Three years after he was hanged to death in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail, Afzal Guru’s shadow still looms over South Asia. On January 2, his fan club from Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) – or the United Jihad Council (UJC) – orchestrated the Pathankot attack to jolt the Indo-Pak dialogue process that had been streamlined following Narendra Modi’s trip to Lahore on Christmas. JeM Chief Masood Azhar has vowed revenge for Guru on multiple occasions, including a famous rally in 2014 in Muzaffarabad, which was attended by thousands.

On February 10, a day after Guru’s third death anniversary, some students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi organised a ‘cultural event’. The organisers had pasted posters all over the university in the lead up to the event, inviting participants for a protest march against “judicial killing of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat”. The posters also invited solidarity with the “struggle of Kashmiri migrants at the Sabarmati dhaba”.

Members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) at JNU asked for the expulsion of students who organised the event, claiming that ‘anti-India’ slogans were chanted in the protests. A case of sedition was lodged against several unknown students, following which JNU Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on allegations of ‘anti-national’ sloganeering.

The issue then threatened to spiral out of control with JNU students giving a shutdown call and threatening to boycott all classes if Kumar wasn’t released. On February 14, a mob attacked Kanhaiya Kumar’s supporters and journalists as the JNU Students Union president was about to appear before the local magistrate in the Patiala House courts.

Multiple video footages show that JNU protestors chanted slogans in support of Afzal Guru. More critically though, slogans like ‘Pakistan Zindabad’, ‘India Go Back’, ‘Bharat ki barbadi tak janng jaari rahay gi’ [The war shall go on till India’s destruction] were heard during the protests, in addition to chants for Kashmir’s freedom.

The protest organisers claim that while they support Guru - who they believe to have been unfairly trialed - and fight for Kashmiri right to self-determination, they aren’t responsible for the explicitly anti-India sloganeering calling for the state’s destruction. They say a wide array of students were present during the protest. Even so, by any conventional understanding of the term ‘anti-national’, sloganeering in favour of Kashmir’s succession, or glorification of Afzal Guru – a convicted terrorist according to the Indian Supreme Court – would constitute anti-Indianism.

Guru was convicted for the 2001 Indian Parliament attack, for which Masood Azhar was arrested by Pakistan as well. JNU protesters, along with many India-wide activists and human rights groups, do not believe Guru received a fair trial and agreed with his claim of having been pressurised into a confession.

The issue now hinges on the very basic question of freedom of expression, which the Indian Constitution - like all democratic states - vows to protect. But similar to all other constitutions, it doesn’t allow absolute freedom of speech, with asterisks limiting the liberty given to its people. It is those asterisks that the JNU protests have put under the microscope.

Should a state allow its students to glorify a convicted terrorist? Should sentiments explicitly, or implicitly, asserting the state’s disintegration be protected under free speech? Should ideas questioning the existence, or creation, of the country be allowed public space?

Some of us, who might be supporting JNU students’ right to glorify Guru, might want to take that right away from supporters of Mumtaz Qadri – a convicted terrorist in Pakistan. Others, who believe that India should allow Kashmiri separatist sentiments to self-manifest in universities, might not say the same about Baloch secessionists in Pakistan. The Unsilencing Balochistan discussion, which was cancelled at LUMS last year, is a prime example of how little tolerance the Pakistani establishment has for ideas that question, let alone challenge, the nationalist narrative.

Merely presenting a differing viewpoint on issues can get one labeled ‘anti-nationalist’, as Pakistan knows too well. Umar Khalid, a JNU student activist, has been peddled as a ‘JeM sympathiser’ after a few high-profile media appearances, while other quarters have went as far as calling him a ‘terrorist’ affiliated with Kashmiri militants. This is simply because of a lack of culture of dissent, which has been further exacerbated by the rise of the Saffron tide and hyper-nationalism in India.

Any state that presents itself as a democracy will continue to contradict itself unless it allows all kinds of conflicting ideas to exist. The right for people to believe in ideas that are antagonistic to popularly held beliefs, or narratives, is precisely what freedom of speech safeguards. The right to free speech is the right to offend – and this includes nationalist, cultural or religious sentiments of an individual, group or the majority of the population. The only asterisk that should ideally be put is the one barring hate speech leading to violence.

When you’re putting an asterisk on hate speech, it is imperative to judiciously define it. Just like states and groups like to limit free speech according to what the majority finds offensive, they define hate speech accordingly as well. This is where the incitement to violence clause should be the limiting factor. Once the element of violence is factored in, it’s easier to devise policies for the glorification of convicted terrorists.

Both Afzal Guru and Mumtaz Qadri were sanctioned as terrorists by the apex court in India and Pakistan respectively. While Guru’s role in the concerned act of terrorism is shrouded in doubt, as reiterated by groups and opinion-makers all over India, Qadri’s was committed in broad daylight, which he proudly owned up to, in turn garnering nationwide acclaim.

Even though the Supreme Court’s word is judicially final in both states, should individuals be coerced into agreeing with the verdict? Should the citizens of a democratic country have the right to believe that the apex court has erred?

This right to believe that a verdict is wrong is precisely why the judicial procedure allows you to appeal and review decisions. And hence, it’s impossible to take away this right in accordance with the separation of powers and checks and balances on state institutions that all democratic states aspire to implement.

Whether it’s India or Pakistan the only way forward is to embrace dissent, especially at university campuses, which should be hubs of multitudinous ideas and debates. This would not only bolster diversity, which is an inalienable part of democracy, it would also show both states the mirror they need, to address the howlers from the past and help them move forward. Anti-nationalism of today is often reminisced as a revolution tomorrow.