Why I Hope Student Politics In India Doesn’t Follow Pakistan’s Example

Posted on March 21, 2016 in Society

By Zaboor Ahmad:

Image Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi.

Hindutva, in its modern political avatar, can be postulated to be an attempt to attain a purely ‘Hindu Rashtra’. It is to be done through political mobilisation, controlling cultural institutions with the full backing of the government and putting in place the right people who can serve the purpose. In fact, India is morphing the same way that Pakistan did.

The demolition of Babri Mosque was preceded by an attempt to saffronise the society in India by right-wing elements while their counterparts in Pakistan did the same to Islamise the society from below. Now, power and authority is in their hands and the state can be effectively constructed from above. Of course, in Pakistan, it tore apart the very fabric of society which is exactly what appears to be happening in India. Hindutva has found a presence in the psyche of the youth, with student politics and politics in general becoming fundamentalist in orientation in India.

Soon after the formation of Pakistan, colleges and universities were overwhelmed by the student wing of the Muslim League known as Muslim Students Federation, which was rooted in a modernist tradition. But the infighting within the MSF led to other groups becoming more dominant like the Democratic Students Federation linked with the Communist Party of Pakistan.

But it was another group, inspired by the ideology of Maulana Maududi, Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, or the Islamic students’ federation, which subsequently carved out for itself ideological influence in educational institutions. It came to occupy elected bodies in colleges and universities. It vehemently opposed the secular policies of Ayub Khan. Simultaneously, it checked the growth of the secular and progressive forces. It distributed pro-Islam, but often anti-social, literature and engaged in clashes with leftist groups across the country. Leftists accused IJT of being bankrolled by the CIA to contain the influence of communists given the context of the Cold War.

The battles between Islamic forces and liberal, leftist students’ unions were fought through the elections to the college and university student bodies. These battles often spilled over to the roads and streets. With the rise of Zia-ul-Haq in Pakistan, an already strong IJT established a foothold across the various universities despite facing a debacle in student elections of 1983. While Zia imposed a ban on students’ unions the following year, the IJT’s influence continued to grow. The supposedly apolitical but puritanical Tablighi Jamat began gathering the masses in privately owned colleges. The fallout of all this was the emergence of an intolerant and conservative generation of young Pakistanis. A similar situation is emerging in India. But, often, direct parallels are hard to draw as Indian society is more resilient.

The right-wing forces believe that atheism is exotic (‘videshi’) culture. Beyond any shade of doubt it is Swadeshi culture. Banaras Hindu University has sought the help of experts to teach the students the ‘ills’ of western civilisation. As if everything else is alright with our civilisation. The project is meant to curb this growing proclivity towards atheism in India. Around three million people in India fall in the category of ‘religion not stated‘, read atheists and agnostics, if the census of 2011 is to be believed. The point to ponder over for the Hindutva brigade is that this category of people has shown exponential expansion from around seven lakhs shown in the census of 2001. More than the growth of any religious community, it is the atheists who have grown the most. In fact, their numbers have grown around four times in over a decade.

Hindutva rhetoric, though, seeks to change the puzzling scenario by attacking the rationalists whose beliefs are now thought to blaspheme Hinduism. The author Perumal Murugan gave up writing under pressure from Hindutva forces. Anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar was killed in Pune. M. M. Kalburgi, a Kannadiga rationalist had a running feud with the Hindutva brigade.

It so happens that religious skepticism and heterodoxy has been the genetic trait of Indian culture. If India makes a claim to the status of civilisation, there are many things it can’t leave out. Atheistic schools like that of Charvaka had emerged in Indian civilisation well before the Christian Era and a lot of their beliefs have been preserved in our ancient literature. Also, Lord Rama is lectured by a great scholar Jabali on the folly of his Dharmic beliefs in Ramayana. The only religion which is fully agonistic in the world is Buddhism, and it emerged in India.

The worrisome thing in the case of India is that India and its society is being polarised. The most prestigious institutes in India have been made into a battleground to score political points. The fallout will be the churning out of a youth which would not only be communal but also parochial in outlook.

Establishing and promoting the scientific educational institutes and then expecting that religious beliefs will not be under fire is a big error of judgement.