By Neha Chaudhary:
There is a lot of hue and cry regarding what happened in Jawaharlal Nehru University. Some believe that the alleged sloganeering against India was a conspiracy by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. Others feel that the students who organised the event were a handful and their actions should be condemned and the whole of JNU should not be maligned. However, as someone who has been ardently following this subject from the beginning, I have a few things to say.
Supposedly, the students that organised the programme on the 9th of February have an ideology that stands for Kashmir’s independence from the Indian Union. (This is believed by the general populace and media houses, and this is one of the major reasons for the contempt against them.) And thus, much like the People’s Democratic Party of Jammu and Kashmir, they also consider Afzal Guru a martyr. Before jumping to any conclusion, there are a few questions that need to be raised.
The matter of Jammu and Kashmir is a fiercely debated one and people have divergent views on the issue. The notion of ‘self-determinism’ is also not unknown. It is also to be noted that Jammu and Kashmir is not the only state that has questioned the Union and demanded a separate identity. The list is a long one. But as usual, our nationalist ferment doesn’t allow us to see that side of the country.
So, the crucial question is: Is organising a programme on Afzal Guru anti-national? Is the separatist stand on the question of Jammu and Kashmir anti-national? I think, no. I think so because people can have different stands on different issues, and as champions of democracy, we can have such stands without labelling them as ‘anti-national’. We might not like them, we might not respect them, but we can’t deny them their existence.
Let us move to the second aspect of the controversy. The slogans against India. These are mostly condemned and even JNU doesn’t stand by them. But as a student of History, I would like to put them in context and try to dissect them. The context is quite clear. These students from Kashmir (a few of them, at least) have a very clear stand regarding Jammu and Kashmir and the stand is that of a separate nation. So, when (or if) they talk about ‘Bharat ke tukde’, they are referring to the formation of a separate nation. ‘Bharat ki barbaadi’ is the same, the end of the Indian Union. And if you are someone who follows the news regularly, you must have heard about the slogans like ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ being raised in Kashmir before. All I want to say is that there is nothing new in what is happening. This has all been said and done before. Then why are JNU and its students being targeted now?
There are some who believe that JNU is being rightly targeted and nobody should be allowed to say something like this against the nation. I have some questions for them. Have they ever wondered why someone would want to go against their own nation, why somebody would feel so alienated? Why the people of Kashmir or any other state have such strong sentiments against the Indian Union? What is the cause of such resentment? These questions need to be answered first.
One big strand of this issue is ‘nationalism’. This issue is about the ‘idea of a nation’, about the ‘idea of India’. And as the youth of this nation, we need to ask the question: whose nation is this? Who defines what nationalism is? Who defines what anti-nationalism is? A police report talks about ‘anti-national’ activities in the JNU campus such as the worship of Mahishasura and beef eating. What does this reflect? This reflects an attempt on the part of right-wing forces to define nationalism as an ‘elite Hindu discourse’, forgetting about the fact that India is a diverse nation and that there are diverse voices. This reflects an attempt to appropriate ‘nationalism’, and the creation of a new dominant discourse. And anybody or everybody going against this discourse is labelled as ‘anti-national’. This discourse is Hindu, and every opposing voice is Umar Khalid, a ‘terrorist’.
But, as a student, I have hopes, I have aspirations and have my own ‘Idea of India’. I dream of an India where dissent is not dead, where I can voice my opinion without the fear of being lynched by some hysterical mob. I dream of an India where my idea of nationalism is equally valued and is given due space. I dream of an India where university spaces are full of debates and discussions, where we question the dominant trends, theories and practices. I see this incident as a threat to democracy, a threat to free speech and a threat to diversity of opinions. As a student, I am afraid. I am afraid of being labelled as ‘anti-national’ for merely believing in something that is against the state and the dominant view.