huge Virender Sehwag fan, now I am not. I lost all the affection and respect for him,” Gurmehar told PTI in an interview. “That can be heartbreaking, but at the end of the day they are just men. And as a woman you face it a lot… that people try to patronise you, try to bring you down,” she said.
Gurmehar said the row proved to be a blessing in disguise as she now has a platform to express her opinions and people who want to voice their views look up to her. “They think that if I can do it, so can they. They look up to me as an example… I was always a tough person. But with the controversy surrounding me I have only proved how tough I am,” she said.
She added that she would not let anyone define nationalism for her, asserting that it was the people who decide what love for the country means, not the establishment.
Gurmehar also spoke at the recent Jaipur Literature Festival where her first book, “Small Acts Of Freedom”, was launched by Congress leader and author Shashi Tharoor. The book is a memoir, telling the story of three generations of women — Gurmehar’s maternal grandmother, her mother and herself.
“The book is a collection of the most important stories of my life. The difficult task was to refresh these memories… I wanted to write this book since I was all of 12 years. I wanted to tell the story of stronger women. I wanted to share the memories of my dad to immortalise him,” she said.
Tharoor, who has authored 16 books, said it was wonderful tha Gurmehar had written such a “remarkable book” at the age of 20.
Describing her as a woman with a distinctive voice, he said at the launch, “She has the convictions that she fought about and cared about. And she has the courage to express those convictions. These are extraordinarily admirable qualities in today’s India.”
The book, Gurmehar said, had always been in her head but it was the controversy that hastened the process of its completion and helped her publish it “much earlier”. It was a “difficult” book to write because she had to relive memories she would rather forget. “I had to have tough conversations with my family. I was emotionally exhausted,” she said.
Gurmehar went for a 10-day Vipassana retreat to recover from what she described as a “pretty dark time”. “I had 10 days to think about it. I didn’t want to surrender my freedom to anybody. I didn’t want a news channel or a newspaper to tell my story. I wanted to do it on my own. To me that is freedom, to not be coloured in narratives by other people,” she said.
“It was a pretty dark time. I was getting threats of death and rape from everybody… I could not feel my body. I was numb, if anybody would have pricked me with a needle, I wouldn’t have felt it…I don’t want other women to go through it.”
These are scary times, Gurmehar said, adding that it is important for women to speak up and take “that first step”. “The people that I am surrounded with. I know we are a strong bunch of people,” she said.