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‘A Game Of Convenience Is Being Played In The Name Of Nationalism’: NIT Protests

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By Shatakshi Asthana:

nit-srinagar-650_650x400_51460123124With the recent stir at NIT Srinagar, the nationalism debate has crossed all verbal boundaries. The brand new narrative of nationalism is serving the exact purpose that religion did for the educated and the ‘modern’ Indian.

Those preaching culture and traditions select text out of Holy books according to their convenience, interpret it in their way and then pass judgements over people who differ from their ideology. This is the purpose religion helped serve so far. Be it the use of the term ‘Lakshman-Rekha‘ as a moral limit or side-lining the respect shown by Lord Rama towards the lower caste ‘Shabri’, the modern ‘saviours of religion’ have filtered out ancient values and propagated myths to serve their vested interests.The importance of idols and stones prevails while the greatness of love borne by Hanuman in his heart (not requiring any physical manifestation of it) for Lord Rama, is forgotten. After all, love that can’t be seen can’t be sold as lockets or threads.

A similar game of convenience is being played in the name of nationalism now. Sloganeering, flag waving and other symbolic, materialistic masks are being projected as the proof of the ultimate love towards one’s nation. Ironically, this is being done by the same people who turn a blind eye to their role towards the society. Why be loyal to the nation by carrying out small duties like abiding by traffic rules, being eco-friendly, not littering, treating everyone equally? When having the ‘tiranga‘ on the car dashboard or sharing patriotic posts on social media and abusing those who do not fit into this definition of nationalism, is enough to show(off) one’s love towards their motherland, who needs to do things to make a difference?

Not only has nationalism become like religion regarding the way it is perceived and is supposed to be followed but it has now become a ‘brahmastra‘ – the ultimate weapon – for those who want to rule the country. Earlier they used religion to pit the blindfolded, unaware, less informed or ill informed people of India against each other; now they have realized that for educated people religion has taken a back-seat. So, those who feel the need to divide have come up with this brilliant binary of ‘national’ and ‘anti-national’ which has not only influenced the unaware, uneducated masses but has also found support among the well educated. After all who doesn’t love their motherland?

For once, the divide that has been created does not depend on one’s immediate identity as an individual! I do not know whether to be happy about the fact that we are not fighting over religion or panic that this new battle is way more dangerous.

The angst caused amongst the people after the JNU issue due to the sensationalized news reports, could have settled down once the videos were found to have been doctored but before that could happen, chanting ‘Bharat mata ki Jai’ became the sole definition of nationalism.

Everyone jumped into the debate with leaders spewing verbal venom and the public acting out the script on the streets – beating up people for not complying with this ‘ultimate’ idea of being an Indian.While this turned the social media into a virtual battleground, in another scenario the University of Hyderabad became the stage for the war to play out. Brutal police assault against students continued for days, inside and outside the campus. Media blackout in the university and the gradually rising rage over sloganeering as a proof of nationalism kept the public away from the real and grave issues of student suppression.

But the latest disgrace added to this list is the pseudo-nationalism of the NIT Srinagar issue.

With many versions of the story spilling out daily, the most disturbing one was where students, protesting with the national flag, chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, were lathi-charged by the police, leaving many severely injured.

After the questionable role played by the police in JNU and then in HCU, this was another instance of the khaki going out of its way in the name of restoring peace. In all these cases the students were on the losing side. It was the student against the state machinery (used liberally to oppress them).

But the most disappointing and challenging aspect to understand is the NIT incident being pitted against the JNU episode given that in both cases students were the victims of state oppression! Posts and tweets kept circulating over social media questioning this double standard of having made ‘those who chanted anti-India slogans’ heroes, completely ignoring the situation at NIT.

Now, forgetting the authenticity of the sources that claimed that JNU students had raised anti-India slogans, I fail to understand how media had made them heroes! In fact, as far as I remember it had left no stones unturned to profile students as terrorists. It was the doctored videos run by the news channels that got Kanhaiyya arrested and beaten up in the Patiala House Court.

It was the debates on news channels that created the fear of lynching for the accused students. No matter how many articles and news reports were written trying to prove them innocent, the abuses that followed served an entirely different purpose. In fact, they became ‘heroes’ (if they did) because the media’s actions backfired.

Kanhaiyya earned support after getting assaulted. The shattering of the well-fabricated profiling of Umar Khalid won him sympathy. These students became ‘heroes’ because they raised a voice against what was happening; not because of the media. These students were interviewed much later by news channels because they were victims of a media trial, not because they had allegedly spoken against the nation.

JNU was particularly under the media radar, and I doubt if this was because of virtuous reasons. Had it just been for nationalism, HCU should also have been given similar attention. After all, it was also declared a ‘den of anti-national’ activities. And if the media is skewed towards JNU, why don’t I see channels covering the HCU issue that the JNU students continue to fight over? Both, JNU and HCU, along with many campuses across the nation have been raising their voices against this.

On the other hand, public figures, politicians and other enthusiasts who have been fuelling this online by slamming media for covering the ‘anti-nationals’ of JNU extensively, have forgotten that the government in J&K is their favourite one. Why were the ‘evidently patriotic’ students still lathi-charged?

Instead of dividing the student community, propagating the ‘anti-national’ JNU vs. ‘patriotic’ NIT, why don’t they question the government?

It seems the whole idea was to curb the voices of these protests along with other outbursts. JNU has been made into a villain and, thus, everything they talk about is now necessarily ‘anti-national’. The ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ series wanted to give the ‘nationalism’ debate a whole new dimension and intensify the divide on that basis. Minor clashes here and there didn’t serve the purpose the way the violence at NIT has. Everyone has turned towards it and is completely unaware of the turmoil in the HCU.

When all other campuses are burning in the fire of discrimination against students on various grounds, NIT Srinagar – the most suitable place to kindle the fire over questions of desh bhakti – is burning with flames of suspicious colours.

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