Why Dalits, youth and women are sparking mutinies in India
Yes, there will be poetry, about dark times.
- Total Shares
January 17 marks the "shahadat diwas" (martyrdom day) of Rohith Vemula. His last letter of idealism continues to haunt the nightmares and dreams which stalk the winter landscape with Neo-Nazi twilight zones lingering in infinity.
One BJP leader has warned that the Constitution will be changed, hitting at the core of Indian democracy, shattering the rationalist idealism of Dr BR Ambedkar, and resurrecting the eternal phobia and "conspiracy theory" that a phenomena like the "German Reichstag" can be stage-managed with "manufactured consent" in the near future. This can be achieved with the help of a largely pliable media choosing to bend and crawl in a jarring, shameful synthesis.
The memorial for Vemula, who was clearly pushed to commit suicide by sinister forces as transparent as a macabre Macbethian myth, has been declared out of bounds by the authorities at University of Hyderabad (UoH). Even his mother can't pay tribute to his son at the memorial. So much for the love of "motherland" and "Bharat Mata" where all forms of dissent have been ritualistically dubbed as "anti-national" or "seditious", often with fake news and fanatic rhetoric, and no evidence to show.
Arvind Kejriwal at Rohith Vemula memorial. Credit: PTI
So what does the grieving mother, who has fought a relentless battle on the streets across the length and breadth of India seeking justice for her son and others being hounded by the current regime, do? Her fate is the same as the mother of Najeeb Ahmed. So, where is Najeeb?
Radhika Vemula makes a public appeal: "Since Rohith left this castiest world, we, all together, (have been) trying to unite the anti-fascist forces, as everyone knows, to fight against this Hindutva-RSS-BJP led government. In that process, I've been called by many organisations, political parties, NGOs and student forces etc, to participate in their agitations and we did that without fail… 'Rohith's Stupa', as you know, was (erected), in UoH, for remembering his ultimate sacrifice for equality and fraternity. Today, no-one is allowed inside the public university campus of UoH, including the family members of Rohith Vemula, to pay tributes.
It looks like keeping the stupa in jail… Now my son, Rohith Vemula's Shahadat Din, is on January 17. I request each and everyone, whoever called me for their programmes across the country so far, to come to University of Hyderabad, where my Rohith's 'asthikas' were kept beneath the 'Rohith's Stupa' and pay tributes along with me…"
It is a luminescent repetition of history that despite stark and relentless tragedies, the symphony of resistance and defiance has spread like magic across the "largest democracy".
With Dalits, students, young feminists leading it, often in a remarkable, fragmented, geographical demography of the urban architecture of the metros and small towns, including invisible mofussil towns in the remote backyards. It undoubtedly marks a fantastic and spontaneous milestone in the history of modern India. Its spontaneity never becomes ephemeral, its fierce breaking out of clichés never choosing to be conformist, its relentless fire in the belly and the great leap of imagination refusing to succumb to the intellectually retrograde, sexist, violent and brutish discourse of the "bhakts", the trolls and the high moral ground custodians of Hindutva. The more relentless they are, the more peaceful, unarmed, disarmed and rational is the counter-culture, something unprecedented in the era of modernity, and something which only "fascist forces" could reignite.
It reminds one of the June 1989 mass peaceful Gandhian "satyagraha" at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing. And what were the thousands of fasting Chinese students, peaceful, unarmed and disarmed, demanding? Democracy and freedom. From a totalitarian capitalist Dengist-Pengist regime run by an invisible mafia masquerading as the Chinese Communist Party. And what were they playing on the public address system in the make-shift loudspeakers? The wonderful "International" of the international working class, and Beethoven's "Ode to Joy".
The mafia, obviously, had turned deaf by then, in dictatorial rage. The students were crushed by tanks, murdered in full view of the world, their bodies having disappeared, while others were put in prison for a lifetime, and a wave of repression was unleashed. The global outrage was brushed aside, as a "CIA conspiracy" and the movement was branded as a case of "bourgeois delinquency".
With the students' wing of the CPM in the JNU Students' Union in 1989 toeing the Chinese government line, the students created a rainbow coalition of continuous protests in solidarity with Chinese students on the campus and outside. JNU students were the first to march to the Chinese embassy and paste a petition on its gates against the Tiananmen Square massacre, signed by almost everyone on the campus, on the walls of the embassy - recorded and documented by the international media at that time.
Indeed, times have not changed, and times, they are not changing, despite the Bob Dylan songs. Dictators always look for role models, and the Chinese model seems to be a favourite for those who floated the dream sequence of India becoming a superpower like China, like a Nostradamus prophecy. Yet, despite the swinging "jhulas" on the shores of the Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad, neither the Chinese nor the "Gujarat model" seems to be succeeding in the India of "acche din". Rohith Vemula's memory yet again breaks the artificially simulated dream sequence, with a lot of help from the media and highly paid PR agencies.
Jignesh Mevani's massive victory in the recent Gujarat Assembly polls, with crowd-funding and eclectic mass support, has turned the tide again against the ruling regime, in Narendra Modi's own bastion. The entire muscle and money might of the BJP, the Gujarat government, the Centre, and Modi and Amit Shah, could not defeat this young man. With a fabulous sense of humour, he famously led the Una uprisings on the lynching of Dalits by Hindutva mobs for skinning cow skins, which is their occupation, as the lowliest, poorest, most dehumanised and humiliated caste and community in the eternally entrenched and unforgiving Brahminical Varnavyavastha.
For Dalits, students and the marginalised, this was a long march which finally celebrated a sparklingly intelligent morning star, routinely camouflaged by lies, hyperbole and doctored prime time shows of certain television channels who have thrown media ethics to the wind with a vengeance. The Bhima Koregaon mass uprising, again, for a memorial, is not a mere incidence. Like Ambedkar's classical symbolism in breaking the entrenched caste system, it signals yet again a historical rupture in the cracked mirror of a conformist society; this time, directed against the forces of Hindutva, who could not break their resolve despite the police backing them in Maharashtra, and the violence they unleashed on protesters on the streets.
The Bhima Koregaon mass uprising, again, for a memorial, is not a mere incidence. Credit: PTI
It is not a coincidence therefore that the Bhim Army chief, Chandreshkar Azad, with his twirling moustache, is a symbol the BJP is so afraid of that they have packed him off to prison, on what are believed to be false and cooked-up charges. It is also not surprising that the entire youth leadership of "New India" was invited to the various memorial protests on the Bhima Koregaon anniversary, even as the political class and the Opposition, including the Left, twiddled their thumbs, as if forever trapped in the helpless fantasy of Alice in Wonderland.
It is also not a coincidence, that, despite mindless campaigns by certain TV channels against them, Mewani, Umar Khalid, Kanhaiya Kumar and others have become household names all across India's interiors, reminding us of the great legacy of Bhagat Singh, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Khudiram Bose, Bagha Jatin, Ashfaqullah Khan, Ram Prasad Bismil and other young revolutionaries of the freedom movement.
Add to this the women's empowerment struggle, the #MeToo campaign, the non-partisan Not-in-My-Name (non-party) movement across India, the farmers and workers unrest in a political economy which has so decisively tanked after demonetisation and GST, defeat or victory, India is on the threshold of a million mutinies, which even a thousand terrible nights cannot crush.
And this movement is being led by the young, against all odds. The finest example of which was the spontaneous uprising of girl students braving lathicharge by the cops in the hallowed and holy patriarchal citadel of orthodox Hindutva: Banaras Hindu University (BHU), right under the nose of the prime minister, who changed his VIP route fearing the unrest, in his own constituency. From the mountains of Nainital, to the streets of Kerala, youngsters marched in protest in solidarity with the girls of BHU.
That surely tells a tale of the many tales which will be recorded in dark times. Indeed, drunk on power, if they can't hear the sweet, sublime sound of the young whistling in the dark, they will never be able to hear the magical melody of the "Ode to Joy". So, should there be poetry in dark times? Yes, there will be poetry, about dark times.