Ever since the Hindutva right-wing attacks on the country’s youthful citizens intensified – from the Kiss of Love protests to the attacks on politicized dalit youth on the campuses of IIT Madras and HCU, and now, against JNU – we have come together several times as a group to defend our right to critical thinking, action, and speech and protest against atrocities in the name of national interest and culture. We have come out not to defend our petty interests but in defense of the Indian Nation as we imagine it – differently from the right-wing – as belonging to the communities of peasants, workers, students, artisans, dancers, singers, small traders, and thousands of other groups that contribute to the economy of this country, as the homeland of vast sections of underprivileged people denied humanity in the name of caste, class, culture, ethnicity and gender.
This India we wish to defend against the small elite minority who espouse the worse kinds of majoritarian religious jingoism and project it as love of the Nation. Through our intellectual activities we strive to keep the India of the underprivileged alive in the memory of our people , which is being steadily altered by the corporate mass media for which the only read Indian seems to be the NRI who make no real contribution to our economy and the super-rich of India whose major concern seems to be selling the country all over again to new, and more scattered, colonial masters. Indeed, these times have brought us together, making us set aside animosities and differences without erasing or forgetting them. We are being true, this way, to the mandate that the founders of CDS placed on us: to never let the rulers forget democracy and the presence of the people to who they are ultimately accountable.
As a community, we at CDS can hardly remain blind to what is unfolding at JNU right now, and not because we have enjoyed decades’ long connection to that University, which grants our degrees. We share deeply in JNU’s ethos of peaceful democratic debate and critical, free inquiry in passionate defense of that India which the Hindutvavaadis cannot and will never even see. Not for nothing is Tagore’s poem engraved on the CDS foundation-stone:
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
There is a way in which the concern for the India of the underprivileged masses have animated our academic concerns in deep ways unbeknownst to us.In an age in which Economics as a discipline sways further and further away from the India of the underprivileged masses, the introduction of the Indian Economic History course in the MA programme last year was an effort by the faculty of CDS to bring back attention to the nation. And this was done so quietly, as a matter of routine, with no fuss at all – in the implicit and powerful understanding that social science in India exists to serve Indian democracy and the idea of India that foregrounds its underprivileged groups and their concerns. Last year, I began my lectures on India’s economic history quoting George Orwell and pointing out the difference between narrow nationalism and true patriotism. I justified the introduction of the course saying that it may be a small light in the way of becoming true patriots – lovers of the nation who however do not wish to force their vision of the nation on others, whose love for their country and its people outweighs the desire to control it. No, whatever the Sanghis claim, no one has been more concerned about India than those of us who have imbibed the traditions of democratic learning and citizenship that JNU has fostered, however imperfectly, over the decades.
The protest that we held yesterday on campus, therefore, can only be a beginning. Today there will be another protest in front of the State Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram at 4 30 PM, by students and teachers from the city, and I request you to lend your strength and rage! As students of economics and Indian development, you are best qualified to speak of the ‘national sentiment’ of our rulers – our rulers who cower in front of foreign capital and multilateral agencies, who sell our resources and our people cheap in the name of growth, who would dismantle every measure that safeguards us from global economic shocks if they could. You know best how to counter slurs by ill-educated BJP and Sanghi trolls and the Ministers who draw most of their information from these impoverished minds, about the alleged ‘gobbling’ of public money by students of JNU – since you are in a position to quote exactly what share of public money is being gobbled by the capitalist monstrosities that the Hindutvavaadis feed and foster – by Reliance, Vedanta, Adani, and the others. You are well-informed about the condition of the India that the underprivileged masses inhabit – the deep inequalities in access to education, health, and all things necessary for a decent life. You are best equipped to expose the lies of the the corporate media which renders that India invisible. You are also, as students of a public institution, well-placed to reveal to the public on the challenges that new generations of students from backgrounds of ever-increasing diversity, face in our institutions of public learning.
At the same time, this is a time we could sit down together to seriously discuss our differences as political, and not personal. I do believe that we need to discuss institutional culture at CDS, the ways in which it has evolved over the years, and what we need to truly democratize it. We need to think of ways to spark off dialogue on campus and bring into open and peaceful debate members of the community who espouse right-wing positions in economy and culture. We need to restore critical thinking at the heart of all that we do here, in classrooms and outside. We need to convince our opponents that critical thinking and free speech remains crucial for all and that we lose our very rationale of existence if we do not uphold these.
Someone who obviously does not agree with us pasted an anonymous poster on the ‘Beyond the Periphery’ wall – which reminds us of a certain murder of a young man in which the CPM stands accused. He/she seems to be hinting that all political parties are equally capable of violence. But that is hardly contested – we do know that the opposition in this country has hardly made an effort to set up an alternate model of politics. If they had done so, we would have probably not seen the fortunes of the virulent Hindutvavaadi right wing rise to such heights. But the point is that this is no longer a clash between different political parties – this is a war between two different imaginings of India, as Kanhaiya Kumar hinted so clearly in his speech. I ask the person who pasted that poster: Are you with the India of the underprivileged who the authorities seek so actively to muffle and erase, or are you with the India of the Adanis and the Ambanis who grow richer still on the fat of the labouring poor?
Finally, what we do not need is the Sanghi advice on nationalism; for, as I mentioned earlier, it is woven into the very fiber of our academic life here. Needless to say, I look ahead with hope and joy, looking out for flowers that awake suddenly at the sound of thunder and thrust themselves above the earth in the rain.