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RIP nuance, the middle ground is shrinking

The vast grey area, where we’d express doubts, question, learn, seems polarised. Now, due to Hindutva, we’re forced to ally with people with whom we’d earlier disagree.

Written by Shehla Rashid | Published: December 29, 2016 12:15 am
hindutva, india hindutva forces, shiv sena, vhp, rss, bjp, jnu, jnu students, india politics, india religion politics, india news Due to the “forward bias” applied by the communal Hindutva forces, we are forced to ally with people with whom, in peace time, we would have debated and disagreed on various counts.

There was a time when we would use the term “touché” a lot, to honour a good point made by our opponents. Because the opponents were opponents owing to their position on a certain issue, not because of who they were. We would discuss, debate, dissent — but also agree. It’s healthy to be able to laugh at yourself. But today, you really have to look hard for a witty opponent who could counter you in a graceful, funny or intelligent way.

There was a time when we would debate the nuances of issues. What was to be done about the death penalty? Why should homosexuality be decriminalised. These were our concerns. Somehow, on issues of gender, we are forced to find allies among the Left, Right and centre alike, for things to move even one inch. And since such alliances don’t happen anymore, gender issues have been the least discussed this year. Where are the conversations on queerness, marital rape or acid attacks?

When 2012’s December 16 rape incident took place, many of us went to India Gate, seeking the death penalty for the rapists. Over time, listening to the views of feminist thinkers, arguing amongst each other, having long conversations with people, made many of us look at the justice system in an entirely different and critical way, and change our minds about capital punishment.

In JNU, a Muslim teacher explained to our class how the Congress party’s handling of the Shah Bano case was wrong and how the struggle for Muslim women’s rights needs to be taken forward. When it comes to Section 377, I have had intense debates with people in my community (in fact, it is only now that I think of myself as part of the “community” by being constantly reminded of my name).

However, when the “community” is under perpetual attack from the ruling forces, you find yourself constantly arguing for the democratic rights of minorities; any discussion of internal debate, reform, etc, goes out of the window. It is hard to talk about Shah Bano’s case in the face of the Dadri lynching.

The time for nuance seems gone. The middle ground is shrinking. The vast grey area, where we would express doubts, question and learn and which lay in-between the binary states of “agree” or “disagree”, seems polarised. Now, due to the “forward bias” applied by the communal Hindutva forces, we are forced to ally with people with whom, in peace time, we would have debated and disagreed on various counts.

Last year, at this time, Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and I were debating political positions among ourselves on privatisation, gender, caste, etc. This year, the state repression unleashed has led us to speak for one another, rather than against. RIP, nuance. We have had 2,015 differences with the Congress — only, none this year! That’s not a healthy sign for democracy. As someone recently remarked at a conference, the liberals can now feel what it was like to be on the Left for the past 40 years.

Twitter used to be a funny place where people exchanged witty ideas. Now, it is an angry place where we exchange labels. Barkha Dutt was called a “bhakt” on Twitter recently; that should sum up the year for her. And for us.

Gone are the days when discussions on corruption would involve charting out the fineprint of the Lokpal Bill. Now this involves determining who is a “desh bhakt” based on whether they stand patiently in an ATM queue or not. And with the prime minister declaring all opposition to demonetisation as “Pakistan-inspired”, stupidity is now officially sanctioned. Funny, though, considering that Pakistan itself seems “inspired” by Modi to demonetise the Rs 500 note — a move that is strangely being celebrated by Modi supporters on Twitter. It’s an infinite loop of bad logic.

The constant reference to Pakistan betrays the permanent anti-Muslim hatred of the present establishment. The outpouring of hatred over a newborn baby’s name is not over the name. It is, in fact, hatred of a fascist nature against Muslims. We would not see any outrage if, say, Soha Ali Khan and Kunal Khemu were to name their children “Babu” or “Maya” (also the names of the Gujarat riot-accused Babu Bajrangi and Maya Kodnani).

The missing JNU student Najeeb may be a cool chap who sports an Enrique Iglesias profile picture online, no beard and skullcap. He changes his profile picture to support Team India. On his social media profile, he promises to get sweets for his Hindu friends. However, for the right-wing trolls, he is only a “terrorist” who “must have gone to Syria and joined ISIS”. Najeeb turned 27 on October 18, days after his disappearance, but for the hate-mongers, he is a “39-year-old terrorist”. Do facts even matter in this deeply polarised environment?

Earlier, we used to discuss how to improve democracy. The RTI, Lokpal, Section 377, AFSPA, gender sensitisation of police — these formed the crux of our concerns. Now, we are left only discussing how to save democracy. The only hope is in people’s unity in the face of a deeply communal and casteist regime. Here’s to more people’s struggles in the upcoming year.

The writer is former vice-president of the JNU Students Union and an upcoming author

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    Utkarsh Tiwari
    Dec 29, 2016 at 10:55 am
    I hope you read this, sorry but no abusive content ahead! lt;br/gt;I am bemused at your thought process, it is either that you are not aware of previous religion related tussle which more often than not turned a violent one or you systematically chose to ignore it. The only thing that has come to forefront because of this government is the minor issues. You and I would have never known what happened in Dadri had it not been BJP government in power, same goes with Freedom of speech, I personally believe that people are more informed about this issue and this one has nothing to do with any government, our countrymen/women have always been uptight and now we are talking about it, it's a great step.lt;br/gt;Internal discussions on the working of a community can never stop, that my educated friend is our right and I hope you do agree that there are many faults in Islam, my friends and I talk and debate about them. Democracy is in no danger, stop treating it that way. lt;br/gt;I agree that media specially has gotten a lot Right, in past few years but again that is their right. I have often had discussions with people from before my time and they do say that this periodic shift is natural, the media was as Left as they could have been in a democratic national in 2008-2013.lt;br/gt;To sum up your point on the naming fiasco, there are so many people named Babu or Maya, remember the good always trump's bad, people will and we must remember that! Nobody keeps their baby's name Ravana or Adolf anymore do they? The reason why Said a history buff would do that is beyond me though I believe it's a backlash to the so called intolerance which he would have never faced in his life. lt;br/gt;What the country lacks as of now is a healthy opposition, few good minds that don't oppose the PM for the sake of opposing but for the sake of land we all inhabit.lt;br/gt;Keep debating, nuance my friend is alive till we want it to be.
    1. Jai Kumar
      Dec 29, 2016 at 5:39 pm
      Maybe the concept of Hindu Secular India is alien to the Writer and she if she is of the same intellectual calibre as Kanhiaya then I rest my case. Political opportunities is different from journalism. Yes after ages of slumber a Hindu is the PM and Hindu Part is in Power. Does the writer appreciate that it is only India which has better secular credentials than all the west put together. If she finds common ground with the Scam Congress then good luck to her.
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        Hemant Kumar
        Dec 29, 2016 at 6:40 am
        She should talk about research papers and not criticise the system as if they are bearing the brunt of it. However to restrict slogan shouting, loud protests and hooliganism - which hamper learning in the insution - rather than peaceful debates, is no way the curtailment of freedom. The students should stop pandering to politics from the highest platform available viz. India Express.
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          Onkar Singh
          Dec 29, 2016 at 3:17 pm
          She has no problem,but you seem to have against her point of view,hence you term her views as poisonous,whereby you reflect your extreme hatred to others views.Get rid of this hatred towards Muslims,live and let others live!
          1. O
            Onkar Singh
            Dec 29, 2016 at 8:08 am
            A particular ideology and a mind set that believes that it represents the wisdom and knowledge of this country,is the narrowest vision that is being propagated. And anyone who disagrees with this position is "anti-national", " anti" is the appendage ready to be used as frequently as you can imagine.So the scope of " seeing" the wisdom in the other's viewpoint is totally lost.So what we get is " herd" instinct,and " mob" mentality,and "one dimensional" human beings !!The herd and mob doesn't reason.This is the situation being " manufactured" in the country in the name of the " saving" the country.But the real position is to save the " interests" of " some vested interests"for " looting" the country,in the name of "preserving" the country!! So if you are able to see through this,you automatically become "anti-national"!!So it's upside down "nationalism" being preached by those who were no where near the nationalist freedom strugglers when the " nationalists" were fighting the British.A new kind of " nationalism" is being promoted,which one can term as "Statue Nationalism",the higher the statue the higher the attachment to the country.Whereas the amount of money spent on statues can be spent on the poor,on education and health care.Education will not create the " one dimensional human beings".Right now we need reason to face this " one" dimensional ideology of " statue nationalism"!!!
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