Phani smiled as he agreed with me on this point, and we continued to speak about other issues around us, like how the campus had changed over the years, and about how pretty that girl was who was having samosas on a table in front of us. This is life in general at JNU. Some party protests against one thing while another protests about something else. I often feel that these student unions and student wings of political parties must reinvent the way they protest - maybe try some new body language instead of the age-old 'laal salaam' sequence with the hand going from the forehead up into the air. I'd also like them to come up with more definite, practical results to the issues they raise. In their idealism, they also end up looking at everyone else as enemies and hence end up losing support on valid issues they raise. I have also often wondered why they are so loud in everything that they do. Why not instead focus on ways to solve these problems and go about it in a less noisy manner? Why not protest less and act more, so that they don't end up in situations like the present case in question, which has led to what the world is now calling the JNU student uprising, but I am now glad this has happened, and I shall try to explain why.
Viewing the disruption of this event as a similar politically backed interference, there was a verbal scuffle that followed, as is usual in JNU, where slogans were hurled at each other like cakes of cowdung, and because the ABVP students were perceived to be trying to stifle the voice of Kashmiris by disallowing this show, there were slogans in favour of Kashmir's freedom. At this point, a group of students? go bonkers with "Bharat ki barbadi tak jung rahegi" and"India Go Back" slogans (are they out of their mind??!!). The point to be noted is that in this particular video, the only one which is objectionable and could be worthy of police action, it is very dark and one cannot figure out who the people in the video are, but well it is sent to the media channels who get their night-vision glasses on, and voila!! 'JNU students are anti-national' 'This is how they use the tax-payers' money'. Now before the earth could spin around it's own head once, ALL of JNU is declared to be an anti-national space by the angry mob, whose only aim in life is to save Bharat Maata. Wait, this is not the plot of a political crime thriller; this is real life stuff happening as we speak!
What makes JNU unique though, is the fact that it provides everyone with a space for dissent, a space for disagreement and protest, and there are systems in place to question every action taken. This system was well-capable of handling the present situation as well, but the insistence of the home ministry on sending the police into the autonomous space of a university by blowing the event out of proportion and by maligning the entire university for the actions of a few students (probably outsiders?) is despicable. I mean, there are students in JNU who are opposed to the slogans raised on the 9th of Feb, and not everyone in JNU is a supporter of the Left. There are a lot of students like me who have issues with the way the Left conducts its politics, as I have mentioned at the start of this article, and there are debates and disagreements all the time. What we all agree upon though, is that the right to express one's ideas should not be stifled in the name of nationalism. Sedition is a totally different term which may not even apply to the present case, as in the Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, the famous 66A judgment, the Supreme Court drew a clear distinction between 'advocacy' and 'incitement', stating that only the latter was punishable.
For someone who comes from such an apolitical background to walk into JNU, the contrast is stark. The active politics, the power vested in the student union, the sloganeering, the protests, the strikes seemed absolutely unnecessary. The other difference that greeted us clearly was the significant difference in crowd. While at Stephen's we would also have a few students from small towns and villages, the majority belonged to relatively elite households. JNU, in contrast, was a truer representation of the entire nation, as there were people from all sections of society, from all beliefs one could encounter, and all kinds of political affiliations present on campus. While Stephen's was known for the student's lives beginning after the classes ended, in the form of theatre groups and debating societies and the myriad other clubs bursting into life an allowing students to work on their talents and skills they would need in life or their careers, JNU took these to a whole new level with the morchas, dharnas, candlelight marches, street plays, sloganeering, debates and cultural shows (real ones too, like the North East night, or the International Food Festival on Republic Day). And they didn't lock the women up after 10 PM, like they did at St. Stephen's.
One problem that I had with most JNU students was that they were happy demonstrating things on campus most of the time (with exceptions like the Nirbhaya case and others of course), while the rest of the world went by as usual, except auto wallahs who came to drop students off and left marveling the existence of such a space where girls could roam around freely after dark. I'm sure these ideas do get transmitted into society when students graduate and interact with the crude realities present outside, but I felt that JNU could do a lot more by initiating a dialogue with the world outside its walls. Despite all that has happened in this protest, I believe that it is a good thing that JNU has now received a platform to tell the world outside the walls what it believes in, and how a society can exist without having to fear consequences and retribution, and how peace can be maintained despite the presence of conflicting opinions, and how men and women can walk around dressed any way they want at any time of the day or night without feeling unsafe, where they can freely talk about their political beliefs, their sexuality, their religious and spiritual inclinations without fearing retribution. And for those who judge JNU without having ever visited the campus, I urge them to attend free talks on nationalism being organized by teachers now that they can listen to and participate in to express rational points of view that they might have in response. We do not throw stones at people in JNU.
They want things to be made in India, requiring cheap labour for the global market and hence want universities to function like factories, where mere skills are produced without the cultivation of thought. While this may be true in engineering colleges or medical colleges, in Social Science universities in particular, people must be encouraged to think and to question existing norms. There have been several incidents where RSS activists and other right-wing organizations have taken the law into their hands, and the government has been silent about it. However, when it comes to ideologies that differ from theirs, they seem to be throwing their might around in several cases across the country, the two recent incidents being the Rohith Vemula case and the present JNU incident. What is also worrisome is that based on slogans that a handful of outsiders (or students?) raised, the media and the ABVP students have had the nation blame the entire campus for being a hub of anti-national thoughts, when it is a fact that even within JNU, there are constant debates and arguments that happen day-in and day-out. JNU is not one ideology, but a hot bed and a crucible that allows the mixing of several conflicting ideologies where healthy debates are held and conflicting ideas are brought face to face with each other in a non-threatening environment. If all of JNU thought alike, then why would we need to debate? Not even Yogesh and I agree on our political views despite often being on the same side while playing doubles on the tennis courts while peacocks and mongooses mate in front of us.
For those who think that JNU is suddenly standing up for Afzal Guru, or that they are picking up the wrong issues at the wrong time, and that they should have protested the Rohit Vemula case instead of dragging Afzal Guru in, I would like to say that JNU is a lot larger than these issues. There are a variety of issues that are raised and spoken about in JNU. On the night that the cultural show in JNU was to be organized, I am sure several other debates and discussions were also happening in other parts of the campus. Just because the media has decided to highlight this incident right now, doesn't mean that these discussions haven't happened before. The Indian Express covered a hunger strike on the Rohit Vemula issue by 7 JNU students a week before this incident was reported. What concerns me most is that I feel that this crackdown on JNU was because JNU has constantly been a pain in the neck for the government, by raising valid, rational questions by protesting against the 'Make in India' scheme for example, wherein the government wants India to start manufacturing things in India so that it can compete with China as a supplier to the global market. While this seems impressive on the face of it, people need to realize that for us to compete with China in the manufacturing industry, to maintain prices as low as China, we need to create a labour market that is similar to that in China, which means we need cheap labour that is subjected to great human rights violations. These and several other such valid points come out of the system of critique that goes by the name of JNU.
Patriotism does not lie in standing up for the national anthem in a movie theatre and going home to beat up one's wife or indulge in corruption. It cannot be gauged by superficial parameters like respect for the national flag or the national anthem and we certainly cannot force patriotism down the throats of people who do not wish to be patriotic in this sense. Forcing anything down someone's throat will only make them hate it more (most parents would know this). Suppression of voices will only lead to more violent forms of expression and violence only begets violence. As someone has said, and it doesn't matter who, "An eye for an eye only causes more blindness". We need to stop discouraging debate and dissent and stop following what is being sold to us on the media blindly, and we must strongly condemn all acts of violence, especially those backed by the government of India. Kanhaiya Kumar has been arrested despite not having shouted anti-national slogans (even Shatrughan Sinha from the BJP has vouched for it now!) while the real Kashmiri sloganeers are still running free. Government-backed police interference in the functioning of an academic institution, and hooliganism outside the High Court under the eyes of the Police by people closely associated with none other than the Home Minister of India are far greater threats to the country's reputation as the world's largest Democracy and the world's largest Republic as well as to our status as a Secular nation.
While I say this, let me reiterate that I (or JNU) DO NOT SUPPORT OR CONDONE slogans like 'Bharat ki barbadi tak' or 'India Go Back'. I am saddened that these slogans happened to take place in the JNU campus, and I sincerely hope these were NOT students of JNU who shouted them (for the video presented as evidence is too dark to identify who they were). I also hope these people are identified and questioned, and that the due legal procedures are followed while taking action in this regard. I also hope that right-wing extremists who celebrated India's Republic Day as a Black Day be called in for questioning, and that that case is investigated as rigorously as the JNU case is at the moment, and that the US moon-landing is also investigated as rigourously as well (Whaaaat??!!! Yeah well, but you know, what's not funny is that not everyone knows at which point in the last three sentences I stopped being realistic). While the political parties and the media channels and the legal procedures sort these issues out, my only request to all those who have spoken against JNU is to please stop targeting the entire fraternity of JNU or condemning the entire event's organization as anti-national. Most importantly, for the sake of whatever you hold dearest to yourself, let's please condemn and end these unwarranted acts violence (hint: lawyers beating up university professors and students outside a high court, in police presence;) by irrational and true anti-national elements of our society.