This post continues the ongoing debate on Kafila occasioned by the charge made by Prof. Ranabir Samaddar in the DNA Newspaper about what he thinks is the ‘elitist’ character of the students movement that is continuing at Jadavpur University, Kolkata.
Guest Post by Anindya Sengupta
Now Ranabir Samaddar has done it. This charge of elitism – as evident in his article’s title ‘Elitist Protest in Jadavpur’ – is not new; it was in the air right from the onset of the movement, evident in numerous threads of comments in social networks. But when such labelling, as is regularly dished out by a Trinamul Congress backed Bengali daily like Khobor 365 Din, finds an echo in left-wing scholars, it hurts. It was almost a relief that Prof. Samaddar didn’t repeat the accusation that these rebelling students are a doped and debauched lot.
Looking up for the word ‘elite’ in the dictionaries yielded this among many: “A group or class of persons enjoying superior intellectual or social or economic status”.
[ This post by Rajarshi Dasgupta continues the debate with Ranabir Samaddar’s piece on the character of the students’ movement that has begun in Jadavpur University which was published recently in DNA, also critiqued in a recent post in Kafila by Uditi Sen ]
Nobody knows why social science routinely condemns the lack of radicalism in society when social scientists with radical pasts so easily dismiss new radicalisms as harmful and shallow. I was attending a meeting on students’ politics in the campus I work on the other night, when some colleagues, who have long been part of progressive politics since their student life, voiced such sentiments. I was struck by the arguments they made against what they saw as merely fancy and passing fashion. They were rather similar to a set of arguments made by an older generation of teachers about my colleagues when they were young and radical students. I think these arguments are worth a little discussion since they show something like a pattern that is predictable to some extent, and which may reveal a more uneasy relationship between social science scholarship and social transformation than we usually care to admit. They also have a deep affinity with the criticisms aired about the recent students’ unrest in Jadavpur university, by Ranabir Samaddar among others. Unlike some who have written in support of the students, there are senior scholars like Samaddar who have expressed profound and serious misgivings that must be tackled head on. I will argue in the following that such misgivings result from a muddle of liberal and leftist understanding of the student’s place and the academy’s role in society. A more clear understanding becomes possible, incidentally, in this case, if one returns to a basic capitalist framing of the university.
Prof. Ranabir Samaddar of the Calcutta Research Group has recently published a screed (in the DNA Newspaper) against the #Hokkolorob movement initiated by the students of Jadavpur University which has found resonance with students and young people all over West Bengal and elsewhere in India. Samaddar, who seems to have lost the ability to recognize the many intersections of solidarity between students, young people in metropolitan as well as non-metropolitan contexts, women, young workers, accuses the movement of what he calls ‘elitism’ and a disconnect with realities on the ground.
Uditi Sen responds.
It is settled then. With this latest denunciation (by Ranabir Samaddar, in DNA, see link above) of the student movement at Jadavpur, we finally have a verdict we can trust. Student politics is not what it used to be. The glory days of the 60s are long gone and the protesting young today fail to live up to the authentic radicalism of their elders. Those were the days, indeed. Those were the days when student politics, organised under the banner of the organised left took up real issues, such as those of the peasants and workers and did not distract themselves with inequities closer to home. Such as, why women ‘comrades’ were expected to cook and clean and provide for their men, who led the vanguard. Such as why even the most progressive politics, when speaking of the rights of peasants, meant the rights of male peasants. Those indeed were the days of glory, which we should remember and seek to emulate, when the leaders, usually dadas, had no answers when a peasant woman asked, ‘“Why should my comrade beat me at home?” (See Samita Sen’s Toward a Feminist Politics: The Indian Women’s Movement in Historical Perspective)
Sri Keshari Nath Tripathi, Governor, West Bengal.
Dear Shri Tripathi,
We, the undersigned academics and concerned citizens, are writing to you with grave concern, about the situation in Jadavpur University, as you are also the Chancellor of the University.We have read in newspapers, seen on television, or read through social media posts, enough to understand that the following serious problems occurred.
First, in late August, a young woman, a student of Jadavpur University, brought in a charge of sexual harassment against some hostel students. This was handled extremely badly by the Vice Chancellor of Jadavpur University, who seems to have advised her to stay at home, and to have rebuffed attempts by the victim and her friends to get speedy justice.
We must not celebrate every time we see a movement. Movements can be very popular without being very meaningful, disturbing only the surface of society. Some can be pretty and harmless like candle light vigils; others dangerous and ugly like ‘love jihad’. Some want efficient governance like Hazaare; others regime change like Nandigram. For those tired with political apathy, it is of course good news that a spate of new movements is emerging thanks to new technologies and media coverage. But it is equally true that they seem to be going indifferent directions, without any common end. The picture is not clear. Who knows better than us how ‘change’ can be purely rhetorical? It is not difficult to imagine why people are weary of dramatic social unrest. They hardly fail to bring yet more conservative and unscrupulous sections to power. If we don’t want to get carried away, it is because of repeated disillusionments with the promise of change that everybody makes but nobody keeps. Politics is not, we better understand, about promise but manipulation, bargaining for daily needs, livelihood and resources, and so it should be. Movements may come and go like fashion, they are incidental to reality, which changes very slowly if at all. There is an institutional process of elections we have put in place, and it has proven to be resilient and reliable.
Bandh Bhengey Dao – Break All Bonds –
Lyrics and Music – Rabindranath Tagore & Asian Dub Foundation
From the Original Sound Track of ‘Tasher Desh’ a film adaptation by Q
It’s been more than a week since tens of thousands of students marched in a rain drenched Saturday in Kolkata, in solidarity with Jadavpur University students and their fight for justice. Much has happened since to delegitimise this mammoth, genuinely popular and student-led march. A counter-march, the co-optation of the victim’s father by the ruling party, adverse propaganda in the press and fatigue and confusion amongst the protestors have been some of the dampening developments that followed the unexpected show of student power. True to their clarion call, hok kolorob (let there be clamour), the marchers made a lot of noise. A week later, as the numbers of protestors on the streets have dissipated as fast as they had congregated, it is perhaps time to step back from the euphoria of the gathering and the intimidation and murky co-optation of protest that followed, to reflect on the political meanings and potential of this uprising.
The march was not organised by any single political party, though many with experience or background in student politics of one ilk or the other, marched. The vast majority, however, were students who had never marched before and had no experience of politics. The question therefore arises, what, if anything is the unifying ideology of this body of protestors? What goals motivate them? Above all, the question that is doing the rounds the most, on social media, on mainstream news and on the streets is what are the politics of the protestors? The question of politics is seldom posed directly. Its ubiquitous presence, however, can be clearly read in the answers provided regarding the nature of the march, the motivations of the protestors and the identity of the marchers. Unsurprisingly, diametrically opposite sets of answers emerge from members of the ruling party, inside and outside Jadavpur University; and the people who took to the streets on Saturday. From the Vice Chancellor, the Education Minister and officially ordained leaders of the ‘youth’, such as Abhishek Banerjee and Shankudeb Panda, characterisations emerge that focus on indiscipline on campus, presence of Maoist and other outsiders and deep conspiracies. From students of Jadavpur University and their sympathisers, assertions emerge that this protest is about justice and not about politics. Both characterisations fail to capture what is at stake.