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Why I Honour Kanhaiya Kumar And Soni Sori, Not ‘Imaginary Boundaries Or A Piece Of Cloth’

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By Ujjaini Chatterji:

soni_kanhaiya“If my subjects cannot speak, how would I know their desires? And how would I then, suppress those dreams?”
– Evil Minister, ‘Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne’, Satyajit Ray

I did not wake up to watch the Republic Day parade of 2012 in which Mr. Ankit Garg was conferred the President’s Police medal for gallantry. I was least interested. I had not heard of Soni Sori. I was preparing to join a Law School in a few months. I believed that the Indian society was dynamic and justice, though, sometimes delayed was never intentionally denied in India. I trusted the sanctity of Indian Courts. I had not heard of Surekha Bhotmange either.

“Delicious War!” was the immediate reaction of Winston Churchill after the declaration of the Second World War. He loved wars. At that time, specifically, when international politics was dominated by patriarchy, wars were the best expression of chivalry. A colonial chauvinism had already waged one world war in their race to imperial domination. Churchill was soon going to be both significant and a prodigy of war. Yet, he would also lose the election after the war and the world would choose humanism over brute nationalism.

The debate about nationalism had, perhaps, reached its peak during the very World War that brought nothing more than misery to commoners across the world. When Bengal suffered famine, England was reduced to poverty. Both the countries had nearly extinguished all their resources in funding a war that had only scripted praise anthems for the winners. Yet, national win could not wipe international tears. Colonial rivalry had proved to be of absolutely no good.

The past few weeks went by with a number of heated discussions about how much rebellion ‘nationalism’ permits. And whether, if at all, Kanhaiya, a post-graduate student, was justified in questioning the execution of Afzal Guru. A furiously excited Arnab Goswami exuded his frustrations as he questioned the “audacity” of the students to protest against a nation that ‘subsidised their education’. I was reminded of the medieval taboo towards freedom. It seemed like watching Da Vinci once again being threatened by the powerful for his rebellion in Art.

Yet, we were not in the dark ages. We were brought up under the fantasy of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. And ‘democracy’ was built on the ideals of truth and individuality. Appeasement of the state’s interest did not always address the individual struggles. Without the recognition of minority opinions, it is, perhaps, impossible to construct an inclusive democracy at all. Under the circumstances, the taxpayers certainly assist in the education of the country, not for conformity, but to create a pedestal of individuality. We did not educate our youth only to hear them sing conformist slogans and watch them campaigning for political parties. Our intention was to facilitate thinking and encourage opinions. In fact, is it not an obligation for every individual to voice their opinions and concerns in order to revive our thinking and attention towards the realities that go unseen?

We are living in a time when our beliefs, our education, and even our protests are being constantly governed by various authorities. Young minds are gradually being influenced in a way that we hardly hear anything different. It is the same old populist rhymes that we are used to memorising. Our generation has found no Beatles that could instil in us the courage to defy and imagine a world without God or boundaries. Neither could we create a Pink Floyd to question our education system. We were brought up in the age of entertainment supplements where glamour eclipsed debate.

By the 1920s, the Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations had already begun creating the most powerful pressure group in modern times – the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Soon, the Ford Foundation joined its funding too. The organisation continues to work very closely with the CIA, United Nations, and IMF and needless to say, it is the strongest manipulating factor in global politics. Several World Bank Presidents have been members of the CFR. CFR decides our leaders, and also, CFI (Center for Financial Inclusion) members like Bill Gates decide our education policies. The Indian members of the organisation include Mr. Tarun Das, Mr. N.R Narayana Murthy, Mr. Jamsheyd N. Godrej, Mr. J.J. Irani (Unsurprisingly, he was also one of the key committee members of the New Companies Act, 2013 in India) and most other capitalists.

The CFR has closely maintained its presence and ensured that every move in history was in the favour of corporate profits. And none of this is any conspiracy theory. They are as transparent facts as the existence of the biggest bottles of Coke in my refrigerator. The India Against Corruption Movement, too, was funded by Coca-Cola and the Ford Foundation. Where, exactly, was our patriotism then? Did it give a swell to our pride to watch an uninformed bunch of youth, supporting the movement with the least awareness of the happenings in the country? Or did it make us happy about securing further corporate jobs? Is that the kind of return we expect out of the ‘subsidised education system’?

Speaking of the education system, we should indeed be proud of Kanhaiya and his friends. Despite the best efforts of our system, they could still not contain their individuality and the students showed the integrity to protest without the greed of any myopic gains. Our textbooks have defined not just history in political terms, but sometimes altered our geographical realities too! Only a few years ago, NCERT text books for school children read that Madagascar was “an island in the Arabian Sea” and that Lancashire had been “a fast growing Industrial town.” The denial of independent learning did not pause at these bizarre mistakes. History was suitably altered to narrate a ‘Hindutva’ tale of Indian History. The texts were nothing more than a certain kind of RSS manifesto. Being squeezed by cultural terrorism on one hand and corporate tyranny on the other, Kanhaiya, chose instead to voice dissent and not give in to this desperate indoctrination. Kanhaiya did not apply for a corporate working visa abroad. Instead, he tried to make a difference.

In legal terms, Kanhaiya had only restored the honour of the Indian constitution that was born out of a struggle not only against an imperial dominance but also the backwardness and discrimination within the country. How does screaming ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ make me a traitor as long as I do not say ‘Attack India’? And even if I say so, I cannot, definitely, be booked under sedition! As described by the Supreme Court in the case of ‘Balwant Singh vs. State of Punjab’, in India, even complete rants against India and slogans in favour of division of the country do not amount to sedition.

Kanhaiya’s arrest itself was unnecessary and the criminal procedure with various precedents outlines the fact that an interrogation is first necessary in case of any report which may be followed by an arrest only if absolutely essential. Alongside a right to free speech, I also have a right to hear every opinion. If at all, an opinion is so frivolous or wrong, I would definitely choose to not accept it. Why is India so afraid of criticism? Do we really have a lot to hide? Can a speech, a song or a caricature really create uproar in the nation? Is the unity that India is boasting about so fragile that a few people armed with a different set of ideas can break it? Free expression makes us insecure only when we are trying to desperately hide something. Is India afraid?

Kashmir and sister states continue to be the most militarised areas in the whole world. We have deployed more military in the zone than the United States did in Afghanistan. We cannot deny the reality that Afzal Guru continues to be a hero to those destroyed by the misrule of the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), and to them, it is a struggle for freedom. If India wishes to understand Kashmir, we need to work much more seriously towards democracy. If one does not want to be an Indian, his expression can be muzzled, but the hate cannot be ended. The more we oppress and overlook Kashmir, the worse it gets. To maintain the sanctity of heaven, heaven should find democracy.

We have had generations of children growing up in Kashmir with bullet sounds as their daily alarm. Families have been destroyed and human rights have been abused. Irom Sharmila continues to fast and protest against the oppression of AFSPA in Manipur. AFSPA cannot be a reality in any democracy. Taxpayers’ money is also not meant for military occupation in Kashmir or the rape of Manorama Devi in Manipur! Neither is it paid to contribute to the ‘Hinduisation of Kashmir’. A democracy cannot afford to create a zone where human beings are caged like animals and leave the country in illusion and the terror created by Arnab Goswami like anchors. A weeping soldier cannot undo the arbitrary abuses of the military in the Valley.

In the jungles of central India, near the Indravati River, the area controlled by Maoists is called ‘Pakistan’ by the police. Women have been raped and remain in lockups. The villages are empty and civilians are escaping the ‘operation green hunt’ by the elected government. A lady called Soni Sori was arrested, upon the suspicion of being a ‘Maoist terrorist’ as Mr. Goswami might call her. In lockup, stones were pushed into her genitals. Soni Sori struggled in a Kolkata hospital when those in the red corridor were starving to death as big corporations with the help of our governments continued to snatch their living, identity and culture. Indian’s GDP spiralled, yet in terms of development the country’s performance is dismal. Soni Sori was a ‘Maoist Terrorist’. ‘The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act’ could certainly imprison her without question. But that day, with Soni Sori, democracy was arrested too!

The French student movement and all other 1968 movements in the capitalist countries were also against the nationalistic fervour of the American war in Vietnam. They stood for humanity. If only there was a little less nationalism across England in 1943, there might have been no famine in Bengal. Free speech and a little less national fervour can, at times, restore humanity. A Japanese teardrop is no different from German sorrow. Neither is Pakistani rejoice, that was once a part of us only to be divided for political reasons, any different from our happiness. The death of millions of soldiers wasn’t a matter of pride. They were scapegoats brainwashed with nationalism for political gains. There can be no pride in killing. I mourn Afzal Guru. I mourn the deaths in Kashmir and I mourn the soldiers of World War. But were these deaths really needed?

Surekha Bhotmange‘s FIR against local tyrants was rejected by the police. She was gang-raped in front of her family for being from the Mahar community. Yet, she fought and struggled to live on. Just as Malala fights the Taliban, Surekha fought against caste oppression. So did Rosa Parks, Sidney Poitier, Harper Lee and everyone who chose to rebel against norms.

I did not wake up to watch the Republic Day Parade of 2012 in which Mr. Ankit Garg was conferred the President’s Police medal for gallantry. However today, I am interested. Ankit Garg was the superintendent who had tortured Soni Sori. She was released from her hospital in Kolkata. She did not die. She is protesting again. She is an anti-national. So am I. We do not believe in honouring imaginary boundaries, rhetoric or a piece of fancy cloth. We honour human beings. In Kanhaiya and Umar, we find hope and we wish to protect that hope. It is a hope we are proud of.

Chhattisgarh is protesting again. So am I. Our youth is reigniting the flames of rebellion. Umar, Kanhaiya and every other thinker, I am with you. Capitalism sponsored elitist TV anchors can only silence your mics, not your courage, not your integrity. You are cherished by our dream of humanism.

Long Live Revolution!

You must be to comment.
  1. Saurabh

    Very well articulated. Kudos!

  2. Ujjaini

    So kind of you to read my article. Thank you so much.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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