Nationalism demands a dialogue

Why we need to listen to what Rohith Vemula and Kanhaiya Kumar say

Written by Ajay Gudavarthy | Published: February 19, 2016 12:02 am
JNU row, JNu protest, patiala house court, incident of violence, patiala house court violence, kanhaiya kumar, supreme court, delhi police, BS bassi, afzal guru, anti india slogans, OP Sharma, india news, indian express editorial JNU Students shout slogans against the issue of Anti National slogans came out in the new, in New Delhi. (Express Photo)

It is well known that not many Kashmiris are happy with the Indian Union for the way they are treated and due to the wanton human rights abuse that is an everyday reality in Kashmir. In this light, those students who raised slogans declaring Afzal Guru a martyr are not unusual. For that matter, the issue of the travesty of justice or “judicial killing” in Afzal Guru’s case has been raised by many writers and also a former high court judge. In fact, Mehbooba Mufti of the PDP has herself raised this issue and demanded that the body of Afzal Guru be returned to his family. The BJP continues to explore options of forming government in Jammu and Kashmir with the PDP, even as it clamps down on JNU and accuses the JNU students’ union president of sedition.

From openly debating why the Kashmiris’ demand for a plebiscite is legitimate, today, even uttering a doubt on the most brazen of human rights violations committed by security forces could count as anti-national activity. Demanding rule of law and accountability from the police, and armed and paramilitary forces has become sedition. Raising slogans — however objectionable some of them might have been — is now being seen as an act of terror.

Universities have been, perhaps, the last public spaces to assert a right to express and debate, which are utterly indispensable for holding a nation together. The RSS, in its mouthpiece, had not long ago argued that JNU is a bastion of anti-national activities and a hub of terror. What we are witnessing today in JNU is an outcome of that kind of an understanding of a place that is willing to penetrate the political nature of various problems, including the nationality struggles in the Northeast, socio-economic roots of the Maoist insurgency, everyday humiliation suffered by Dalits, wanton neglect and marginalisation of Muslims, sexual harassment of women, and stigmatisation of sexual minorities. Not long ago, demanding reservations for the OBCs and implementing the Mandal Commission report were described as anti-national and, today, the BJP-RSS that had vehemently opposed such demands proudly projects an OBC as its leader.

On the day of the public meeting in JNU on February 13 to protest the police clampdown and demand the release of Kanhaiya Kumar, a handful of ABVP activists were waving black flags and raising slogans against the massive gathering. They were allowed the space to protest. In no small measure, this reflects the spirit that JNU has stood for all these years. A spirit that stands in complete opposition to the way the current political dispensation has handled students, not in JNU alone but in the University of Hyderabad, IIT Madras and FTII. A spirit that refuses to be subsumed under the simple-minded, mediocre nationalism of the current dispensation that wishes away every difference of opinion and perceives it as “Bharat Ma ka apman”.

Nations flourish when they instill a sense of belongingness and meaning to their diversity. Universities play an important role in this by contributing towards extending the inclusive character and democratising social hierarchies. Otherwise, we often end up with “nationalism without a nation”. The death of ideas is also the death of a nation. In fact, the persistent crisis of the present government is one of a lack of imagination and failure to create a new energy that often comes with fresh and innovative ideas in a democracy. Growth is stuck and the government is not willing to innovate new welfare policies that can reinvigorate its social mobilisation. Communal polarisation has failed both in Delhi and Bihar. The only option now seems to be hyperbolic nationalism.

The unwillingness to look for new political strategies is also reflected in the way the dispensation is handling problems in universities. Rohith Vemula’s case was striking in the way the HRD ministry got itself engulfed in a crisis that became cynical to the point of denying Rohith’s Dalit identity and the role of casteism on campuses. Part of the problem is the utter disregard for the autonomy of universities and disallowing administrators from tuning in to the mood and aspirations on campuses.

The way ahead is to listen, and see the way Rohith Vemula and Kanhaiya Kumar have become symbols of a simmering multitude that cannot simply be pushed away or cowed down through the use of force. Even nationalism demands a dialogue. Love for the nation has to be nurtured, not shoved down throats. Diversity has to be acknowledged, not merely by recognising various social identities, but the ideas that come with them.

Finally, even to eventually resolve the Kashmir issue, we need to empathise with why Kashmiris feel so distanced from India, and wedge open a social narrative on the growing majoritarianism and radicalisation of the Kashmiri youth, problems of Kashmiri Pundits and their resettlement, unresolved issues of gender and religion, among other not-so-agreeable features of Kashmiri society. But in order to produce such a dialogue, we need to look into ourselves. Are we prepared for the social spaces such a political dialogue requires or are we filled with the fear of diversity?

The writer is assistant professor, Centre for Political Studies, JNU, Delhi

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More From Ajay Gudavarthy
  1. Jai Kumar
    Feb 19, 2016 at 8:20 pm
    Bharat ki Barbadi tak gang rahegi....... Is this debate or openness r whatever. Even US if you say you want to destroy the union they will hang you by your proverbial... Think before you write. This is not scio plotical discipussion but a War against nation .Matbe your blood is of a different colour. Not only do I see the excesses committed bug hearted forces, I also see ther the,Ely difficult task they are entrusted with. Containment if insurgency is no child minding. Revere back to Ireland if you need a western perspective. UK did not let people in street saying we will destroy the Union. Baat karte hai...,,
    1. H
      Feb 19, 2016 at 11:26 am
      Sir virodh political paties ka hota hai na ki desh ka. Aap us desh ka khilaff nahi ja sakte jiske sambhidhan ne aapko bolne ka hak diya ho Aap se achhe to 10th p sainik hi achhe hai jo bina choche apni jaan de dete hai Please stop this.
      1. R
        Feb 19, 2016 at 12:54 pm
        All the questions raised by the teacher, kneed answers from the communist parties of many hues which were left to rule Indian cultural, historical and educational space in the last fifteen years or so while the Italians and their partners looted India with both hands. Useless University, this JNU. Only protests by teachers and students for stan and China. Disband it and make it an Insute for foreign languages, the original idea for which it was set up.
        1. G
          Feb 19, 2016 at 3:53 am
          Here is one more from a free speaker who is ridiculing the nationalism of brave security forces and millions of people of India and he is fed on the hare armed money of these very people. The author is a professor and and may be many times learned man than me but just look at this simple thing. We agree with you that there are security forces excesses in Kashmir in past years . Counter insurgency operations were a natural response from security forces. Anywhere in the world where any counter insurgency operations are launched, excesses happens. Even if these are carried out by professional forces of western countries , these things are natural to happen. But we're there any brazen human rights violations by Indian security forces before insurgency started there. Then who is responsible for starting this insurgency. And the society which had allowed it to start must also be ready to bear its consequences. Take another example. There were no human rights violations in Punjab before insurgency started there. And during the militancy scores of human right violations happened there but as soon as militancy ended so did the tortures. Do you hear any more fake encounters or excesses by forces. No, because they faded with militancy. So tell your friends in Kashmir, that if they want peace, they have to give up the militancy. They will get peace if they work toward peace. It is a natural reaction. Like Newton's third law of motion that to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. You and your friends will understand if they know the science. But your university is hardly in the news for for anything scientific. More than anything else it is politics or your political science. The night your students were enacting and listening to Afzal guru' drama, students in MIT and elsewhere were listening to the gravitational impulses. So just ask your comrade students and professors to work hard to bring your university' ranking in the world a little bit higher. Leave politics for the politicians.
          1. S
            Feb 19, 2016 at 1:14 pm
            Leftists, laissez fair intellectuals do not care about freedom of speech. Real fight is about perpetuating their hold on higher education, restricting other ideologies to flourish. Why we need to worry about leftists. 1) Leftists can easily talk against the nation itself, demoralizing our armed forces, endangering national security. 2) Leftists have a obsolete, retrograde economic agenda perpetuating poverty. 3) Leftists are enemies of democracy, freedom as proved by the history of every communist country. 4) Leftists destroy national culture and religion as done in in China, Soviet Union, and has been happening in India.
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