Gulgul. That’s what late Capt Mandeep Singh called his elder daughter Gurmehar. He wrote the name on a pile of snow in Kashmir’s Kupwara and took a picture for his two-year-old daughter.
It is a picture that Gurmehar Kaur, now 20, carries with her, 18 years after her father died fighting militants in the Valley.
The first year student of Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College, Gurmehar finds herself in the middle of an ugly debate over free speech and patriotism for taking on the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).
Gurmehar, a student of English literature, launched a social media campaign against the ABVP, upset over the violence in Delhi’s Ramjas College.
“I am student from Delhi University. I am not afraid of ABVP...,” she said, standing up to the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the ideological parent of the ABVP.
The message, posted on Twitter and Facebook, unleashed a social media firestorm. She was trolled for being “anti-national” and even threatened with rape.
On Tuesday morning, Gurmehar said she had shown enough courage and wanted to be left alone.
Her father would have stood like a rock behind her, Capt Mandeep’s brother Davinderdeep Singh told HT.
“He would have supported her tooth and nail. She is entitled to her opinion, she did not say anything anti-national,” Davinderdeep, who teaches English at DAV College in Punjab’s Nakodar, said.
Capt Mandeep was with 4 Rashtriya Rifles when militants stormed his camp in Kupwara in August 1999. He was killed in the gun battle that followed. He was 30.
A few months earlier, he had shot dead three militants in a 30-hour gun fight, Davinderdeep said.
“He was much dreaded by militants active in the area. They had kept a reward on him. Even when they stormed the camp, they shouted out his name,” he said.
Commissioned in the air defence wing of the Indian Army, Capt Mandeep was an avid bodybuilder in college and even participated in Mr Jalandhar contest.
Jalandhar was his home town and his parents still live there.
VOICE OF RAM
Gurmehar has spent almost all her years missing her father. She was two and her sister, Bani, was five months old when their father was killed.
Gurmehar shot into limelight in May 2016, when she was the subject of a silent video by Ram Subramaniam, an ad filmmaker whose Facebook page -- Voice of Ram -- aims to “create a positive change”.
She told her story through placards, which she seems partial to -- her ABVP campaign, too, started with a placard.
In the video, Gurmehar recounted how as a six-year-old she tried to stab a burqa-clad woman because she believed Muslims killed her father.
Her mother, Rajvinder Kaur, a Punjab Civil Services officer, sat her down and explained it was war that killed her father, not people.
“Today, I am also a soldier just like my dad. I fight for peace between India and Pakistan,” she told HT.”
“My life has been very difficult. But my mother taught me that hate doesn’t get you anywhere. Try and affect people in a positive way, that’s the only way to bring about a change,” she said in a Facebook chat on January 30.
She praised her college, saying it encouraged free thought and open conversation.
Peace between India and Pakistan is important to her.
Gurmehar has written a book on life in the forces and peace between the two neighbours. “We can have a cordial relationship, we don’t need to hate each other,” she said during the chat, as she took questions from people.
Her peace push has not gone unnoticed. She has quite a following in Pakistan and she hopes to visit the neighbouring country this year.
She has withstood the abuse that has come her way in the last few days. But, the family has been traumatised, Davinderdeep said. “We haven’t said a word about this to my father who is very ill,” he said.
‘TOO MUCH HATE’
She never thought her Facebook post would go viral, Gurmehar told HT over phone on Monday.
Gurmehar said she was not at the spot but some of her friends were injured when students clashed in Ramjas College.
“... I got so upset... and took to social media to show my protest,” she said. “The students who were attacked by the ABVP were Indians and they call it nationalism. What kind of nationalism is this?”
The support she has got took her by surprise. “I had never imagined that I would get such support from everyone but there is a lot of hatred, too, and that is personal, which is not acceptable.”