By Shambhavi Saxena:
Staccato slogans are pulsing outside the window panes this evening, as a large group of people marches past hostels and dhabas. Nobody who lives in JNU is a stranger to this, but it’s different this time. The Students’ Union president, Kanhaiya Kumar, has been arrested and charged with sedition. The hashtag #ShutDownJNU is trending online. People are calling us all “terrorist sympathisers.”
All of this is happening because a few days ago right-wing elements took umbrage with a particular slogan raised by some individuals. Even as students groups categorically distanced themselves from these slogans, the right used it as a pretext to launch an attack against their own peers in the campus, branding everyone not in the ABVP as ‘anti-nationals’.
Things escalated to truly terrifying proportions on 12th February when students like Kanhaiya were hunted down in their own campus. That this is being allowed is a reflection of the kind of nation India wants to be, or has already become.
Back in 2014, I had the jitters about the general elections, and I went to twitter to ask: “Personally I want to know if my new government will safeguard my rights as a queer feminist tree-hugging atheist? #raceto272 #IndiaElections.”
Two years down the line, our worst fears have been realized, and I have my answer. I know exactly what kind of nation I am living in.
It is a nation where a prominent anchor like Arnab Goswami will get away with vilifying an entire student community and calling us all terrorists. Here, people are making sweeping statements to misrepresent the student community, and others are rushing to support them, on the Newshour Debate’s YouTube channel, saying:
It is a nation where students’ democratic right to protest is being snatched away while people have gone online and made disgusting and terrifying threats and no one, not even Mr. Goswami who has an opinion on everything, has raised an eyebrow about this.
It is a nation where academia is under threat – when the students of JNU, or DU, or UoH take a stand, lathis, water cannons and brute force are used to smash dissent. A nation where guns are used to murder intellectuals like M. M. Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar, and Govind Pansare. It is a country where FTII (Film And Television Institute of India) students cannot protest without being attacked by the right wing ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad).
It is a nation where Smriti Irani says “bharat mata ka apman nahi sahenge” (we won’t tolerate any disrespect towards mother India), but where female victims of sexual abuse are shamed, and a man like R. K. Pachauri is back in TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute).
It is a nation where women are still subjugated, and doesn’t even acknowledge its LGBT+ population – a nation where attacks on gay and trans Indians is heartbreakingly commonplace.
It is a nation where the alleged ‘institutional murder’ of the Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula is permitted to happen – and where the nightly news sweeps India’s caste problem under the carpet so those with caste privilege don’t have to acknowledge their privilege. A nation that has had seven decades to positively address caste issues since Dr. Ambedkar drafted the Constitution, and has failed.
And it is a nation which lacks pro-poor government policies, and where a Muslim actor is torn apart online for expressing his concerns about rising intolerance.
This is not just an attack against a bunch of students. This is an attack on the Constitutional integrity of India, of the Indian people. As Saib Bilaval wrote in Firstpost, “attacking our university in particular is first and foremost an attack on liberalism and social scientists.”
If we do not recognize the real threats to this country, we will be repeating the mistakes that the liberal, progressive Germans made in 1930. We will be turning a blind eye to the witch-hunts happening under our noses.
After the Second World War, Martin Niemöller called it, and today we’re living it – they’ve already come for the Muslims in Dadri, they’ve already come for the communists in JNU, for the trade unionists, the queer couples, the atheists, the intellectuals. They’re coming after anyone who will defend the spirit this country was founded on.