This is a guest post by SUDHA K F
“His right to march where he likes, meet where he likes, enter where he likes, hoot where he likes, threaten who he likes, smash as he likes. All this I think tends to anarchy. (Mathew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, 1866)
….It certainly does. Nothing is stranger, in Arnold’s often scrupulous, often self-consciously charming and delicate prose, than the escalation, the coarseness of these Hyde Park verbs…It is a point of view. Certainly it contrives to forget the start of the disorder: the defeat of the reform legislation, the locking of the gates against the reform meeting (for which, as it happens, there were no legal grounds). As so often, it picks up the story at a convenient point: at the point of response, sometimes violent, to repression; not at the repression itself. Even so, it is a point of view and a familiar one.”
The above excerpt is from an essay by the British Marxist thinker Raymond Williams “One Hundred Years of Culture and Anarchy”, which is part of his path-breaking collection of essays Culture and Materialism. The first paragraph is a quotation that Williams makes from Mathew Arnold’s essay Culture and Anarchy written in the 1860s in response to the workers’ demonstration at Hyde Park asking for voting rights for workers. Arnold’s argument and language is all too familiar to us now, as that is the language available to us through mainstream media and in general the middle class public sphere, while talking about the brutal deployment of force and violence on the students at the University of Hyderabad. Many seem to be in the business of picking up stories at convenient points.
On 22 March, there was a violent onslaught on the students of University of Hyderabad who were protesting the dramatic and sudden return of Appa Rao as VC to Rohith Vemula’s campus, the same person who is held responsible for the abetment of Rohit’s suicide, the same person who is responsible for reiterating institutionally embedded oppressive casteist practices, by the State using police and other armed forces.The one and a half hour long lathi charge and violence on students, the cruel arrest of students, was then followed by the occupation of the campus by the police. They still continue to flock the roads and ways of the university, the sound of their boots reverberating their casteist-sexist remarks, literally making the space for our friends there a “rat hole”, a “prison camp” etc. That day when the protest unfolded and there was terror unleashed on the students, from that day there was no food, water or internet for the remaining students on campus. Their SBH debit cards were blocked. Images and videos while students were struggling hard to prevent the arrest of fellow students, literally clutching each other’s hands and legs, were put up on social media as a document to what was happening there, from their phones that were dying of charge, from their phones in which balance was running out, as the only resort to try and communicate to the world outside what they were being put through. Meanwhile the arrested 27 students including two faculty members, were just “missing”. For hours and even days their whereabouts were not disclosed. It was a planned systematically organized attempt at silencing voices of dissent and critique and by now we have many many accounts written by the student of the University of Hyderabad, updating us on how it is to continue to struggle amidst repression and a reign of terror in the university space. And let us ask ourselves again, this form of armed violence and torture, for what?: Against students asking for justice against a tyrannical Brahmanical system that led to the suicide/institutional murder of their friend/ fellow classmate Rohith Vemula, the constitution and enactment of Rohith Act to put a curb to institutional casteist oppressive practices within university spaces.
And it is in this circumstance, that we hear and become little Arnolds. Raymond Williams refers to this liberal attitude where one is speaking about “excellence” and “humaneness” on the one hand, and on the other does not see any problem with violence, repression. What we can see at each instance of State sponsored violence, is this liberal response embodied in the mainstream media (of whatever little was reported because there was almost a complete blind eye turned towards what was happening at UoH), that which sees only the current “disorder” and not the originary violence that led to such a response in the first place. What we hear are only advocacies for democracy to prevail, as if some sanctified space of rational debate and reason exists at a time when a Dalit student is pushed to end his life in this world, when he thought there is no hope anymore to live? Do we have a just order to ask for disorder not to happen? Do we have a space of absolute freedoms where all voices of truth, reason and justice are heard? Then how can we call for disordered, loud, anarchic voices to disappear especially in these times of Hindutva fascism?
It is only within this liberal paradigm that we will be able to look at lathis and boots as law and order and slogans and placards as disorder and anarchy. But for a minute let us also pause and think about the times in which we live in. Let us remember who is absent and who can be afford to be present now to begin with. Even now, even imagining a space within the university without being marked by structures of casteist violence would be such a callous memory loss, if one still remembers why Rohith Vemula took his life. If we are truly invested in freedoms, please let’s pause before taking a stand which begins with sentences filled with “but then..”: But then the students should be controlled, But then the university has to function, But then order and peace has to prevail, But then vandalism can be met only with violence… More than any argument that comes from the Right, who is openly fascist and not invested in democratic values and ideals, it is this silence of the liberal response that will give the space for fascism to grow without criticism. It is this liberal response that will privilege certain forms of struggles and politics over the others. It is again this liberal response that will foster the media and the public to stand with some and not with Others.
Often one is now familiar with another response circulating in vernacular media: What happened at the university of Hyderabad: was it that bad as the students and social media is claiming? Yes, it was and it is. Violence and “evil” has become so banal that we don’t want to believe in the truthfulness of those who are fighting it. But let us also remember that this banality with which one seeks to see; that is precisely going to be the reason that this violence will be sanctioned over and over again. It is this comfort with which we can overlook everyday forms of violence, extended to such organized attempts of violence to crush dissent and any struggle, that refuses to be complacent with any form of structural violence, that is lethal for any idea of a democratic existence. Let us tell ourselves that now is not a time in which we can afford to be little Arnolds, a term Raymond Williams uses to talk about those who refuse to see the originary violence or the repression and will only see the disorder or “anarchy” in the figure of the protestor who is probably angry, who is seeking an urgent address to her call for justice and equality. Now is a time that one needs to put down one’s voice in whatever form possible, without doubt, without “but thens”. Now we cannot afford silence as our friends are being jailed and put through fear because they ask for justice, because they stand by this moment with courage. In the last few days we saw more forms of State repression meted out against students in Calicut, Chennai and Mumbai just for solidarity marches and protests which stand with the students of UoH. What is truly inspiring is that none of this has stopped the students at the University of Hyderabad in struggling to exist in a space that now only looks like a police camp and to keep the memory of Rohith’s spirit alive, while they were forced to exist without food or water or any other amenities.
Let us stand with this spirit of struggle and justice, with understanding, with pain in these times.
[Sudha K F is an alumna of EFLU, Hyderabad]