It seemed like something this would blow over quite easily. Cultural evenings, debates and discussion are an everyday affair at JNU; – an integral aspect of the dynamic lifestyle that pervades the entire campus. Evenings spent at one dhaba or the other, sipping chai and talking about everything and anything under the tall trees are a memory that several JNUites, both past and present will identify with. Yet the events of 9th February are a contested memory for many. The fact is that there was an event to discuss the hanging of Afzal Guru and Kashmir’s right to self determination.
There is no denying that some people raised slogans that hurt national sentiments. And beyond this, everything else is surmise. No one knows who those people were. It’s certain though that Kanhaiya Kumar, the President of JNUSU was not present at that moment and he was called to pacify both parties who were at the brink of starting violence. He intervened in the altercation between ABVP and the organising parties and prevented the matter from escalating. The people that raised the slogans were not students of JNU, there is no any evidence because their faces were hidden. Somehow the public that has managed to tilt to one side assumes that it was the students that the entire university actively engages in these “anti-national” activities. For a lot of people, these slogans were raised and it was enough to form an opinion about the entire university and start a public media trial that was vicious and ruthless.
The official statement of both JNUSU and JNUTA condemn these slogans but because of taking these slogans out of context, the matter seems to get worse. And media trials like the ones with Arnab Goswami and his screeching lungs silencing people on a supposed debate and constant reference to a dead soldier only sensationalises the facts and operates in a theatre of hyperbole and rhetoric.
As someone who was not present during the main incident on 9th Feb, the rest of my days were spent piecing things together. Some said it was political plot hatched by the ABVP that blocked the intersection and themselves shouted these anti-national slogans, then captured the video in such a way that made the Left-parties look like they were chanting these slogans. Some said the Left parties did not organise these events were distancing themselves from the event. For all we know, sloganeering is a part and parcel of such events. At any competitive event for example, swimming, basketball, debating each team cheers for his/her own team. Saucy comments are made, the other team is made fun of and it’s all done in good humour. Here too, the political parties got carried away in their sloganeering and understandably chanted things in the heat of the moment. It happens. Let us not be strangers and pretend that we have never seen the inside of a sports field. Which is why for a few days, none of us paid much attention to it. It seemed like a regular two-party standoff with no concrete evidence. It seemed like a political rivalry on campus that would fade and die a natural death.
But it did not. Over the next few days, media vans collected inside, several videos with he-said-she-said headlines cropped up and national politicians jumped into the arena. For no particular reason, Haryana CM’s former OSD made a derogatory comment on the female students of JNU, further highlighting a deep, intrinsic hatred for JNU that has plagued the BJP/ABVP/RSS camp of thought. There have been several attempts to shut down JNU earlier too by Subramaniam Swamy, who last year stated that JNU is a hub for anti- national activities and now he is demanding JNU to be shut down for 4 months. In the face of relentless targeting by the BJP government, JNU has only gathered strength and now in this war that has escalated to binary camp of National Vs Anti-National, this has become an occasion to re examine the idea of nation, nationality and India.
From a previously defensive stance of he said/she said, the argument has finally matured to a point where we can look at the meta-narrative of what is happening in the heart of the nation. It no longer matters, who said the slogans, the real question is “why not?” Why does the question of Kashmiris deciding for themselves what they want, threaten India? This only highlights a deep-rooted belief not just in the politicians of the mainland, but also the masses that the centre can and should decide what happens to the community at the fringes. Instead of listening and understanding the communities that have so far been perceived as the ‘Other’, the government has chosen to brutally suppress any form of communication. If Kashmir raised slogans that implied separation, the correct prerogative would be to engage in dialogue and correct the flaws that have pushed people to feel this amount of misery and despondency. India as a nation is not an objective, concrete reality. It never was. There have been princely states that have been coerced into joining the union, there have been states like Manipur that were manipulated into a political coup and annexed. The boundaries within India too are constantly shifting, with states emerging, refiguring boundaries and as Ernest Renan so succinctly put it, “The life of a nation is a daily plebiscite”.
Which is why the idea of dissent is crucial. It is crucial to character-building and nation building. One must be able to form individual opinions and voice it without fear. It is necessary to challenge prevalent modes of thinking in order to push the discussion forward and make way for a better world. The dominant way of defining nationality has been on the basis of race, culture, language- but different parts of India have different cuisines, languages, beliefs and a different history from the mainland. Of course in cultural evenings, these are celebrated and any event will find one Rabindra sangeet, one dance from the north east, some cuisine from the south, some souvenir from the west- but is this enough? The brutalities of AFSPA, the fake encounters, the blockades, the lack of resources that are plaguing the north east and Kashmir are never widely discussed. For example, before AFSPA, Manipur had 2 terrorist groups and now it has more than 20, Assam has not less than 15 and Meghalaya has 5. How does the government justify this when the sole motive of AFSPA has been defeated? Everyone knows these are “conflict areas” but debate and discussion on the core matters have evaded the average Indian. Most feel pity that the media does not give enough attention to these areas, but the truth is, readers themselves display very little awareness or curiosity about affairs that are not rife in the mainland.
JNU remains the one place where education is imparted in its truest form. It is neither restricted to classrooms, nor is it conducted in a linear teacher-student fashion. It is always a discussion, even in class rooms the teachers sometimes sit in our midst and talk to us about affairs of the world. A large chunk of marks are allotted for class participation- we are expected to interject the professor! Thinking on our own, articulating our opinions and debate is the hallmark of JNU. We have a history of organising cultural events that not only debate matters of the country, but the entire world. In fact, even now as the controversy rages on around us, professors like Ayesha Kidwai, Gopal Guru, Nivedita Menon, Tanika Sarkar and several others are holding public teach-ins on nationalism and India in front of the administration building everyday till 24th February. From Syria to the refugee crisis to #Hokkolorob at JU, nothing is left out of the ambit of discussion. Today, that tradition is being slandered by baseless rumours and concocted stories of Umar Khalid having JeM links and Kanhaiya Kumar being anti-nationalist. It only goes on to show the fear that people have- anything that goes beyond their perceived beliefs is bombarded with abuses and lynching. It displays an inherent islamophobia which seeks dissenters to be “thrown in Pakistan.” Why thrown? Why Pakistan? Why is it that anyone who does not conform to the heteronormative Hindu male idea of Indian “Sanskaar” must be packed off to Pakistan specifically? This makes all Dalits, women, Kashmiris, the entire north east, now all students as “anti nationals”. What makes them propagate a certain idea of the nation, which negates any other idea of nation? Is one idea of a nation even possible? Is it ideal?
What happened at JNU, is not an isolated incident. It is part of a trend that has relentlessly targeted the student community that thinks on their feet. From FTII, JU, IIM-Chennai, HCU to JNU, the motive has always been restricted to institutional autonomy. What could easily have been solved by an internal inquiry, has snow balled into epic proportions thanks to the Home Minister’s affinity to fake twitter handles and Delhi Police’s swift response to a sensational parody. The issue has now reached a point, where the media too is not spared. Holding up the tri-coloured flag is the alibi to get away with mob fury and attack let alone unarmed students, but also eminent professors and media persons. And it’s a spectacle that everyone is sitting and enjoying. Everyone has chosen a side- national and anti- national, the binaries have produced such a fissure that the nationalists find themselves the sole protectors of the constitution and anything contrary to that is incentive enough to murder. (Courtesy BJP legislator O P Sharma) It’s a narrative that has gripped the nation managed to grab cyber space by a storm. It has raised issues of tax and funding public institutions. The average tax payer is suddenly very anxious of where the money is being spent. These are the places where people from any and every background merge and form an extensive heterogeneous community that come together and discuss key issues, present different perspectives and widen the scope of debate. These are the places where caste, class, creed, religion is not a barrier because everyone gets an education under Rs 250 and everyone has a say. The youth, which most people would recognise as the future of the country are learning to become individuals with strong voices, but the tax payer ignores that crores of public money is being spent on concessions and dissolving “bad debt”.
Why are we so afraid of political consciousness? Why are we so afraid that students are not sitting in class and learning by rote information that is centuries old? Dissent is the reason we are where we are today. Dissent is the reason we know the solar system is helio-centric, not geo-centric. Dissent is the reason we are an independent country today. Dissent is the reason women have voting rights and expanded the debate on gender. Dissent is the reason legislations across the world are recognising LGBTIQ identity. Dissent is a crucial and necessary step for civilization and nation-building. Which is why the larger story behind #StandWithJNU goes beyond standing with Kanhaiya and Umar and university autonomy, it extends to personal liberties too. Stand for yourself and your right to voice your opinion.
Edited By : Maitreyee Shukla , Advisor to the Youth Forum , JNU
Author : Sainico Ningthoujam