Fearless Minds and Heads Held High: To the CDS Student Community


Dear Friends

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.

10 thoughts on “Fearless Minds and Heads Held High: To the CDS Student Community”

  1. Dear Devika ma’am, could you please throw more light into the statement “NRI who makes no real contribution”? My understanding is that they send in a significant lot of money into the country and played a major role in raising the standards of living in Kerala.


    1. Sreejith, the NRI I was referring to is usually a citizen of a prosperous western country whose money may boost consumption here but rarely production. This person may own property here, but it will not be used for any productive purposes and has no real long-term stake in it even. Obviously, this is not the migrant worker, who intends to come back and contribute to the Indian economy. Even this figure is ambiguous now, given that the deleterious effects of accelerated consumption are beginning to outweigh the gains from it, for instance, in the wanton destruction of the environment. The Malayali migrant worker occupies only a secondary place PM Modi’s imagination of the NRI who is always eager to please


      1. Dear Ma’am, we should take this discussion away from this forum, as it’s not relevant to the subject of this article. However, I wish to disagree with you. If I may look at my town, Perumbavoor, as a microcosm of Kerala, where there’s usually one NRI in every household, most of the small-scale industries, farms, shops, private schools, clinics, transport services (private buses, taxis, autorickshaws, etc.) were funded by NRI money. Either direct investment by returning migrant workers, or family members investing NRI’s savings, even of someone who has acquired citizenship in another country. My banker tells me that it’s the NRI remittances and deposits that help them finance and support entrepreneurship in the town. I accept the argument that rapid industrialisaton has affected the environment. But, can we really reduce it to the level of saying “makes no real contribution”. We can discuss it offline through my personal email, if you wish to take the conversation away from Kafila.


        1. I agree that money from abroad has kept consumption afloat in Kerala. I don’t know about Perumbavoor, but for the whole of Kerala, there is little evidence that migrant worker-money has contributed to significant investment in the productive sector. The service sector growth is substantial of course, but I do believe it is counterbalanced by too many ill-effects. For example, the shift of landed resources away from agriculture to real estate and other unproductive uses and the rising investment of NRIs in cut-throat and low-quality healthcare and education (big, fancy buildings and ads don’t guarantee good quality) massive rise in consumption culture in even key areas of welfare such as health and education. Not that this will remain unchanged, of course. In any case, the NRI I refer to here is not anyone who intends to return and hence has a real stake here except exploitative designs, but the NRI whose major stakes are all in the country he/she has migrated to. That is the constituency Modi woos most.


          1. Dear Ma’am, do we have some data-based research done on this subject already? To evaluate the real impact the NRI investment has had on Kerala, or any other part of India? Because, in addition to Perumbavoor, I have lived and worked in Aluva, Kottayam and Kazhakkuttom, and I have seen the same positive impact at all these places. If such a study has not been done, I’m sure it’s a good topic for a research scholar in CDS. The growth in service sector, I believe, was mostly reactionary – somebody noticed that there’s demand and invested in it. Can we really consider it as only ill-effects? E.g., an NRI noticed that the buses from the village were overcrowded in the morning and evening and added one new bus for commute. Can we blame the NRIs for shift from agriculture to other industries? I come from an agricultural family. My father was quite adamant on me finding a career other than agriculture. I preferred the change too, as I wanted an easier lifestyle. The shift from food crops to cash crops to other industries happened because they gave more return on investment than agriculture, and involved less physical labour. How can the NRIs be blamed for that? I agree that the NRI investment in hospitals and schools have driven the cost up and that it’s beyond the reach of the common man. Can we really assume that it’s of low quality? Especially when they have recruited the best physicians and service staff available? Was it not a result of the global changes in economy? To be technically correct, I believe you’re referring to PIOs rather than NRIs. I was present at Modi’s address in Dubai. I don’t think his focus was on just PIOs, as Dubai has only migrant workers who intend to return some day. From my perspective, the general trend of the address was to reassure us that the External Affairs Ministry is going to be more caring than before, and they have proved it already on numerous occasions. If you have come across a research work done on the impact of NRIs on India’s economy, please do share it with me. Our community here in Dubai is quite keen on doing positive and productive work back home, especially people closer to retirement, and will help us greatly in channelizing our efforts. Thanks.


            1. Sreejith, first of all, be clear that PIOs who work in the Gulf are to be blamed for all the ills of Kerala’s economy. However, the sudden influx of wealth without proper channeling into any economy creates a great deal of imbalances especially when it coincides with greater liberalization and the opening up of economic borders. No one in particular is at fault for sure, not even as a group, but the effects cannot be denied. Secondly, the example you give is wonderful – and in fact some scholars have pointed out that this was how returnees of the first wave of Malayalee migration – to South East Asia, in the early 20th century, acted. They noticed, for example, that automobile repair shops were few, and set up their own workshops. Or brought progressive ideas into society through setting up Sree Narayana Samajams and funding poor students’ education. This was in the backdrop of the anti-colonial struggle and when cosmopolitanism involved bringing back ideas and activities that questioned traditional inequalities and economic self-assertion through productive activities by the lower castes/classes. But after the mid-20th century, things changed quite drastically. Cosmopolitanism now is no longer what it was – it is hugely conservative in its obsession with nationalistic or communal leanings, but intensely consumerist. The returnee now does not add an additional bus, but buys two or three cars and uses them all the time even for trivial purposes! Also, demand is not always pre-existing – they are created through the projection of some particular good as necessary to a decent social existence! In fact, that is an important part of business education. Thirdly, the colonisation of health and education by private investment does not happen in a vaccuum; it usually parallels the withdrawal of the state from serious intervention in these areas. Of course, NRIs do a lot of charity with the best intentions, but the effect it has is to create the general impression that distress is individual or particular to a small group (since it is individuals/small groups in distress who receive it) and not systemic – and by implication, that larger structural change and state policy to alleviate distress can be shelved, As for Modi, he prefers to woo NRIs, and yes Sushma Swaraj is doing a better job than most others before her, I suppose. Good for you, but it does not help this country very much.


          2. Dear Devika, regarding your assertion..that “there is little evidence that migrant worker-money has contributed to significant investment in the productive sector. ” Is there any study to this effect that you know of? It really sounds counter-intuitive.


            1. Yes indeed, there is evidence that productive sector investment has not been boosted – of course construction sector has been. But construction sector and real estate are quite ambiguous in the benefits they confer to the economy if one is bothered by long-term concerns. It has also contributed significantly to the ‘marriage industry’ through fueling massive consumption around marriage, including dowry payments. The service sector boom, again, has ambiguous implications in the long run.


              1. I also would like to say that I will not be responding to this discussion – simply because the issues raised in the post are simply being eclipsed by it. I do hope you will reflect on what is happening in India now, and how the rise of Hindutva fascism may affect you. I suspect it will affect you less than the average person who lives in India.


  2. Great signs to see that many students all over the country are expressing their solidarity alongwith faculty of different colleges and disciplines in the spirit of “one for all, all for one”. An old song of Sri Sri in telugu runs thus:
    “…andari kosam vokkadu nilichi
    Vokkadi kosam andaru kalasi
    Sahakaramey mana oopiri aite …..
    Goppa beeda tedaa leka andaruu
    Needi naadi vaadana mani vunduruu…..”
    (If one stands for all / All come together for one / …If co-operation is our breath….
    There shall be no difference between rich and poor/ They shall live without arguement of yours and mine….
    Free translation).


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