By Titash Sen:
To everyone who has been misled by people trying to manipulate national opinion,
I am a mere harlot. A criminal at the mercy of your tax money. But I am also a historian. In this capacity, I am writing to you, making an earnest appeal for reconsideration and tolerance.
The events that have occurred in the past few days in my university have been exaggerated exponentially.
Reconstructing the exact trail of events is difficult with all the rumours, but as every historian knows (even the flesh-trading harlots of JNU) facts are not objective. They can be, and in this case, certainly has been, manipulated. A historian’s job is much like a journalist’s. We pick the facts that best show the picture we want shown. That is what mainstream media has been doing.
I don’t know what to believe about who said what. I have never involved myself with any political organization, but I do, however, recognize the importance of their discourse on campus. All I can tell you is, no crime has been committed in JNU. You will protest, and tell me here, that they were sloganeering against the nation, calling even for ‘Bharat’s barbaadi.’ Yes, they were. And they were completely within their rights to have done so. They were non-violent. No one was harmed. They weren’t conspiring, or even threatening violence. We, as a nation, are blinded by the limits of our borders. Lines drawn on a map don’t make a nation. Especially in our case, where the lines on the map were drawn by an oppressive colonial regime (who, by the way, had labelled many national heroes, like Bhagat Singh and Khudiram, as terrorists. We call them martyrs today).
On the 13th of February, as we gathered to protest Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest and the threat of violence looming large on campus with constant police presence, an exceptional coincidence occurred. Within a few minutes after the commencement of the meeting, the sound system was taken down by a written order from the registrar, effectively making the speakers addressing the meeting largely inaudible to the gathered crowd. A few minutes later, some ABVP students carrying black flags arrived, following Rahul Gandhi’s car, shouting “Go back, Rahul Gandhi” incessantly. The speakers could now barely be heard. Coincidence? Or design? The ABVP screamed to drown out our voices. We, seditious criminals, we don’t have rights. We don’t deserve to be heard. Only the guardians of the nation can monopolize political discourse. Here is another question: there were a number of news channels covering this meeting. I have yet to see a report on how ABVP activists mobbed Anand Sharma of the Congress, and pelted him with stones. Nearly, two thousand in defence of Kanhaiya, and our freedom of expression. We, the criminals and defenders of the indefensible, we were not the ones resorting to violence.
Condemned by everyone, a disgrace to the nation, and still, shamelessly defending our beliefs. Why? Because as a resident harlot of JNU, I have a lot to lose. I am a feminist (ABVP, this is your cue to question my morality). This campus has been my first experience of freedom, and thereby equality. Nobody on this campus can tell me I am less than any boy. Nobody can harm me. I can walk around alone at any chosen hour, and not draw a single inappropriate glance. There is no curfew telling me I am incapable of protecting myself. I do not feel threatened. And most of all, I can speak my mind. This means something to us all. We, at JNU, are argumentative. But we recognize and respect an individual’s right to an opinion. I have been questioned on social media for making these claims. I am told, there is a need to draw a line. I agree. There is absolutely a need to draw a line. But I would also add, that everyone gets to decide for themselves, what that line is.
In this incessant riot of accusation-hurling, I urge you to pause and reconsider: what is really at stake here? Are students sloganeering in a university really a threat to national security? Is it tantamount to criminal conspiracy simply because the lines they have drawn for themselves do not coincide with yours? Here is a questionnaire to judge the criminality of the situation: Were people forced to go the public meeting on 9th February? Were they planning an assassination or an attack? Did they resort to violence? Did they threaten to resort to violence?
The answer to all these questions, as you can guess, is a resounding, “No.”
Here, I would refer to an incident that occurred last year. Some Dalit students were organizing a play to celebrate Mahishashur. ABVP disrupted their meeting and called for a ban because the Dalit students dared to insult Hindu Gods. Is this not an act of oppression? Is this not a violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens? If Hindutva right-activists can come to campus and preach their ideology, unhindered and unquestioned, then does that same right not extend to other opinions, however radical? How can the state arrest its own citizens on charges of sedition without any grounded evidence, other than objectionable sloganeering? How are these arrests being made without warrants? Why are the police conducting raids on hostels? Simply because some of us do not believe in fervently reiterating an identity that is given to us by artificially created boundaries?
I must ask, where were these sedition charges when public meetings, gatherings and protests happen in solidarity with Manipur and state repression and the use of AFSPA there? Is Manipur not part of our Republic? Or are there not enough Muslims in Manipur for it to matter?
What then, is the crime? Some students disagreed with the government and treacherously supported the Kashmiri right to self-determination, which has been denied time and again. This is treachery because within the territorial anatomy of ‘Bharat Mata,’ Kashmir is the unmolested virgin, and all our national pride rests on our ability to keep her hymen intact. It is the site of national ‘izzat‘ that needs to be jealously guarded. My appeal to the citizens of this country: please, pause, and consider this. We, as a nation are more than just a territorial entity. We are more than the extent of lines drawn on a map. We are an idea, a set of principles that enshrine plurality and tolerance. If Kashmir is lost, our entire identity as a nation will not dissolve. The other states and their citizens will be there still. Just because Pakistan isn’t disputing our territorial claim on them doesn’t mean they aren’t important in constituting our identity as a united nation. Unity must come when not faced with an external threat also.
The likes of Arnab Goswami have been shouting abhorrently at students, making ad hominem attacks. If you look at the interviews, you will see, the students are trying to initiate a dialogue, explain their position and negotiate, when faced with attacks on live television, questioning their integrity. This is what JNU stands for. We do not resort to ad hominem attacks, or to violence. We resort to words. And with them, we try to persuade you. And, should your opinions differ, we invite a debate.
And for the taxpayers worrying about the misuse of their hard-earned money, I will have to ask you to file an RTI, because it certainly isn’t coming to us. For months, we’ve been fighting for the pittance that passes as a scholarship, because that too was taken away from us. There is a perpetual hostel crisis at JNU. I myself was allotted hostel 8 months after I joined JNU, and an exceedingly large number have to wait an entire year before they are allotted hostels. The year I joined, there were still 800 students from the previous batch waiting for allotment. So if you are wondering about how your tax money is being used, so are we. And we have been, for a long time now. However, it is probably ‘anti-national’ of us to wonder these things.
So, what is our real crime? It is that we endorse a space where debate is welcome, where every opinion has an equal right of existence, and, a right to be voiced. It is our hope in the possibility of harmonious co-existence in the face of disagreement. We do not stifle the words of those we disagree with. Let us recognize the government’s attack on our campus for what it really is: an Islamophobic, communal reaction, masquerading as patriotism to make sure the voters don’t wander out of the Right’s umbrella.
We are not the epitome of institutional perfection. There is much that needs to be remedied. But sedition and anti-nationalism are not among those things. We at JNU know, the longer battle isn’t fought with guns.
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