The dominant narrative around the recent JNU incident has been that the unwarranted police action and the concerted acts of violence, incitement and misinformation that followed are all part of a determined push by the saffron brigade. After love jihad and beef, the story has it, it is “sedition” and “Pakistani agent” this time—we are living in a state of undeclared emergency. A sense of disbelief and apocalyptic doom seem to underpin these sentiments, along with a nostalgic optimism for a quick return to harmony and normalcy. But such things have happened far too many times, and far too often for us to harbour such illusions. For what we are going through is in effect a recalibration of that normalcy.
To read political slogans literally is an absurdity. But in the hands of the present government, it is a calculated absurdity that reads “Bharat ki barbadi…” as armed conspiracy against the state. The variables are many—arrests, fake tweets, rampaging lawyers, patriotic house-owners and now, open calls for murder. But the calculus resolves itself into the same formula every time: national/anti-national.
At the outset, the opposition to the attack on the university campus seems to have coalesced around two points—first, maintaining a safe distance from the “anti-India” slogans raised at the meeting; and second, showing themselves as the real nationalists, standing against the saffron thugs in patriot’s disguise. Partly in response to a vicious media campaign, videos of “real nationalist” speeches at the protest venue are being posted on social media everyday. We are told at length about the “real” Indian behind the deshdrohi, his credentials, and how he wants his India to be. Things reached a disturbing pitch when spokespersons of the traditional Left went on record to express their displeasure at the real culprits not being caught. Without doubt, the saffron brigade cannot be allowed the prerogative of deciding what “the nation” means. But why do so from the flimsy ramparts of sedition? Continue reading Sedition is a Shade of Grey or, Bharat Mata’s Smothering Embrace: Ankur Tamuliphukan and Gaurav Rajkhowa→
What unites anti-homophobia campaigners, defenders of the poor’s right to clean water, university student collectives, women rights’ groups and academics under a premature summer sun in New Delhi on the 30th of March earlier this year? It is the unacceptable means employed by the Indian state in response to armed rebellions in North east India and the threat to civilian life that it has precipitated. The contagion of a military approach to a largely political problem was promulgated as an ordinance in 1958 under the presidency of Dr Rajendra Prasad to help quell the Naga movement and was developed into the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Assam and Nagaland) later in the same year. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (from here on AFSPA) persists in violating human rights in Kashmir and North east India despite its incompatibility with national and international human rights declarations. Over the years this Act has been sanctified in the inner sanctum of India’s centralised quasi-military administration. The government has been extremely guarded in its approach to growing popular demands for annulling this Act. The civil leadership’s reluctance to temper with the ritualized provisions of this Act has raised the disquieting question of who runs the country.
I read with interest Lawrence Liang and Golan Nauluk’s piece in The Hindu (4 February 2014, ‘Cultural ignorance and prejudice’). They rightly point out the various gaps and fissures in our understanding of racism and its impact on those whose identities are often placed outside the “rubric of Indian nationhood”. They also suggest, insightfully, that the “complicated history of the northeast with its various self-determination movements and armed struggles requires a slightly different imagination of multicultural citizenship”.
Using this as a point of departure, I’d like to discuss another dimension of the “cultural difference” they foreground in their piece – the manner in which Indian nationhood is constructed in the northeast. Manifold exclusionary tendencies manifest themselves in northeastern politics and, for someone who is from the region, it is impossible to disentangle these from current discussions on racism. While it is important to interrogate the existence of prejudicial attitudes towards northeasterners in a city like Delhi, such questioning cannot be extricated from the larger context of the conceptualization of nationhood and identity within the northeast, for the two are closely imbricated issues.
Turn on the television any given day now, and you will be greeted by the news-media in unison informing you about the psychosis of fear—“north east fear/scare” is a useful shorthand—that seems to have gripped some of our fellow citizens. The numerous characterizations, all of which are variations on a theme, are not only ill-informed, they are also wholly inadequate and directionless. What does it mean to say that north-easterners are in the grip of fear, running away herd-like to their corners of the home-world? The bovine image, though useful in the sense of visualizing the sheer numbers involved, doesn’t allow us to think beyond.
This piece is an attempt in that direction. The fear is real, it is palpable on the railway platforms and at airports of major cities, and it surely has had the potency to disrupt a large number of people in the steps and motions of their daily lives. Others, including on Kafila, have written about the contentious issue of borders and migrants, of numbers and mutable identities; The Hindu has featured a series of interesting articles under the Sunday Story section, delineating the central role of information-technology and communication—technology whose role itself has radically transmuted amidst the last few months of the troubles, where we have seen the emergence of the cellphone screen as the new, unchartered frontier of radical, affective simulacra. Fingers have been raised, especially by our ever-articulate military-intelligence-scholarly community, against the customary foreign hand, and many of their accusations, might, in the days ahead, speak their own truth.
In the last few days the Nilasandra area in Bangalore has gained infamy across India as it came up as the name touted over and over again as the most sensitive area in Bangalore and the one which featured in most rumours about potential attacks against members of the north east community.
In a remarkable show of camaraderie and generosity the Muslim community called for an iftar party in the Akbari Masjid in Nilasandra and dozens of members of the north east community were invited along with members of the state administration. Over a thousand Muslims from Nilasandra, Anepalaya and Austin Town collectively vowed to safeguard the north east community living in Nilasandra.
In a touching speech one of the officials of the Akbari masjid Sadr Saab said that it was unfortunate that Nilasandra had shot to fame in this manner, and that residents of Nilasandra wanted to prove the world wrong by ensuring that there would be no violence of any kind in the days to come. A seventy year old man belonging to the Gurkha community similarly stated that he had lived for a long part of his life in Nilasandra and had never encountered anything unpleasant so far and did not expect to in the future either.
There have also been similar exercises in trust building that have taken place in other parts of the city and lets hope that these gestures of friendship will contribute towards lessening the atmosphere of distrust and fear that currently exists.
आज बाईस मई की सुबह जब ऑफिस या काम पर जाने की चिंता से बेफिक्र हम सोते रहेंगे, उसी समय नॉर्थ-ईस्ट और कश्मीर की जनता जो सुबह देखेगी, वह कानून के नाम पर बर्बरता की 53 वीं सालगिरह होगी. जी हाँ, मैं आर्म्ड फोर्सेस स्पेशल पावर्स एक्ट (अफ्स्पा) की बात कर रहा हूँ. कानून के नाम पर, ला-कनूनियत नाफ़िज़ करने का घिनौना हथियार. जिसके खाते में अगर कुछ लिखा है, तो सिर्फ ला-क़नूनियत और बरबरियत की न खत्म होने वाली दास्तानें.
बाईस मई 1958 को नागा लोगों को ‘नियंत्रित’ करने के लिए ये कानून अमल में लाया गया. नागा जनता के पुरजोर विरोध के बावजूद, अपनी आदत के मुताबिक भारतीय संसद ने 18 अगस्त 1958 को इस कानून पर अपनी मुहर लगा दी. पहले- पहल ये कानून सिर्फ नागा जनता को ‘नियंत्रित’ करने के लिए बना और कहा गया कि जल्द ही हटा लिया जायेगा. पर ऐसा कभी हुआ नहीं. बल्कि धीरे-धीरे ये ‘कानून’ पूर्वोत्तर के 7 राज्यों से निकलता हुआ कश्मीर की घाटी तक पहुँच गया. आख़िरकार, कानून के हाथ लम्बे होते हैं. वैसे भी, अगर भेड़िये को एक बार खून का स्वाद मिल जाये तो फिर उसे कौन रोक सकता है और खासतौर पर खून ‘विदेशी’ या अलग नस्ल का हो. इस पूरे मामले में भी कुछ ऐसा ही दिखता है. Continue reading अफ्स्पा: एक काले कानून की आधी सदी: महताब आलम→
[An edited version of this review has appeared in Biblio.]
The Absent State: Insurgency as an Excuse for Misgovernance
by Neelesh Misra and Rahul Pandita
Hachette India, 2010
272 pages, 495 Rs
Indian journalists have written books on conflict as diaries of their years of reportage, putting together their stories and experiences. The task of looking at conflicts with a broader perspective has been left to the security experts who mostly write from, well, a security ‘angle’. It is great, then, to see a book by two journalists, on the conflicts in Kashmir, the north-east and the Maoist belt. Journalists won’t give you footnotes but at least they can write lucid prose. Continue reading The Present of the Absent State→