Tuesday, June 27, 2017

How Communal are we ? Let's dig in some history.

Recently there has been a series of mob lynching on the issue of cow protection. The Muslims and Dalits have been the prime victims of these self-styled ‘gau rakshaks’ who pledge to protect the holy animal even at the cost of human lives. So, I tried to trace the present political and social developments in India in comparison to the political events of the late colonial period when extreme communalism spearheaded by the Jinnah-led Muslim League led to the partition of British India or Akhand Bharat.

The Background:

Even though the League and the all-inclusive Indian National Congress started going separate ways in the 1920s itself, the event that marked their differences was the 1937 provincial elections where the League lost even in the Muslim majority provinces of Bengal and Punjab. The regional Unionist parties won in both the provinces, while, Congress swept the majority of the country. The communal issue was still very weak and Muslim League gained little popularity in minority areas like Upper Provinces (Uttar Pradesh).

At the 1940’s Lahore resolution of the League, Jinnah declared the demand for a separate state of Pakistan for Indian Muslims. Even though the idea of Pakistan was initially very vague, the UP Muslims, led by the Deobandi Ulemas and powerful section of students from the Aligarh Muslim University played a major role and later designed the whole partition plan. They compared the soon to be created Pakistan as a New Medina with absolute Sharia law, to be headed by a Caliph. It should be noted that Dr. B R Ambedkar’s book Thoughts on Pakistan, published merely four months after the Lahore resolution also played a pivotal role as he questioned the very foundation of the new nation and laid out some expert strategies for both Muslims and Hindus on their road to partition. Ambedkar supported partition.

Now let us see the key issues on which the League attacked the Congress during those days. Jinnah sought to ‘expose’ the Hindu bias of the Congress with an excellent propaganda. By imposing, ‘Vande Mataram’, the Congress flag, and Hindi over Urdu on all Indians, Jinnah alleged the Congress of pursuing a policy which was extensively Hindu. Cow, on the other hand, had become a cultural symbol since the days of the mutiny of 1857. In a letter to all the princes of India, Bahadur Shah Zafar requested the Hindu rajas to help him fight the British and in return, he will ask the Muslim Rajas to stop cow slaughter in their provinces. This was the first act of politicization of the Holy Cow.

The Present Context:

1.       The Holy Cow: In the pre-partition India Jinnah, claiming to be the ‘sole spokesmen’ of the 90 million Indian Muslims, attacked Congress on the issue of the Cow. It is to be noted that the Muslim have no religious attachment to the cow. Not eat beef is just a choice, even though it is imposed on them. While the Hindus have a religious sentiment attached to the Cow, and they keep away from beef just like the Muslims stay away from pork. Then it was politicized to gain greater autonomy and political space, today the same argument is used to suppress the minority Muslims remaining the country. Even the Dalits have been victims of this new-wave of Hindutva assertion.

2.        Vande Mataram: The League accused Congress of imposing the Congress anthem “Vande Mataram” on them during the 1937-39 Congress government. The argument was the same that is given to the present-day slogan of “Bharat Mata ki Jai” as the Muslims are monotheists and cannot bow or salute anyone other than God Almighty Allah. Subsequently, this issue led to the changing of our national anthem from Vande Mataram to Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana, a rhetorically geographical song. 

3.       Imposition of Hindi: The language problem has never been solved even after a bloody partition. In less than a decade of the partition, the Dravidian self-respect movement kicked in and India had to be reorganized on the lines of languages giving birth to many new states. The issue still seems unsolved as more and more subnational groups come up with demands of separate states. The recent being the Gorkhas who started a mass movement earlier this month after Mamata Banerjee's West Bengal government decided to impose Bengali throughout the state.

4.       The Congress flag: During the 1937-39 provincial government of the Congress, the Congress flag was unfurled on all government offices along with the Union Jack. The Muslim League argued that the Congress doesn’t represent the Indian Muslims and the flag cannot be treated as a symbol representing all Indians. Only on this issue, a series of riots took place in UP and Bihar.
In today’s India also, symbols have become more important than the people. In the past few years, there have been numerous reports of violence and public lynching in cinema halls on the issue of disrespect to the national flag and the anthem.

The main reason why Jinnah furiously spread this propaganda against the Congress was that he was ignored. The Congress under staunch socialists like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose rejected any cooperation with the League as they thought politics on communal lines would dilute their main goal of independence. They also observed that any political organization must have some political and economic agenda. In fact, League along with the Hindu Mahasabha were treated by Congress as communal organizations, more interested in claiming special privileges from the British, which whom they avoided any conflict.

Mr. Modi claims to be the great reformer of his times transforming India with his rhetoric of ‘development’. But, his comrades have already unleashed a war on the minority and Dalits on communal lines. Since September 2015, when Mohammad Aklaq was lynched for allegedly possessing beef, there has been at least 20 cases of mob lynching related only to the issue of cattle slaughter or beef possession. And the Modi administration’s silence on such social crimes has only encouraged the anarchic mob.

Tripura Governor Tathagata Roy recently tweeted quoting Shyama Prasad Mookerjee’s diary which said: “the Hindu Muslim problem can only be solved through a civil war”. While he got into a controversy of advocating communal violence, the context does matter. S P Mookerjee wrote it in 1946, we did have a communal riot after that and a very bad partition as well. But, has the problem actually be solved? If we do not take lessons from the past, maybe the future won’t be as bright as Modiji dreams it to be.      

Friday, June 16, 2017

Why did the JNU students hold a ‘Tea Protest’ against their university administration.

- Guest Post by Aman Sinha

"A University stands for humanism. For tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards ever higher objectives. If the Universities discharge their duties adequately, then it is well with the Nation and the People."

JNU’s website proudly showcases these lines by our first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. But is JNU today really a space for adventurism of ideas or for the search of truth? Can a space of free thought like a university stand for the onward march of the human race if it’s denizens are constantly disciplined in all forms of lifestyle?

Recently, JNU’s Estate Branch issued a circular forbidding all dhabas inside campus to stop operating late night citing university rules and regulations. The dhaba owners were directed to shut down business after 11 pm or face a cancellation of license. The student community as well as the dhaba owners protested against such a dictatorial decree. JNUSU General Secretary Satarupa Chakraborty said, "We have been witnessing that the JNU administration has adopted all possible means to scuttle the rights of students, workers and teachers by imposing arbitrary rules. Closing down of dhabas at 11 pm is one such example,"

JNU is known for its rigorous academic pressure. Students have to work all day to make sure they submit their assignments on time. After a hard day, scholars have little time to socialize or get out of their caged world of books, journals, laptops and cellphone. Maybe, that is why the university has had a culture of nightlife, in the form of tea at the Sabarmati Dhaba; basketball or badminton near Tapti hostel; or humming to a guitar at PSR. It is also the time when individuals freely explore that side of themselves which get subverted in the structured life of the day. These scholars, who are engaged in their studies throughout the day, meet at the night and discuss the affairs of the world. It allows them an outlet for the pressure that they handle under such an academic setup. It also allows them an opportunity to engage and formulate new opinions outside the confines of the classroom, and this is tantamount for the growth of an individual.

JNU takes pride of its model campus, which is one of the most democratic and liberal societies in the country. Inside the campus, women and men walk freely and fearlessly day and night. There are no curfews imposed on gender specific lines. More than 50 dhabas operate inside the campus and often they become the hub of activities in the form of debates and discussions ranging from national politics to climate change and international relations. All this happens over a cup of chai-samosa or a late-night plate of chowmein. In the vibrant campus, famous for driving social change, the dhabas become the temples of nightlife.
JNU students enjoying a late night jamming session at the North-East Food Court

JNU’s famous Dr. Ambedkar library stays open 24*7. Many scholars who have to meet deadlines spend whole nights in the library often skipping their dinner. The food joints have been a lifesaver for them. Eateries inside the campus like Ganga Dhaba, North East Food Court, are one of the cheapest food joints in New Delhi. The Tomar family has been running Ganga Dhaba since 1984. Last year they were directed to vacate the university premises before August 18, 2016 and handover the possession of the dhaba to the estate branch of the varsity. After a protest by the students’ community, the administration took back their dictate on the dhaba owner. However, post 9th February, photocopy shops and bookstores don’t remain open till late at night in the campus.

Post 9-Feb incident, there has been a deliberate attempt by the administration to discipline and moral police the scholars, most of whom are adults at the time of their entry into the campus. The important question to ask here is why? Why does the administration want to dictate lives of young adults? One reason could be that the administration, backed by the Hindutva forces are scared of the liberal lifestyle of the students and see it as a threat to their agenda of a patriarchal manuwadi hindu rastra where women are supposed to stay at home, the lower castes and classes are supposed to stay unprivileged and the young students are supposed to obey their elder teachers even if they are tyrannical. Another reason could be to curb the intense political activities inside the campus which takes place mostly at night and at one of these night dhabas only.

After the recent decree, the JNUSU jumped into prompt action even though most of the students were out of campus due to the summer vacations. On 11th June, the JNUSU organized a ‘Tea Protest’ at the Sabarmati Dhaba with the slogan “Raat ko bhi khane ki Azaadi”. On 12th June, the students’union protested before the Campus Development Committee (CDC) meeting demanding the repeal of the arbitrary dhaba timings among other things. The protests gave some fruitful results as the CDC accepted their demands and extended timings of some dhabas till mid-night. The CDC also agreed to form committees to monitor price list of the various dhabas, and look after health and hygiene of sanitary workers.

Even though it is a small battle won in a long war, the student community cannot and should not give in to the disciplinary measures taken by the university administration upon young adult scholars. The curbing of the dhaba timings is only the first step. This will slowly and steadily encroach upon the autonomy of the student community if not resisted with full force.