This is a guest post by SANIA HASHMI
Over the past couple of days, Zee News has been declaring to the world that Lance Naik Hanumanthappa died because he’d rather not breathe the same air as we at JNU do. That this statement is the worst possible trivialisation of a martyr’s death which is being exploited for petty sensationalism by our own version of the fourth estate is a separate issue, too nerve-wracking to be given precedence over the tragedy that unfolded in our campus yesterday with the arrest of our democratically-elected President Kanhaiya Kumar. A Zee News screen grab showed the word ‘Deshdrohi’ in 72-pt screeching yellow font pasted across Kanhaiya’s unsuspecting face. What was his fault? As an eyewitness from ground zero who was present at Sabarmati at the time of the protest, let me begin by answering the obvious questions that despite the numerous clarifications on part of the students and the JNUSU on social media and elsewhere are meeting deaf ears. It is interesting how despite being told that the Students Union and the student body in general had nothing to do with it and have in no uncertain terms condemned any alleged slogan against our country, the trolls are still putting decibels to shame with the very same questions. And no, I am not just talking about Nupur Sharma. So yes, let me begin by putting a few things on record in respect of Kanhaiya’s arrest. Did Kanhaiya organise the event? NO. Did he raise anti-India slogans? NO. Did he hail Pakistan? NO. Did he intervene to prevent ABVP-instigated violence in his capacity as the President? YES. Has he been vocal against the brahmanical tyranny of the RSS? YES. Has he been tirelessly fighting for the Rohith Vemulas of this world? YES. Has he been a torchbearer for students’ rights across the country? YES. Is this why you have arrested him? Is this your justice? If this struggle for a just society is anti-national in your eyes, we all plead guilty! If this is your witch-hunt for people who cannot conform to your ideological blinkers, we all plead guilty! If we must be party to the violent hooliganism of the ABVP in order to be called patriotic, rest assured, we all plead guilty!
WATCH KANHAIYA KUMAR’S SPEECH HOURS BEFORE HIS ARREST TO SEE WHAT THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA CONSIDERS ANTI-NATIONAL. Clearly, Kumar’s fault was that he said in this speech that he doesn’t need the RSS’s certificate to be called a nationalist.
An important distinction also needs to be drawn between the two terms that are unfortunately being used synonymously today: anti-government and anti-national. As Romila Thapar has brilliantly argued in her recent book, the problem with our politics is the fact that the government sees itself as the state. If voices of dissent are crushed against a government, where is our democracy? The ability to move against the tide, to question, and to critique is the very essence of a democratic society. There was nothing democratic about what happened in JNU yesterday. As someone who was present at Sabarmati Dhaba on the 9th of February when the alleged incident took place, let me assure you that not one student from JNU was part of the anti-India sloganeering. If you would even look closely at the video that is being circulated, you will only see a group of Kashmiri students from across Delhi who had formed a circle in the centre of the gathering, not one of whom was from JNU. If would believe me even for a second, would you not consider it a legitimate concern as to what this crackdown on JNU’s famously democratic space is all about? Would you not think that it may have something to do with finally getting an opportunity to crush and discredit a place like JNU which has since its very inception fought for the rights of the oppressed? Would you not think that this is the price we are having to pay for not conforming to a certain ideology? Would it not shake your faith in the very concept of justice in a democratic society? Would you not think that Kanhaiya’s caste made him an easy target? Would your heart not go out to his paralysed bedridden father who has no one but our better judgement to fall back on? Would you not spare a thought for his mother who runs the house on 4000 rupees a month? Would you not find this to be a helpless case of violent state oppression? Would you not consider the possibility that this all but a follow-up to the RSS mandate against JNU as expressed months ago in its mouthpiece Panchajanya? All I ask of you is to think about it.
While I am not personally a fan of making these binaries, I suppose desperate times call for desperate dumbed-down measures. A true nationalist is someone who sees what’s amiss in the system and strives to rectify it. A true nationalist is someone who has the courage to speak for a fellow citizen when she is being unjustly dealt with. A true nationalist is someone who fights for a classless egalitarian society with equal opportunities for all its members. A true nationalist fights to make her country better. This is what Kanhaiya stands for. This is what I stand for. This is what JNU stands for. And no police action can stop us from working for the betterment of our country, for the secular ethos of our country, for the poor of this country.
Sania Hashmi is an MPhil Scholar at the Centre for English Studies, JNU.