It has been over two months since the JNU controversy happened. It had started with the mention of Kashmir, even if it was for the right to self-determination of the Kashmiris. Now, after two months, the circle of life has brought Kashmir back in our ‘news-feed’ due to a similar issue which was raised in the JNU campus – the Indian Army. Four killings have happened after security forces opened fire, three in Handwara and one in Kupwara. It is a glimpse of what the students were trying to convey but everyone shut them up. Everyone.
‘Nationalists’ all over the nation were baffled at everything that happened on the 9th of February, 2016–from the event to the slogans–but without trying to look at the backdrop. The accused students might have maintained that the attack on JNU wasn’t because of that one event. They might believe that since JNU has always been vocal against the policies of or oppression by the government, they were framed, with the active involvement of a section of media. It is not hard to believe but there is something that owes its current form entirely to that one day. This one thing, forming the third opposition to the protesting students apart from the state and the media is the public.
A man in his late 40s, waking up every day at five in the morning to catch the jam-packed seven o’clock train, after an hour of standing in the state transport bus, buries himself in the files/computer screen for the rest of the day. His fingers run across the keyboard without thinking now. The next time he thinks is when he looks at his watch and realises that if he is late by a minute he would have to travel home hanging by the train door, smelling the sweat of ten other people. He runs to make it on time. He can sleep for an hour.
Now, if I believe that on reaching home, watching a handful of youth on his TV screen raising slogans for a ‘terrorist’ plus ‘Kashmir ki azaadi’ and against the Indian Army, he will spend time on understanding the background, well, it is time to step out of the bubble. Nobody does that.
And this is the biggest power residing with the state.
All the incidents taking place in the ‘inalienable’ parts of the country are so ‘alien’ to the rest of the people that they question the very existence of those. The reaction to the statement of the JNUSU President over the rapes by the Indian Army men in the areas under AFSPA is one such example. It wasn’t any allegation he had made. The Justice Verma Committee report addressing it as “a very important, yet often neglected area” states:
“At the outset, we notice that impunity for systematic or isolated sexual violence in the process of Internal Security duties is being legitimised by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.”
The way the ‘common man’ retaliated was shocking. Not everyone is politically motivated to oppose. This reaction was purely out of the respect people have for the army, whose torturous actions in the states under AFSPA are not known to them. These people automatically stand with the otherwise hated corrupt government. They prefer corruption over ‘nationalism’, which in this case is determined by one’s take on the Indian Army. No one denies their bravery or disrespects them, for the sacrifices they make guarding us are incomparable. But, if they carry out extra-judicial killings and rapes, should it not be spoken of?
However, the reaction could have been a different one had the slogans against the Indian Army not been raised already in JNU because that had created a mindset that JNUites are against the Indian Army. This is interesting and is something that the ‘activists’ of JNU might want to consider. Them raising their voice against the army, AFSPA, for the self-determination of Kashmir is nothing new, to the campus, but it became a big deal when it crossed the boundaries of the campus. There, right there lies the difference. They know what they are opposing and why but the rest of the people don’t.
People know Kashmir as (1) jannat (heaven), (2) something which we can’t lose to Pakistan. Neither do they know about the jannat being painted red by the Indian State (apart from the cross-border terrorism) nor do they believe that if Kashmir is given a right to self-determination it won’t become a part of Pakistan by default.
This lack of understanding, fuelled by politics, showed up in the comments section of every article favouring the students’ ideas. Sadly, the recent Handwara incident had to happen to open a window to look into the life at gunpoint in Kashmir. If only the people could take an effort to see beyond what the Lutyen’s zone journalists show, they would realise that being an ‘anti-national’ when talking about Kashmir isn’t all that black and white. There is a large grey area.
It was also the portrayal of the 9th February event which divided the people in the name of religion and, for the first time, in the name of the nation. It was now ‘the pro-Kashmir’ against ‘the rest of India’, reflected in the attacks on the Kashmiri students in other parts of the country. Were these attacks carried out by the state? No. These were the manifestations of common notions making people believe that if Kashmiris aren’t for the Indian Army, they must be anti-nationals. Who goes to do a background check?
Similarly, people do not entertain the fact that Rohith Vemula’s suicide was the result of discrimination owing to his caste. The fact that he had opposed Yakub Memon’s death penalty is enough for people to stand against him instead of standing against caste-based exploitation. Now, who will go to find out if Yakub Memon’s hanging was fair or not? With this mindset, they also rubbish the argument that there is any oppression often citing the loss of opportunities to those belonging to the ‘general’ category due to reservations. Who goes to cross check the statistics to find out whether reservations are biassed towards the oppressed class or are they actually helping them get opportunities which they otherwise wouldn’t have?
Over a long time, journalists and social justice activists have been attacked in the regions of Chhattisgarh. But, did the issues they were fighting for come to light? When in a city, slums are demolished, people feel that it is justified as proper settlements are expected to come up. Nobody wonders where the people go. In the case of tribal areas, it is even easier to be forgotten. One, the geography book tells them how much mineral is found at that location so that they can happily be proud of the country’s richness, irrespective of the people displaced. Two, ‘tribals’ means ‘Naxalites’. Game over. No one needs to bother.
The student leaders from across the country have been visiting campuses, addressing people, giving interviews and what not. But a larger number of people they are interacting with is of those who are already on their side. These events will never be focused on in ‘Prime Time’ news. This limits the people exposed to their ideas to those who have faced the problems being addressed by them or, at least, those who believe that those problems exist. The other section they are dealing with is the government which is the prime opposition. In a democracy, protests result in a victory only when the political parties fear for the number of votes they are going to affect. In the current scenario there doesn’t appear to be a leak in any vote bank so far, hence, the government is all chilled out. It is a need to communicate the realities of the ‘other’ regions to unmask the pseudo-nationalism.
Some people are simply looking at it as a battle between different ideologies–BJP-RSS vs. the Left. I fail to understand how any ideology justifies the exploitation of one class benefiting the other? There’s no doubt that the workers in the factories, farmers etc. are getting poorer and poorer while the rich are climbing up the ‘World’s Richest’ list every day. How does any ideology deny this? How does any ideology justify carrying the dead body of a Dalit girl, who was allegedly raped and murdered, in a truck carrying garbage? How does any ideology defend the killing of protesters by security forces? Those were not even suspects.
Even if one does not believe in specific people, doubting their intentions, how can one deny the wrongfulness of these incidents and all others? And, above all, how is everyone suddenly backing the corrupt politicians, knowing their criminal records and vote-bank politics? However, that is nothing new. According to an IndiaSpend analysis hate-speech accused candidates are three times more successful in elections than others.
If this is the selection parameter for people, I’m afraid. I fear that those times are near when this ignorance, well poisoned by false theories, will turn the people into a mob, like the one that was formed in Dadri, and murder not only humans but humanity. And when everyone will be dead, I wonder who the capitalists will exploit.