A nation by volition or vitriol?

A nation by volition or vitriol?

A nation by volition or vitriol?

The Ramjas College incident was a stark reminder of the February 2016 frenzy. The doctored videos, staged TV-studio “executions” and online-print hate campaigns almost succeeded in lynching Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban, and shutting down the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

The government and its ‘bhakts’ in Goebbelsian glee branded their convulsive vile as “true, authentic” nationalism and almost succeeded, but for the resilient fight back by the targeted and a rainbow solidarity at the macro political level.

It would be foolish to think that there will be any let up in efforts on the part of the ruling ideology to try and wrest back those bloodthirsty days, especially in the build-up to election spectacles guaranteed in the system. Right-wing majoritarianism thrives on extreme polarisation that ensures a continuous production and reproduction of visceral hatred. If you can do this job in the name of “nation”, it provides you a self-righteous moral high ground as well. This is what is clearly evident in February of 2017.

On the second day of violence, a sense of primeval terror and fear blanketed the campus. A teacher was nearly strangled, several protesters were beaten with cricket bats and slapped by ABVP cadre, who also threw stone, glass bottles and eggs, culminating with the brutal caning of peaceful protesters and media personnel by the police. There was large-scale mayhem on February 22 and especially on February 23.

Students and teachers getting brutally attacked in the open, in their campus, by goons enjoying state protection for 5-6 hours in the afternoon, then getting forcefully detained by the police in the late evening and later coming back to the hostels and rented accommodation amid reports of further profiling and violence by ABVP had a chilling effect on the university community. With a long Shivratri-weekend ahead, many stayed at friends and relatives places, some even Left for their hometowns in the dead of the night.

The Sangh parivar and a section of the media then tried to do a February 9 JNU redux. They honed in on all the victims of their assault - the organisers of the seminar, the speakers – especially the conveniently targetable student leaders Umar and Shehla Rashid, the protestors of ABVP violence, and called them “anti-national” to fashion paranoia and bloodlust.

The second rupture

The first and most critical break in this manufactured frenzy was dealt by Gurmehar Kaur, a student of Delhi University (DU). Already known for her powerful anti-war stance, she called out the ‘goondagardi’ of ABVP and galvanised the common students of DU by simply showing a profile picture with the message, “I am not afraid of ABVP”. The lucidity and strength of her message launched the fight back and led to the second rupture.

The fear-ridden, deserted paths of the campus resonated with the defiant songs and slogans of a 5,000-strong contingent of students and teachers on February 28. In a matter of few days, the stunned and bruised university community, in a peaceful show of resistance, dealt a severe blow to the marauders of communal hatred and academic intolerance on campus.

A moment has passed, a fitting answer in the best tradition of debate, discussion and dissent has been given. But the everydayness of this challenge, especially at this moment of global Rightward shift in history, remains. It is clearly visible in the vicious campaign against Gurmehar in the name of hypernationalism. While ministers and celebrities ridiculed and targeted her, their army of faithful, online trolls gave her rape threats and promised death. No legal sanction against these violators and the fresh attempts of Gurmehar-shaming prove further that this new normal is far from our constitutional freedoms.

The unfreedom on self-determination and expression censures and regulates even the progressive and democratic section of the society. It cannot expect the Right-wing to miss the target, and to overcome political inundation it should re-examine its ways and introspect. The K(ashmir) word is criminalised, the campuses right from Hyderabad Central University and JNU are in a flux, Rohith Vemulas die, Najeeb Ahmads disappear without a trace, you cannot talk about adivasis of Bastar, all this compromises the fight for ideas of egality and social justice.

Uncritical nationalism is the best cover up for the crisis in society. The same fundamental nationalist glorification of the country absolves you from the privatisation of public wealth, resources and institutions, unemployment, war-mongering, militarism, criminal patriarchy and exploitation of the marginalised. If we realise this, ours will be a nation by self-volition, not a nation doused in vitriol.

(The writer teaches at Delhi University)