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On Kashmir, JNU And Everything Else, Why Embracing Differences Is The Only Way Forward

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By Prahaas Oldman:

Long before Twitterati and its social cousins went berzerk over JNU and its offspring, long before they butchered the words and methods of Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid, long before when JNU was considered to be the embodiment of social cultivation rather than being investigated as a hive of breeding terrorists and anti-nationals as it is now, I visited the JNU campus and instantaneously fell in love with the environment it offered. The semblance of some places is quite welcoming and one cannot resist succumbing to their charm. Colonised by the down to earth community of students, the mammoth thoughts of which travel throughout the campus, incorporated in words and reflected in varying ways, from loud discussions to murmurs, this very congregation of intellects accounts for the soul of the scholarly hub. Seat yourself at any of the eating joints, the ‘tea-points’, and perk up your hearing senses. With the passing of time, you will realise that most of the crowd around you is drowned in conversations related to socio-politico issues, sometimes cinema and its artistic virtues, but never the regular chit chat.

It may sound monotonous to the readers but the truth is that whenever I was about to bid adieu to the place, it always seemed to occur to me that if only I sat there listening to whatever discussions that were transpiring around me, for some more time, just some more, then I could actually attain a form of enlightenment. It would not be wrong to term the place as the ‘Bodh Gaya’ of our generation. But I am pretty sure that no matter how much I like JNU, there shall always exist people with contradicting views, who harbour hatred to counter-attack my views – in any form, immense or minuscule.

For instance, once I was walking around the campus along with an acquaintance of mine who was accompanied by this self-proclaimed ‘Godman’. He was keenly observant of the beings around and kept making notes of their views only to proclaim after a while that since JNU students thrive on the taxpayers’ money, hence they blatantly display a lack of respect for the government, society, and even studies. He added that if they had been students of private universities – the likes of which are spread in abundance along the Delhi-Noida belt – then they would have had been more faithful towards their studies and other issues since they would have had to exhaust lakhs from their own bank accounts. And dear readers, sometimes it is best not to involve yourself in a cheap argument with a person who lives in Greater Noida and claims that Narendra Modi visits him regularly for advice that shall help him profit in his political career.

With that put forth, let us steer towards the current course of issues that have been so tangled in twists created by the media and people themselves, that it has become quite hard to sort everything out. Kashmir is one burning soul and there is no pride in denying it. I don’t support Burhan Wani nor do I criticise his encounter by the Indian security forces. What I condemn from the bottom of my heart is the bullying of people like Umar and Shehla who tend to exercise their right to freedom of speech and expression over and over again, only to realise that in this nation of ours the terms ‘speech’ and ‘expression’ in their righteous form are actually notions that are not meant to clash with the mindset of the majority. And if they do, then the one who imparts such ideas is outcasted and bullied to the extent of being termed as ‘anti-national’.

Truthfully, I know nothing of the plight of Kashmiris. I don’t know of the atrocities that have been inflicted on them in the past. I know not of the horror that they are facing at the moment. All I know, as a human, is that if barbaric violence is unleashed upon them by the Indian security forces, it cannot be justified. Not today, not tomorrow, not years later, never. For such actions are a plain simple feat of modern-day Nazism. Having said this, am I, too, a counterpart of Umar or Shehla? Having raised my voice against India’s erroneous ways, shall I be branded an ‘anti-national’ too?

The jargon they hurl at JNU’s souls is blunt. But we can’t ignore the fact that when our pledge and fidelity towards our nation is questioned then it is quite a severe ordeal to deal with. As I witnessed, as of yet, only the wholly biased are able to measure Kashmir’s present scenario as either unconditionally right or completely wrong. These biased classes are largely composed of corrupt media personalities, politicians, and social media fanatics who update their status on Facebook, tweet their phoney views and write open critical letters to their competitors. They are the miserable sorts who are brewing a war of their own. A word war of their own puny world where they can superficially regard themselves as the ones who are fighting for a cause. And all of this is occurring far away from the land of Kashmir – the heaven turned hell – where the events in question are actually transpiring.

Are Kashmiris right or is the Indian army? We can only make assumptions if we are aided by an unbiased approach. We can study the scenario and try to fit ourselves in either’s shoes, try to witness the past and the future from their perspective only to sort out the chaotic present. But still, no matter how much we try, we will still be lost for we will be able to single out a few rights and a few wrongs for the either side. And then, we will be at a loss because being impartial leaves little room to judge anyone. The fact is, it is hard to determine where the light ends and the darkness begins. Even if we carefully tread along a path, only to determine that, we will find ourselves in a zone where there is visibility but only scarcely. That’s where we get all glassy-eyed. That’s where everything gets muddled and that my fellow readers, shall forever be the case when it comes to Kashmir.

But if mere expressions of views of a nation’s individuals are considered to be poisonous enough for the society and if people, who have a set of beliefs that don’t adhere to the opinions of the majority, are bullied then that’s not a healthy society, that’s grade school all over again. The idiocy lies in this very instance. Say, I don’t like a particular person. Well, then I just don’t like him. I may tend to be critical of him, I may not talk to him, I may not do him any favours but that doesn’t mean I would kill him or cause any form of lethal harm to him. The same is the case when it comes to our nation. Someone not being happy with India does not imply that he/she shall sabotage the safety of the nation or its people. Those who are critical of India are not necessarily ISI agents or terrorists. And frankly, if people believe otherwise then they have probably gone mushy in their heads and such individuals do not deserve criticism from anyone, they deserve pity.

Nature conjured continents out of the planet, our ancestors carved nations out of them and our forefathers ended up scattering crumbs of those nations hither and thither, leaving our generation in a mess, that even the generation that is yet to come, shall clean in futility. How can we force a group of people, folks of a particular culture to like a nation, to pledge devotion to that nation? How can we so naively define liking or disliking a piece of land as right or wrong? If I will be burned for this, so be it but I still believe in my nation, I still believe in the freedom of speech and expression, I still believe in the best that my motherland and its honers have taught me and it’s by that tolerance I I shall abide and think to resolve an issue, not by guns, not by violence, not by murder.

My grandfather witnessed wars. My father witnessed wars. I have witnessed wars. With the pace that we are accumulating when it comes to protests, riots and curfews, I am somewhat sure that the generation that’s yet to come shall know very little of peace. And we sure are doing a very good job at ensuring that. The truth is that violence never liberates. The actions of our army might be able to suppress the current situation in Kashmir but they won’t endure. Violence has always evolved into a form of superficial peace that’s short lived for wounds of the time gone by always have a story to tell. And such stories always impart hatred as their moral and hatred incites more revolutions and revolutions can never ever be killed.

What liberates, is a lesson learned on the campus of JNU itself. I shall resist myself from festooning the event that I am about to narrate but it was definitely the most beautiful evening of the season, nature at its best, the sky was all colourful and graced up. I and a friend of mine had finished eating snacks at one of the joints at the ‘tea-point’ and we were gearing up to leave for home. As we strolled towards the crossroads, my friend nudged me into witnessing a sight – a Muslim boy, probably of my age, stood at the corner of the road, all dressed in principle attire – topi and salwar kameez – with a sign that hung around his neck that stated, “If you don’t discriminate (sic) me and accept me as one of your own, then hug me.”

With the passing of time, that vision has etched itself in my mind as a memorable photograph and has utterly evolved to inspirational standards. I remember, I was hesitant to hug him at that time, not because I discriminated against him but because this entire act – me hugging him – seemed a little too bogus. In my terms, phoney. But my friend had already taken hold of my hand and was pulling me and before I could resist I had already crossed the road and stood facing the Muslim boy. My friend hugged him and I saw a genuine merry smile cross his face. It was beautiful, the act of making anyone happy. Then came my turn. I didn’t want to leave without hugging him for it would be embarrassing as well as hurtful. So, I went with the flow and hugged him. And to tell you the truth, my dear readers, that perhaps was the moment when my soul felt as liberated as his.

Featured image for representation only. Credit: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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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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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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