[Continued from Part III. The piece is introduced in Part I. As usual, coloured portions mark text that was edited out by EPW.]
Unfortunately, the Himalayan barrier was seriously breached with the arrest of the JNU students, especially that of the president of the student union who happened to be affiliated with the mainstream left. The situation was grave for the leftist teachers of JNU who were faced with the difficult task of adhering to the party-line on
Kashmir while finding convincing
arguments to defend their students in the public domain. Since the students
were charged with ‘anti-national’ activities around the issue of Kashmir, it was difficult to continue to maintain silence
The simultaneous arrest of Dr. Geelani on the same charges just escalated the problem for the mainstream left. As noted, Geelani is very much the face of
Kashmir; he cannot be defended without sharing
his cause. If Geelani’s case was placed in the same political package with the
students, the pernicious cause of Kashmir would
have infected the task of defending the students as well. As one well-known
teacher activist of
told me frankly, “If we now get involved with Geelani’s struggles, we will lose
all our other battles.” Delhi
The solution to this rather turbulent problem was to, first, delink Geelani from the students by simply sidelining Geelani’s case in an otherwise charged public discourse. Second, a very impressive campaign was launched not to highlight injustice in
Kashmir and people’s democratic
right to protest about it, but to convert the incidental factors of students
and university education as the central issues. The simmering protests on Rohit
Vemula’s suicide in the were linked
up with the arrest of JNU students to reach the wider perspective on university
education. Third, once the “left-Ambedkarite” package was carefully formulated
as the real issue regarding the arrest of the students, the ‘party-line’ was
restored by separating the JNU students from direct ‘anti-national’ engagement
of Hyderabad Kashmir.
Opinion about the ‘anti-national’ character of the event of 9 February varied. For the hardliners, the very meeting to commemorate Afzal was ‘anti-national’ and severe judicial punishment was called for. Others, mostly from the mainstream left-liberal forces, agreed that the meeting was wrong and distasteful, but it did not violate any law of the land. However, everybody without exception [emphasis removed by EPW] agreed that the two specific slogans about dismemberment and destruction of
definitely ‘anti-national’ and some form of punishment was in order. With this
universal agreement on the ‘nationalist’ limits of dissent, the core
authoritarian project of the regime found full endorsement. In effect, the
regime made sure that, outside the valley, people will find it difficult to
hold memorial meetings on Afzal in public. India
Even the leaders of the otherwise vigorous student movement agreed with the basic dictat of the regime. Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of JNUSU said:
We are appalled at the way the entire incident is being used to malign JNU students. At the outset, we want to condemn the undemocratic slogans that were raised by some people on that day. It is important to note that the slogans were not raised by members of Left organisations or JNU students.
Elsewhere, Kumar stated that what happened on 9 February was most objectionable warranting judicial action (“karwai honi chahiye”). JNUSU vice-president Shehla Rashid said,
We condemn the undemocratic slogans that were raised by some people on that day. In fact, when the sloganeering had been taking place, it was the Left-progressive organisations and students, including JNUSU office-bearers, who asked the organisers to stop the slogans, which were regressive.
The JNU community thus cannot be held responsible for the ‘undemocratic slogans’ heard on that day.
At last thus the “Left-progressive” organisations found their fall guy. The universally condemnable slogans were not given by anyone from JNU; they were given by ‘outsiders’. With timely help from the media, some videos of 9 February surfaced, showing several people covering their faces while shouting slogans. The insinuation is difficult to miss: these were the outsiders shouting those condemnable undemocratic slogans. As noted, the matter is under judicial review. Without judging the veracity of the suggestion, I will just hold on to it to proceed with the political argument.
Suppose, as darkly suggested in a number of reports on the incident, that these ‘outsiders’ were students from
Kashmir affiliated to various institutions in Delhi. By designating
them as ‘outsiders’, the JNU community extricated itself from the problem of
identifying with their cause; in effect, the community turned its back on their
judicial destiny. The entire weight of an increasingly authoritarian regime is
to be borne by a dozen or so young Kashmiris wearing masks and chanting furious
slogans, hoping someone will listen. Do we know who they are? Why do they need
to put on masks in free, democratic India? What is their compulsion for
screaming those disturbing slogans and risking their lives in the process?
It is reasonable to assume that they belong to the current generation of Kashmiris who have spent their entire lives amidst catastrophic violence in which the civilian death-toll is nearing 95,000 in three decades of gut-wrenching conflict. They have heard about, if not actually witnessed, rape and murder of friends and relations on a regular basis as over half a million soldiers of the Indian union, armed with AFSPA, ransack their lives. [EPW placed the part on the army in a separate sentence and dropped the last three words]. They are witness to unmarked mass graves where erstwhile ‘missing persons’ found their place. They are surrounded by thousands of women and children undergoing psychological collapse. They have surely taken part since childhood in endless protests, strikes, shut downs, and processions as another atrocity occurred somewhere in the neighbourhood. Perhaps they know of friends barely out of their teens who compulsively joined the ranks of militancy knowing full well that, by now, the ‘shelf-life’ of a militant is a year at most. Perhaps they have carried the bullet-ridden bodies of their friends while marching in shivering cold with hundreds of others, weeping and screaming at the marauding Indian state. On the other side of the Himalayas.
On 9 February, they assembled again to commemorate the memory of a fellow Kashmiri who “personified the lot of his people.” They congregate because “they suffer at the hands of the very forces and the agencies as he did; until he was put to death.” With the instinctive alertness of a prey, they put on masks as they always do in
they screamed again cursing the state that has ruined their land. On this
solemn occasion though they had friends from this side of the Himalayas,
a tiny group of brave
idealistic students who rallied in solidarity. Hand in hand, they
chanted the song of hope and freedom.
The hope was short-lived as the predatory state struck. After the confusion partially cleared, the Kashmiris suddenly realized that no one from democratic
holding their hands anymore. As if that was not enough, they have now
been marked, isolated, and abandoned to the wolves so that the preparations for
a Left-Ambedkarite revolution can proceed unhindered in multiple colours. India
It is another matter that the vicissitudes of electoral politics in
has its own compulsions that, for now, might have saved these masked people
shouting ‘undemocratic slogans’ from further harm, notwithstanding the
patriotic demand for punishment by democratic India.