On 23 February 2017, Gurmehar Kaur, an undergraduate student of literature at Lady Shri Ram College posted an image in which she was holding a placard that read “I am a student from Delhi University. I am not afraid of ABVP. I am not alone. Every student of India is with me. #StudentsAgainstABVP.” This picture formed part of an online campaign that had been initiated in response to the violent attack that members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarti Parishad, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s student affiliate, had launched at Ramjas College on 21 February, because of the inclusion of Jawaharlal Nehru University scholars Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid at a seminar called “Cultures of Protest.” The image soon went viral, and several other students uploaded similar photographs. Shortly after, an older video from April 2016 began circulating widely on social media. In the video, Kaur held a series of 36 placards addressing the death of her father, who was killed when militants attacked a Rashtriya Rifles camp in Jammu and Kashmir in 1999 during the Kargil war, and called for peace between India and Pakistan. One of the placards she held in the video read: “Pakistan did not kill my dad, war killed him.”
The video—and the placard in particular—became the subject of much debate in both the mainstream and social media. Bharatiya Janata Party leaders such as Kiren Rijiju, the union minister of state for home affairs, and Pratap Simha, the president of the BJP’s youth wing in Karnataka, posted tweets criticising Kaur and her family. The cricketer Virender Sehwag satirised her statement in a tweet, which the actor Randeep Hooda appeared to applaud. Kaur also began receiving several death and rape threats. On 28 February, she declared that she was withdrawing from the movement. “I have been through a lot and this is all my 20 year self could take,” she posted on Twitter.
On 7 March, Kedar Nagarajan, a web reporter with The Caravan, spoke to Kaur over the phone about the campaign and its aftermath. Kaur discussed her decision to oppose the ABVP, the video that became the centre of the controversy surrounding her and the vitriol she was subjected to as a result of her stance in the video.
Kedar Nagarajan: Could you talk about your involvement in the #StudentsAgainstABVP campaign?
Gurmehar Kaur: There was a protest on the second day [after the incident at Ramjas College] by students, that several friends of mine went for. I did not go because I had to attend classes, but I found out from my friends that they were being [physically] abused and that some of them were hurt. ABVP guys were pelting stones and throwing iron rods from the first floor of the building. Since I had already been into peace activism, I felt that I had to do something to oppose the violence on campus. I decided to change my picture on social media as a form of protest. Then everything got blown out of proportion. I wanted to support the protestors as a normal Delhi University student who is opposed to violence, but all of a sudden the movement became about me.