Shorts In The Dark

Unleashing violence on protesting students in JNU or Jamia is closing them off

The fact that students protest is accepted across the world. What has shocked middle-class India is the barbaric bloody force that has been used against protesting students, from JNU to Jamia.

 |  Shorts In The Dark  |  5-minute read |   11-01-2020
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Sunday evening witnessed a brutal attack on the students of JNU, India’s premier temple of learning. The nation watched as the police stood by, allowing vandals with masked faces to go about their business with impunity. The nightmare extended for three hours. The university administration evaporated into the night sky during this period. Videos circulating on social media show the goons being escorted out by police. The goonda element was given free reign until its job of shock and awe was accomplished. Their supporters chanted pro-Mother India and murderous anti-Left slogans outside JNU.

The time of the youth

Meanwhile, the UP playbook seemed to repeat itself. FIRs were filed against those under attack. The victim became the victimised, the truth obfuscated under a babble of counteraccusations. Union HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ asserted on Monday that educational institutions cannot be allowed to become ‘political adda’ and promised ‘strong action’ against the perpetrators of the violence. As if on cue, a fringe Hindu right wing group called Hindu Raksha Dal, took responsibility for the attack in a video posted on social media. Protests have erupted in support of JNU across universities, in India and abroad. Not all of them can be accused of being Left bastions.

The fact that students protest is accepted across the world. In Iran, students were protesting against their own government until Trump’s whimsical drone strike took out Soleimani, turning the tide. In Hong Kong, students have taken on the totalitarian Chinese state, winning the hearts of many. Elsewhere, the young are united by climate change, which the old political guard, at least in America, is in denial of.

What has shocked middle-class India is the barbaric bloody force that has been used against protesting students, from JNU to Jamia. Things are a little different today than in 2016 when Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested and the ‘tukde tukde gang’ narrative took shape.

Past institutions

The BJP’s base remains unshaken and, one might argue, only consolidated further by the CAA protests, and yet the crushing of student dissent has opened another fissure in families. While the parents swear by saffron, their offspring does not. That, in a nutshell, is electoral democracy. It’s normal. And while parents might hector over dining table conversations and in WhatsApp groups, they are not in favour of their children being treated like lambs to the slaughter. There is sympathy for the students, across the board.

A word on my own non-activist college days, in order to illustrate the link between student-life and politics. My father taught at Allahabad University, which, in the 1980s and 1990s, was overrun with caste-based student politics and an often violent churning. The university remained closed for long periods of time. I had to escape and I did to St Stephen’s. This college was run like a school. We were shut off from the political currents of the outside world. In college elections the issues in manifestoes were no more serious than ‘tubelight in every room’. When I went to JNU to visit friends, I was impressed with the political vibrancy there, compared to our fishbowl existence in St Stephen’s.

mail_student-protest_011120122723.jpgStudents will rebel, fight for what they believe is wrong, and work hard to secure their careers because the job market is competitive and no one can afford to agitate forever. (Photo: Reuters)

Peaceful agitation and top-quality education coexisted here. I next went to Oxford, which was overrun with student wings of the Green Party, Lib-Dems, Tories and Labour. Education and politics went hand in hand. I myself participated in a protest against fee hike there, even though I was a guest of the British government and they were paying my tuition. I wasn’t sent back on the next plane. We tied balloons to our legs, to illustrate the weight of a ball-and-chain contraption and held up placards. All this took place outside the Radcliff Camera, the Jantar Mantar of Oxford, which saw a protest in support of JNU students Sunday night.

Students will rebel, fight for what they believe is wrong, and work hard to secure their careers because the job market is competitive and no one can afford to agitate forever. At times, students can also be united in their stand. In JNU for instance, students from both the Left and Right were against the fee hike – ‘bhakts’ are not exactly super rich.

That was until Bloody Sunday happened.

A plea to listen

A generation is restless and angry for various reasons. Listen to them, the world’s youngest nation. When you treat them as imbeciles misled by your political enemies — Urban Naxals, Lefties, whatever, you are not lending a patient ear of negotiation and empathy.

By repeatedly unleashing violence on them, you are closing them off, losing them, only encouraging them to dig their heels further. An arm around the shoulder works better than a rap on the knuckles. Ideology should not blind you such that you blind your own children, break their bones.

The JNUSU president, Aishe Ghosh, has taken sixteen stitches on her head. The recent violence has opened a million stitches in young India’s body politic. I am reminded of American poet Carl Rakosi’s lines: ‘I would rather sing folk songs against injustice/ and sound like ash cans in the early morning/ or bark like a wolf/ from the open doorway of a red-hot freight/ than sit like Chopin on my exquisite a--.’

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: JNU's night of horrors extends beyond violence on January 5

 

Writer

Palash Krishna Mehrotra Palash Krishna Mehrotra @palashmehrotra

The writer is the editor of 'House Spirit: Drinking in India'

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