By Tanvi Berwah:
Universities are the beds of burgeoning political views and individual thinking. The attendees are no longer children but adults with a broader worldview and access to wider society. This diversity of minds brings in both dissenting views and collaborative ideas. It is how a “whole” individual is developed – socially, spiritually, morally and civilly. The point of higher education is to integrate knowledge with opinions, to develop a cognitive ability that will not always streamline with the “acceptable”.
Suppressing this powerful development tool and forcing assimilation will only lead to a stunted generation that has no awareness of the self, and may be easily replaced with Artificial Intelligence. It will accelerate the emergence of a dystopian landscape where a lack of self-identity merges with intolerance to present a hollowed-out individual, such as the one professed in the Orwellian nightmare, ‘1984’. In this George Orwell masterpiece, the individual is reduced to merely a productive pair of hands owned and manipulated for the benefit of a totalitarian government; existing, without emotions or thinking capabilities, melded uniformly. Individualism is persecuted as the worst kind of sin. The protagonist, Winston Smith, is found guilty of “thought crime” when he falls in love with a woman named Julia. Instead of death which in our reality is the ultimate capital punishment, the two are subjected to severe torture and interrogation, and “re-educated” until they are ‘fit’ to be assimilated into the crowd once again.
Grotesque and hyperbolic as the novel is, it hits home because what else is a “thought crime” but individual thinking? While the state situation may hopefully never come true, the escalating attack on questions raised because of dissenting ideas and thoughts is troubling.
Police brutality is not a novelty; it takes place under the disguise of law and its cruelty an example of what unchecked authoritarian-complex leads to. In one of the most obvious cases in India, P. Rajan, a student in Kerala was tortured and killed during the Emergency, his body never to be recovered.
What allows the state to randomly use torture that might lead to death? What happens when the person is deemed to be proven innocent? Does any action afterward bring back life and dignity?
In Kafka’s ‘The Trial’, a bank officer named Josef K. finds himself arrested inside his house one morning. Upon asking the reason, he’s told that the police don’t “answer questions like that”. He spends the entire novel in an absurd chase to figure a way out of this unfair, inexplicable arrest. Ultimately, he’s exhausted to the point where during his execution, he gives up and dies “like a dog”.
Taking note of the accusations on the Hyderabad Central University students – they may have ransacked property, barged into the office/VC’s lodge. But does audacious entry or broken furniture justify the disproportional use of force by the police?
Will we one day be dealing with the Kafkaesque reality of ‘The Trial’ when state suppression barges in without explanation, detains, and destroys arbitrarily?
Police brutality cannot be quantified. It is relative, easily disguised under “law”, and therefore, a dangerous precedent with immeasurable repercussions. It feeds alienation, creates disillusionment and ultimately explodes in what is conveniently termed “radicalism”.
There stands no justification of this renewed structural violence on the HCU students, predominantly the historically oppressed, except for persecution for their beliefs. They are protesting an unrepentant authority and seeking accountability for the death of Rohith Vemula. It is the recognition of their own oppression that offends the fixed structure.
The reaction of students – not just in HCU – erupting across the country is an existential crisis. Overnight, entire universities are being termed “anti-national” and its students forced to abide by Roman Empire-like brutality of laws that are used chaotically against thoughts and a vision for a dignified, well-lived life.
Josef K.’s prosecutors in ‘The Trial’ were simply “the enormous organization”. For the dissenting and assertive students, it is Brahmanvad and Hindu supremacy. Rohith Vemula’s death, the apex of this clash, is still being dissected in regards to his identity as a Dalit. According to his suicide note, his identity is what he was constrained to, his birth becoming “a fatal accident”. And now, Telangana Home Minister has already pronounced Rohith a non-Dalit even though the police are still investigating the matter. It’s an absurd reality executed by a shackling structure which uses the political power of language to reduce identities to mere words, but only as long as it suits the mainstream narrative.
The struggle between this organised supremacy and its resistors is exhausting, but it is also increasingly enlightening. After all, the breakout of mutinies in the armed services themselves in 1946, although quickly suppressed by the British Raj, found popular support and led to the acceleration of the Labour government’s actions to free India.
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