Kurta, sling bag and Delhi University in the age of fear

Kurta, sling bag and Delhi University in the age of fear

Kurta, sling bag and Delhi University in the age of fear

The recent protests and violent episodes at the North Campus of Delhi University (DU) is a continuum of what has been witnessed in the name of hypernationalism and moral vigilantism across India.

Though it technically began at Ramjas College, the fear of violence has become everyday reality here over the last couple of years. The latest episode of student protests for the ‘right to differ’ and the violent counter by the reactionary Right emerged both from a particular trajectory of DU’s own history and the very present of India today.

The everyday life in North Campus coexists with a predominant post-partition population and various kinds of migrant settlements. It has an everyday traffic of two to three lakh people or more. Added to these complications, DU lives in multitude with its numerous college campuses, scattered across Delhi. In another way, DU doesn’t exist as a campus, it lives in an abstract. Therefore, unlike the gated and closed campuses like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) or Hyderabad Central University (HCU), the open campus of DU always lives, physically, with its non-academic population.

So the presence of “outsiders” who live very much at the campus has been a permanent fixture in the everyday of DU politics. Thus, the everyday of DU lives with a consciousness shared by a majority which is making their ideology increasingly performative. This “unreality” of such a particular existence gets reflected in its student politics and sentiments. Successfully tapping the materiality of such complications which is coupled with a rather hierarchised college system where Hindi-English divide has been very strong, Hindu Right organisations have made a perennial inroad into this university.

Thus, far different from other universities in Delhi in terms of demographic and political architecture, DU has a different trajectory in its negotiation with the outside sphere. As a “campus on road”, a dominant section of DU always shares the mimetic fear of majoritarian consciousness, while other universities and their student politics engage with the counterfactuals.

Therefore, any labour to dilute such consciousness is not tolerated. A colossal one in terms of size and one of South Asia’s premier educational institutions, any ideological or political shift in DU will be a major worry for the political parties. They want DU not only as its political buffer but also a permanent political and moral counter-factual to the JNU. In the new urban dictionary of Delhi, JNU has been painted as the “moral other” which “pollutes” the “body and mind” of the true nationalists.

Right-wing vigilantism does not want such sustainable “demons of impurity” in the everyday of DU. Reading beyond the surface, one is to understand that the reactionary Right’s new language of ideological violence in the universities is a programmed design to purge “apocalyptical presence” of the liberal space where dissent sets the norm. The intent of the Right is to preserve DU’s pristine purity. It forms embedded tradition of violent intimidation within DU’s student electoral politics which is closely monitored by major national parties.

Recent violent incidents are classic examples of the Right’s increasing inability to respect the differences which is the core of India’s very existence. Its presentation of anything in the bracket of “anti-national” - for questioning their ideology and way of executing only reiterate what has been perceived about them – being “immature”, “un-intellectual and sexist”. Incessant cyber attacks on Gurmeher Kaur, daughter of a soldier who died in a militant attack and also a student at the Lady Shri Ram College, points out certain inescapability of the Right from its own being.

The western ‘aurat’

Programmed abuses unleashed at a young girl are not in line with their narratives about nationalism and the idealisation – “Mother Nation”. She was attacked with the most atrocious sexual slander for her being an expressive woman who questioned the futility of war. In an age where emotions around military, soldiers and nationalism are running high, the sexualised life threats that the daughter of a soldier gets reflect what is increasingly becoming obvious - depleting confidence of a political regime and fear of failures of governance and promises.

Sexual spatialisation in the current consciousness of “nation” wants to reduce women as a mere procreative being who ensures the continual of “nationalists”, of course of a particular kind. The violence also shows the absolute unwillingness of the pan-nationalist Right for developing a language of engagement with western ‘aurat’ (woman), a new urban term for “disobedient” woman who protests for democratic rights.

Similarly, attacks on students and professors at Ramjas College are only an extension of the trend we see over a period of time. It is very clear that such “public punishments” by the students of “wrong doers” have been part of the Right’s efforts to make the students a coercive apparatus within the system.

The police becoming a collusive extension of the six-pack Right groups not only frightens but it shows that they are at difficulty to recognise the space of differences and dissent. Rather, they are afraid of its existence. There is an increasing angst among a major section of students about the near absolute complacency of the police with the protagonists of violence. The reported partisan ways in which the police behaved with a section of students who protested against the brutalities on them shows the embedded prejudices of the Delhi Police.

Don’t stories about police manhandling students with beard, ‘kurta’ and sling bags, and bracketing them all terrorists reflect a particular symptom of the political and moral instruments that the police are becoming? Does police prejudice come from the construction of the “undesired other” in the new state narrative? Many in DU ask.

(The writer teaches at Delhi University)