Education, India, Politics

The JNU protests with the context of nationalism

JNU students protests the arrest of the JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar

Thank goodness that this was JNU, not Jamia Millia Islamia, so the students were arrested by plain dress policemen inside the campus and were charged for sedition and their social network profiles are pasted all over the Internet as the traitors of India. On the contrary, if they were from Jamia, perhaps the students would have been branded as members of SIMI or potential terrorists. Whilst there were reasonable doubts over Guru’s role in the attacks, the curtain of secrecy around his execution is definitely not a shining example of the Indian judicial system. This is not the first time someone voiced concerns over his conviction and execution, but perhaps twenty-something students are much softer targets of the state than the seasoned politicians and stalwarts in the legislative procedures. Needless to say, his execution took far too long, but the sudden and secret operation, tantamount to assassinations of Soviet-era political dissidents, was not without political motives. If Afzal Guru was proven a terrorist beyond doubt, he should have been executed when he was convicted. It didn’t have to be done hidden behind an iron curtain. How the government wrapped the news around secrecy, didn’t inform his family, or denied a funeral, the integrity of the government was definitely questionable, especially approaching 2014 as all political parties were keen to prove their good intentions to the electorate.

DSU, the hosts of the cultural programme are a leftist student body, and they used the occasion to debate and discuss the systemic killing of Afzal Guru. A bold decision indeed, where the presence of the socialist voice in most part of India is in decline. Perhaps the decision to commemorate the occasion was spurred by the reference of Afzal Guru during the Hyderabad university protest and the death of Rohith Vemula, another victim of state-sponsored oppression that created an uproar but soon fizzled out and forgotten, with no action against the Uni authority who rusticated Rohith.

Smriti Irani said the anti-India chants were insults to mother India. So did Rajnath Singh, the home minister. Not sure who that fabled mother India is, she must be a polyamorous person, sleeping around with everyone’s fathers. When thousands of years before, the poet wrote Janani janmabhoomischa swargadapi gariyasi, he didn’t confuse the identities of the mother with the land one is born. The personification or to be specific, maternalisation of India is yet another subtle way of splitting the society at least in two fragments — ones who are okay to accept it, and most of a billion population belongs to this side and those who don’t. Mother India, Mother Nature, Mother Earth…the examples are boundless across the world, in every region, every culture. To carry on with the practice in the name of heritage and culture is basically an easy way of indoctrinating nationalist feelings from an early age. The country is your mother, so criticising your country is tantamount insulting your mother — the logic is simple and effective. And we like cheap drama, or nautanki, as proven by the success of soaps. So, the slogans were defaming the motherland etc are all bogus arguments altogether, in order to gain political mileage and appease the crowd that is already biased through a systematic brainwash from childhood.

If a nation is greatly offended by someone challenging the national unity and integrity, that definitely raises a question on the integrity of the nation itself. To truly become a country that is a champion of unity and integrity, the country will have to progress including everyone, not differentially. Incidents like JNU protests question and point at the shortcomings, where the systems and psyche of the nation still have a long way to go before we can truly proclaim ourselves as a diverse yet united country. Perhaps, this was also an occasion to remind ourselves that the nation can be the biggest terrorist – and there are numerous examples across the world – as the country and its government and institutions are the ultimate voice, and it can control the voices that speak against it. Sedition is a blunt concept in this day and age. It only tells if the legal system is at par with the reforms needed for the twenty-first century. There was no threat to the country or any violence that ensued the claims, people were debating views and ideas, not dealing ammunitions. The charges against Kanhaiya Kumar will not hold ground during the court hearing, and he will probably be discharged without any conviction. Looking beyond the anti-India chants and claiming to immortalise Afzal Guru, there was an attempt to defy the government, defy the legal system. Defy the fact that no matter who is in power, a nation is still merely a puppet of the whims and avarice of the politicians who run it. It was a protest against the preferential treatment by the government and at large, the public. We act based on the bias in-built within us.

If there were any group of the population who is and has always been vocal against such atrocities are students. They are the harbingers of change, the visionaries of tomorrow. The outcry to tarnish all protesters in the same colour is both foolish and dangerous. Even though the charges against the arrested students won’t hold water in court, social vigilantism spread their profiles and images all across the country. And needless to say, in a prejudiced country like India where people still ask age, religion, father’s name, mother’s name, husband’s name for a job application, where equal opportunity is perhaps merely a word in the HR strategy document gathering dust in a locked cabinet, these students will be discriminated against for a long time.

And then there are the right-wing student unions like ABVP, they are getting the mileage they wanted on a national platform, whilst the student movements have historically been mostly left-wing. Without a direction and vision, their agenda of inciting hatred against the protesters have struck the chord with millions of students, who would now subscribe to their ideology. The ABVP treats themselves as the sole spokesperson of nationalism at university campuses, and in fact, their role during the debate was undemocratic, by trying to overrule a meeting that was approved for, by directly threatening the university governing body.

We Indians have a great tendency and ability to paint everything in the same colour. We do not treat issues singularly, but collectively. So, the outcry to shut down JNU is widely endorsed, people voicing concerns over the injustice in India are anti-nationalist and the protestors are traitors to the motherland. And the treatment they received from the country collectively — be it the media, politicians, police or public, just proves their point. They exposed the system and its divisive position. People voiced their opinion against anything undemocratic, before India was independent, and after. However, in the new Swachh Bharat surge, it appears that such thoughts and protests have suddenly become undemocratic, and therefore need to be swept under the carpet. So, rather than condemning the DSU student union for their villainy, we should pat their backs for standing strong against all adversities and being bold enough to choose an occasion that aptly demonstrates the shortcomings of the legal system and human rights in India.

A caricature on the legal system in India

Also, glorifying another country, even if they were deemed your enemy, does not count as sedition. If Pakistan has done something praiseworthy, people can say good things about them, just as it was found that the government finally passed the Hindu marriage act, allowing Hindu marriages as official. However, the JNU protesters went beyond this and voiced anti-India chants that mainly caught the media attention. What the BJP government and their ABVP sidekicks are turning a blind eye on, is they cannot make someone love their country, nor can anybody else. Forcing someone to say Bharat Mata ki jay does not prove they are proud of their country, but it is tantamount an abusive husband raping his wife night after night and boasting during the day how much she loves him!

It is not necessary to love the country one is born in. It is most likely, as there is a bond developed since the childhood that is mainly nostalgic rather than informed, but that does not mean that people cannot change their opinion later on. Think of North Korea or Saudi Arabia, can the citizens there love their country with the rogue people running it? More oppressive the state becomes, more vocal the voices of the public need to be before the country truly becomes a place one can be proud of.

The same can be said about the Kashmir debate, which was another reason why the sedition charge was brought in. It is almost comical how the rest of the nation has unanimously decided that Kashmir is part of their country and even debating the subject is sacrilege, although they tactfully exclude the views of the Kashmiri people, whose fate were being decided by the rest of India whether they should stay a part of India. The government doesn’t even recognise what the Kashmiri residents think, let alone arrange a referendum. With the unfortunate disaster at Siachen glacier recently, I wonder how many centuries it will take the fools across India and Pakistan to stop wasting exorbitant amount of money in protecting a border whilst that money could be utilised in progressing the country forward, improving hundreds of millions of lives who still lacks basic necessities of life – food, clothes and shelter.

A University is an ideal platform for such poignant debates, as what we learn in the courses are hardly ever used afterwards, but we learn from classmates of various location, background and views shape the person we become in the future. Whatever and whoever the DSU supporters have discussed, disputed, criticised or defamed, that could have been countered with an equally critical discussion of their actions and agenda. Also, this has become a platform for all political mudslinging, where depending on their political clout, the parties are extending support or criticising, rather than leaving it as a debate between two politically opposite orientated student unions. There are a multitude of conspiracy theories going around for both sides — about the protesters shouting anti-India slogans coming to campus days before, or the ABVP activists in the DSU rally saying anti-India chants — digressing from the fact that this is not an issue to start a witch hunt, but to reflect the truth behind the claims and debate how the society can progress. Sending police in plain dress and arresting student body president just exemplifies the point these students have been trying to prove — that India is fast becoming an oppressive state and anyone who dares to speak against the government or the country, will be publicly persecuted. Let’s hope that the protests such as this keep continuing all across the country, to challenge the government of its actions and the public at large, to change their age-old ideas about nationalism and love for the motherland. It’s time we share the social profiles the Bhakt media spread over the internet to show they were anti-nationals, to spread the excellent work they have done for human rights in India, and for its better future.

1. Speech from Harsh Mander, a social worker and a writer while attending the protest rally against Police arrest in campus
2. The translation of Kanhaiya Kumar’s original speech
3. A write-up in Bengali regarding the JNU protests, criticising the Government stance, with the header “Musclemen cannot invoke love for nation”
4. An account of the protest, as witnessed by a JNU student present actually present during the protest

The only moot point is that with the advent of technology, we are fast becoming net-activists. We are exasperated at something, we act on it, we criticise, and then within two weeks, that lesson is forgotten. We go back to our daily lives or find another issue to fight about. We don’t fight hard enough to bring closure. It’s like thousands of matchsticks are lighting up and put out, and failing to light the candle with a raging fire that the country needs to cleanse the injustice gathered over centuries. To make it really happen, people are needed to come down in the streets, be visible, be heard — revolutions cannot start from the confines of the room.

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India, Terrorism

#PathankotAttack: An appeal to the logical Indian

On the night of the 1st January when the country finished celebrating the New Year’s Day and looking forward to a long weekend, an yet unknown number of terrorists suspected from the group Jaish-e-Muhammad abducted a senior Superintendent of Police car and entered the strategic Air Force base at Pathankot and opened fire with a view to destroy the strategic military assets maintained in the base. Seven Indian lives were lost until now, whilst six terrorists were suspected to be neutralised. The operation is now declared complete, although it is not clear how many terrorists attacked the base and whether any escaped.

When I started my day on 2nd January, thousands of miles away from those picturesque yet dangerous terrains that abut Indo-Pak borders, I was completely taken aback! Not that terrorist attacks are unheard of in India — in fact, before 9/11, India had been subjected to numerous attempts since independence that the rest of the world dismissed as internal issues. Yet, in recent times, peace seemed to have returned to the Kashmir valleys and the attack sent a completely contradictory message, whilst the Indian PM recently paid an unexpected visit to Pakistan.

The fingers for obvious reasons point towards Pakistan, where regardless of all peace talks and all different political parties in power, on the issue of Kashmir, it is a bureaucratic and diplomatic dead end. Pakistan would never stop claiming for Kashmir fearing a political annihilation otherwise, and India would never give it away for the same reason, as well as Kashmir providing a natural deterrent to invasions without which, the border would be too close to Delhi.

Following the attacks, on the social media which, in addition to the news on the Internet, is my window to what’s happening in India, there seems to be another controversy brewing up. On one side, some pacifists are proclaiming #TerrorHasNoReligion and #NonStateActor etc, the bigger and louder voice is for imparting capital punishments to terrorists, strengthening the army and in some extreme cases criticising the government brazenness on waging war on Pakistan. For this majority, the suspicion, quite obviously turns to the Indian Muslim population, in where their loyalty lies. Political parties weighed in quite expectedly, all blaming the attacks to appear patriotic, yet criticise various fronts to the incumbent BJP government.

The anger in the Indian public is understandable. For various reasons, India has been involved in numerous conflicts with Pakistan and although the relation thawed in recent times, the terrorist attacks in India have never ceased and in ALL cases, the links were found going back to Pakistan. All Political parties in power in New Delhi have said harsh words, then it no measure was taken, neither offensive nor collaborative. The public is frustrated with the government inaction and the continuous disruption to normal life and the huge human loss incurred in the attacks. To the common public, such an attack should have been avenged, to make the perpetrators afraid of planning further invasions.

Such expectations, no matter how patriotic they sound, are only emotional, passionate and impossible. Declaring war without any evidence is a direct breach of UN legislation and however frustrating it is, the government can’t but accept that outfits like JeM are non-state actors, they are terrorist outfits with no established connection to Pakistan government or army until proven. Is Pakistan not aware of these outfits training in its soil and then crossing the heavily guarded Indo-Pak border? Of course, they are aware, we can’t be so naive to assume that they don’t. It appears that in Pakistan there is the elected government, then the army and finally the ISI — Pakistan’s secret service agency, and each of these three leaderships has their own agenda. So, as far as terrorists are concerned, the government view was perhaps to turn a blind eye on attacks on India, rather than have the attacks turn internal. Also, for a large number of Pakistanis and perhaps some Kashmiris, who believe that Kashmir should a part of Pakistan, these attacks are not terrorist activities, the terrorists perhaps were seen as freedom fighters instead. Considering the whereabouts of these outfits are known to the government, what the Pakistan government has done would define whether there were heavy involvement and possibly the supply of weapons etc. to these terrorists, or whether they were aware of the plans and did not take proactive measures to thwart them crossing the borders. One of the conspiracy theories floating around suggests ISI and Pakistan army tend to keep the Kashmir melting pot simmering but not boil over, in the wake of the goodwill missions between the Indo-Pak governments to defrost the relations. This also highlights the lack of control by the government over the Army involvements in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, what should India do? There is not much more to do than what’s being done in this or the last terrorist attacks. The first target was to secure the base and the key assets, as well as ensure the safety of the civilians in the nearby area. The Punjab Police and the NSG have completed that task although clumsily. The other important task was to neutralise the perpetrators or capturing them alive. Although it’s been a long battle and the statement from the SP was perhaps confusing in ascertaining the number of terrorists, most of the terrorists are now neutralised and the operation is declared complete. An enquiry by NIA is already underway to probe the attacks. The investigation is essential and the outcome will lead the way how India government would respond to the situation. During the attacks, it emerged that the right forces were not deployed or the right equipment was not available, which will need to be addressed for future crisis situations. All the unanswered questions that have been raised following the attack will need to find an answer such as where the other terrorists came from or how did they infiltrate the border security forces of India and Pakistan. Questions need to be answered why after the SP was abducted, there wasn’t a high alert? Another approach by the Indian government is really commendable during the Pathankot attacks was not to point finger at Pakistan straight away without any inquiry. Considering the ruling party is Hindu supremacist, not being carried away with a passion for an Islamist attack showed the sign of its political astuteness. At the same time, the Pak media seemed to have asked the pertinent questions on how the borders that are heavily guarded were breached, and the investigation committee should pass information back to Pakistan if the involvement was found. On the other hand, despite cries from opposition Congress to sever all diplomatic ties with Pakistan, that would make the discussions and negotiations that have just started freeze again, as before. The trend showed that whenever Indo-Pak peace talks started, the separatists replied with an attack. The peace process or at least the discussions should not stop as that would appear as victory to the terrorists. Last but not the least, the soldiers who died in the confrontation should be remembered and it should be made sure that the state looks after their next of kin, as well as of the taxi driver who was killed.

One of the greatest achievements of post-independence India was that it’s the world’s biggest democracy and the government is run by a well-defined constitution. At times critics may have quite rightly pointed out that they could be sluggish and overly bureaucratic, calling for revisions to cater for recent times. However, in situations like this, the integrity of the Indian constitution can be fully appreciated that allowed the government to function in a logical manner, keeping the interest of the entire population in mind. India’s Gandhian peace efforts in diplomatic missions have earned the country many allies, as did the recent economic boom. An adolescent response by a declaration of war would not only destabilise the political and social balance in the subcontinent, but it would also undermine India’s position as one of the biggest emerging economies. Considering the biggest opposition to India is China — economically as well as politically, such a move would definitely lose India a few supporters. Also, in the politically volatile situation in Pakistan, the last thing expected is to push Pakistan in a state where the extremists take over the government and cause a nuclear Armageddon, leaving probably entire Pakistan and a large part of India wiped out for generations. The international community will keep the safe distance, and although based on their economic interest perhaps most of them take India’s side, none of them would be involved in the conflict.

Apart from the win-loss angle, a war situation should at all cost be avoided from a humanitarian point of view. That each human life is precious and the war would only mean loss of hundreds and thousands of the human capital, the true building blocks of India — this should be the first point of argument. People are outraged about the situations and causing storms in the social media, but all such petty activism is light-years away from the harsh terrains of Himalayas, where the military outposts are guarding the territory in the most unforgiving climate and landscape. Despite being strongly opposed to the idea of an army, in the volatile borders such as Indo-Pak or Sino-Indian frontiers, unless the governments reach a permanent equilibrium, armed forces and border protection is necessary, not just for preventing illegal land acquisition, but also for minimising terrorist infiltrations. We don’t want to see any loss of life as seen in this attack, but a retaliatory response to flexing the muscles, is something that may appear heroic in the ultra-nationalist perspective, but going to an armed conflict wiping out cities and villages is not a sensible option at all. So, before one raises another battle cry to show raging patriotism, please ask yourself who would suffer the biggest loss? Even if there is a war and India flattens Pakistan, what will happen then? Would that not pave the way for more ferocious terrorist elements like Al-Qaeda or ISIS? Picture the sights of devastation seen in the war-torn middle-east, of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan — despite being threatened many times, such destruction hasn’t touched India or Pakistan yet, and let’s all hope that the governments to be prudent enough to avoid such meltdown.

There are possibilities that a lot of insider information is passed over to ISI by Indians, unknowingly or being bribed. Such possibilities cannot be ignored, and rather than the lapse in technology, the insiders passing on information are bigger threats, helping the terrorists with details to make their master plans. A lot of information coming out of the investigation still doesn’t add up. Also, the focus should be on the people of J&K as well, because the terrorists may have received local help, without which, how did they manage to their reconnaissance of the army base? There is a lot of grievance against the Indian government and abuses by the army. If such issues are not addressed effectively and the residents felt that their voices are not heard, it makes way for sympathising, if not directly supporting, with the partisan elements – terrorist or otherwise. I remember watching a recent documentary on Channel 4 called Walking the Himalayas, where citizens in Srinagar were asked about the political tensions and the presenter summarised that people don’t feel to be a part of India. Such statement is conflagrant because a major UK channel is endorsing the view that the population don’t feel to be a part of India based on the ten people he spoke to. But the more worrying fact is that whether that statement is true, that the population is felt betrayed by the Indian government and feel detached? Will there ever be a referendum on Kashmir? The present referendum in Crimea showed how easily the votes can be rigged and a region is annexed. So what chance have we got of a fair vote and the accept the results and work towards a solution? This brings more fundamental questions of what is a state and its necessity in our lives. Why do we live in a fragmented world, building artificial boundaries and then keep spending more protecting these frontiers? There are endless questions and the answers are not available or implementable as yet.

To conclude, however, let’s spare a moment for all the lives lost, and think again before crying out for blood. And remember, that the biggest harbingers of peace are also the biggest warmongers and the more the other countries, communities, people get into conflict with each other, the more we spend on war machinery, the more money goes to the coffers of these vendors of war. Our emotions will only feed the interests of those leeches. So think carefully, and do the right thing, which is to look at the situation from a different dimension and see who the biggest sufferers will be for our wrong decisions. It’s always us.

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