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Left Vs. Ambedkarites: Rift Out In The Open With Exchange Of Strongly Worded Letters

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By YKA Staff:

Editor’s note: The animosity between Ambedkarites and Communists in India has existed for a long time, often credited to the dispute between Ambedkar himself and his communist contemporaries. The same differences have come to the fore once again in our times, albeit in a different context.

Since the JNU agitation started, following the incident of February 9 in the campus, the divide had begun to be noticed. There were murmurings of protest when the agitation led by Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya seemed to overshadow the one started in the memory of Rohith Vemula. In fact, the lack of co-ordination during the combined protest march held for Vemula and the comrades in jail was quite evident and noted by YKA

This blew up to a proper dispute when Hyderabad Central University suffered a police crackdown

Students of HCU questioned the solidarity of JNU’s comrades who were seen to be playing Holi even while the students of HCU were being denied food and water and were beaten up by the police.

However, the matter has assumed very serious proportions now. A young Dalit activist Rahul Sonpimple has called into question the predominantly Marxist leadership of the university which leads the current struggle. The questions being raised are not new per se but the forceful articulation has made sure they have come to the notice of everyone. The young Marxist activist Umar Khalid chose to answer some of them in a Facebook post today.

We are presenting to you both the sides of the argument. The views expressed are those of the individuals featured and YKA does not endorse any in particular.

Watch Rahul Sonpimple’s speech here, and here is Umar Khalid’s response:

umar khalid
Source: Facebook

On the day of the Academic Council Meeting, you made a speech. At the outset, let me state that I agree with some of your criticism as far as they relate to the way the parliamentary left in India has looked at the caste question. However, your speech goes much beyond just that and makes insinuations at me as someone who has become a “hero”, “a political prisoner” and a “students’ union election aspirant” all because of my “savarna surname – Syed”. I have my differences with the same, and would like to respond.

First things first, far from a hero, if anything, over the last few months I was made into a villain. I hope you have not forgotten, how because of my Muslim identity, the kind of things I was called – “a Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist”, “anti-national”, “Pakistani agent”- and that it certainly was not the most comfortable period for me or my family. My sister received rape threats, my father was singled out for attack because of his past association with SIMI and given death threats. My entire family in the initial period was confined to our house for many days for fear of their lives. While police was carrying out raids in different parts of the country, a lynch-mob as close as the north-gate of JNU was baying for my blood everyday with slogans of ‘Umar Khalid ko phaasi do/goli maro’. I was forced to go into hiding for several days, and then arrested. Two cops still guard my home for fear of any possible attack on my family’s lives. I just hope, you won’t deny the entire branding, villainizing and baying for our blood had to do with the fact that I was born in a Muslim family. Interestingly, the state never places the emphasis that you place on my surname. For the state and the police, my name which reveals my most immediate identity – a Muslim – is enough. The point, here is simple. This is how Muslims are always looked at- anti-national, potential terrorists and fundamentalists irrespective of their caste backgrounds. If it could be done to a privileged leftist ‘savarna Muslim’ studying in JNU, one only wonders what goes around in the name of “national security” and “counter-terrorism” in Kashmir, Gujarat, Azamgarh and Malegaon. I wonder what you are going to call Sohrabuddin Sheikh, killed in a fake encounter by Modi’s cops in Gujarat – a “savarna” Muslim who is unnecessarily remembered. Or what are the epithets you want to throw at Mohd Amir Khan (a Pathan, after all) who spent 14 years in jail (the term for life imprisonment) only to be acquitted by the courts in all of the false terror cases. Amir Khan’s case never got any media attention while he was in jail for 14 years, and why I got the same had less to do with my caste (which I share with Amir) and more to do with my JNU studentship.

And by the way, when Hindutva mobs murdered and raped Muslims in Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar they did not care to first ask them about their caste identity. If you remember, they did not even spare a Muslim MP Ehsan Jafri. This is not to say that caste or caste oppression does not operate within the Muslims in India. Nor is it to say, that only Muslims are facing persecution while dalits and Adivasis are not facing oppression. That is a binary your speech creates. The jails of this country are full of Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis and by creating a false binary between them, you are exactly doing what the state and the government wants.

It won’t be correct to say that there were no protagonists (a gender-neutral synonym of hero) in this movement. The real protagonists were those students and teachers who came out on the streets to fight this unprecedented fascist attack and to defend our democratic space and right to dissent. They did not term the 9th Feb event as ‘anti-constitutional’. Ironically, when the organisers of the events were branded as anti-nationals, you and your organisation distanced themselves from the program, and worst still termed it as ‘anti-constitutional activities’. On the 11th February, on your facebook wall, you posted:

“We believe in our constitution and it is the only source for us to claim and reclaim our human dignity. Ambedkarism is entrenched into constitutional morality and as followers of Ambedkar and his ideology we do not support any anti-constitutional move and condemn any such act which stands against constitutional ethos.”

If your status kept whom you were referring to slightly vague, your organisation’s position made it more specific with the following opening lines:

“We, BAPSA, as an Ambedkarite student organisation condemn any kind of anti – constitutional activities. Ambedkarism is entrenched into constitutional morality and as followers of Ambedkar and his ideology we condemn any anti –constitutional move by any group or individual. BAPSA was not an organiser of the event organized on 9th February 2016. We as an Ambedkarite organisation and strong believer in the Constitution, oppose any ideologies, groups and individuals who violate constitutional ethos…”

Yes, it was followed with a few perfunctory lines on ABVP being a casteist organisation that is targeting Ambedkarite activists. Interestingly not a mention of the vicious targeting of the organisers of the program, not a word on ABVP getting the program’s permission cancelled, and interestingly JNU administration’s role does not even find a mention in the entire poster. And most importantly, not a word on democratic right to dissent, which was shamelessly violated that evening by ABVP-administration nexus. How can an organisation which claims to follow Dr. Ambedkar’s ideology term an event anti-constitutional for speaking against the Brahmanical collective conscience, against unjust execution of Afzal Guru and for the Kashmiri people’s right to national self-determination.

(Here I am not trying to single out you or your organisation. I am also aware of the fact that some so-called left democratic organisations and individuals had similar positions. But frankly speaking, I was not surprised by their positions. In fact, they truly lived up to the expectations. But I was really disappointed by BAPSA’s meek surrender in front of brahminical fascist onslaught).
If you remember your organisation had organised the screening of the documentary ‘Caste on the Menu Card‘ at the Sabarmati Dhaba last year, for which the permission was cancelled at the last moment by the Administration on AVBV’s complaint (just like it happened on 9th Feb). The progressive democratic organisations and students made sure that film was screened. Will you or your organisation also term that event anti-constitutional activity?

The most ludicrous part of your speech is where you, making insinuations at me, say that I left the organisation I was a part of because it does not contest elections, and now I want to contest students’ union elections. It is absurd on many counts. The reason as to why I and others resigned from DSU is known to the world, because it was a public resignation. Secondly, as far as elections are concerned, all these years I have never contested any election for any post because of my opposition to Lyngdoh guidelines. Since 2008, we have consistently fought against the draconian Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations and have mobilised students to hold JNUSU elections according to the JNUSU constitution. Your organisation, on the other hand, participates in Lyngdoh bound elections, which is based on the idea of Brahmanical merit and discriminates students coming from deprived sections. However, at a more fundamental level, this ridiculous assertion reflects your election-centric political imagination.

It will not be an exaggeration to say that the present attack on the JNU students’ movement is unprecedented in the history of our university. Students, alongside police cases and the HLEC, continue being served more show-cause notices and proctorial enquiries for organising political programs. At the same time, the administration has come with various machinations to scuttle several progressive provisions of the admission policy. This emphasis on elections in your speech at THIS moment shows, just like the revisionist left, all you can think of is elections. More than anyone else’s it reflects sheer poverty of your political imagination. Finally, it is true that the class divisions, caste hierarchies and patriarchy

Finally, it is true that the class divisions, caste hierarchies and patriarchy exists amongst Muslims in the Indian sub-continent, just as they also exist among the Dalits and other oppressed castes. It is equally true that Muslims and Dalits, notwithstanding their internal divisions and hierarchies, also face discrimination and violence for simply being Muslims or Dalits. Any genuine force that is committed to social justice, annihilation of caste and radical social transformation has to deal with these contradictions. Not only the BJP and the Congress but also CPM, BSP, JDU, SP etc use these contradictions to cultivate vote banks to gain political power. The annihilation of caste is not on the agenda of the so-called left parties as well as for those parties who swear by the principles of social justice. In fact, some of the worst kinds of massacres of the Dalits and Muslims have taken place in states ruled by the left or by the so-called messiahs of the social justice. We also know how some of these big champions of social justice have aligned with the brahminical fascist forces to gain power. The history of the last 60 years has clearly demonstrated that Annihilation of Castes and Social Justice can’t be achieved through vote bank politics. Brahmanical Hindutva fascism can’t be simply defeated through electoral permutations and combinations. A real fight for the annihilation of castes has to go hand in hand with the struggle against the forces of privatisation and imperialist globalisation. And I firmly believe that the struggles against the internal divisions and hierarchy among the Muslims and Dalits will only strengthen our fight against Hindutva fascism, feudal brahminical caste system and imperialism and will forge the real unity of the oppressed people.

For us the slogan of ‘Jai Bhim Laal Salam’ is not simply a call for electoral unity of the left and Ambedkarite groups. For us it’s a new vision of a democratic revolution in which the struggle against caste system and patriarchy is internal to class struggle. When we speak of Bhagat Singh and Ambedkar, we speak of a new politics which talks about the fight for the annihilation of caste and revolutionary social transformation – a fight also against being reduced to a number, a thing and the most immediate identity of people. This fight will be waged every day in the streets, factories, fields and universities and the unity will be accomplished over the course of this fight.
Hoping for that Unity in Struggle
Jai Bhim Lal Salaam!

Umar Khalid
Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Students’ Organisation

UPDATE: Rahul Sonpimple has responded to this open letter through a post on his Facebook profile.

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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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