More than two decades ago, when I made a phone call home using a public booth near Ganga dhaba close to my hostel in JNU, my father casually informed me that the police verification for my passport was over! First I did not understand what he was referring to, as I had not yet applied for the passport. When I realised what he meant I told him the truth. For few seconds we were both silent. We both knew what had happened. He then said that the local police inspector located in the agricultural university campus, where my father was a professor, spent two hours asking him about my education, career plans and political leanings over tea and snacks! My father then told me – ‘hope everything is fine at your end’, and I said, ‘don’t worry at all, tell ma also not to worry’.
Nothing happened – I continued doing what I was there for: working hard on my research while participating in discussions with friends, teachers and visitors from all over the world who came and spoke on the widest possible range of issues, and protesting against everything that we thought was unjust or unconstitutional or uncivil: be it the mindless killings of students at Tiananmen Square or eviction of hapless tribals from Narmada valley; demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya or eviction of construction workers from JNU campus. We did not only protest, we also actively participated in vigilance of riot prone areas in the post Babri demolition phase and taught young children of the construction workers.Sometimes we got beaten up by police, sometimes roughed up, sometimes even arrested and then left with no charges. But all this outside the campus – in my seven years in JNU, the police never used any force on campus despite numerous strikes and protests including the high pitched anti/pro Mandal agitation. While others outside JNU indulged in violence our union organised tens of talks to discuss the relevance of reservation where we argued on its pros and cons, and JNUSU even resigned after being voted out on a resolution in the University General Body Meeting; such was the spirit of democracy and democratic values.
This was the normal life of a JNUite, an ordinary JNUite – I was no leader, no known activist, not even a member of a political party. Yet Delhi Police felt the necessity of a maintaining a dossier! Surveillance has been common in JNU but the governments those days were not as insecure as to use brutal force and frenzied ‘nationalist’ calls to terrorise young students. Fortunately, technology had not pervaded our lives and therefore anything and everything we did was also not on national TV channels, as it is now, at times even with photoshopped modifications! When I really applied for passport, special branch verification took place and the police man who verified my antecedents laughingly asked me why all of us ‘bright’ students have dossiers! We got our lessons on diversity, on equality, on fairness and justness in JNU as much outside the classroom as in the class. We learnt to explore ideas, respect differences, to argue and to reflect and act on happenings around us – starting from campus to the rest of the country and the world.
That is the reason why, the JNUSU’s president Kanhaiya’s arrest and the response thereafter is not only disturbing but also extremely painful. More so because it is raised on the name of Mother India! My image of Mother India and I am sure most people’s image of a mother does not match with the macho images of ‘unknown men’ beating women journalists, teachers and students in the Court premises. My image of Mother India also does not match with men in uniform watching these ‘unknown men’indulge in the acts of violence against this now very well-known, unarmed, lone Kanhaiya. If there is any Mother India she must be sobbing or perhaps crying inconsolably, not knowing what to do! How to respond to this situation when her name is being misused and abused every minute….without caring for what she really wants! She must be crying for that powerless anganwadi worker in Begusarai who is earning a meagre sum while looking after her paralytic husband, and who happens to be the mother of one Kanhaiya Kumar who is in jail on charges of sedition. She must also be feeling ashamed that her name is being used for shaming those young girls by calling them prostitutes who were just protesting against the mindless State led act of tyranny. She also must be crying for those other young men and women who in their search for nationalism had gone a little astray and shouted – and only shouted – slogans without indulging in any act of violence, and are now facing charges of sedition, a colonial legacy that they had devised for the barbaric subjects like our freedom fighters.
What is ironical is that the colonial rulers have moved away from such provisions, at least for their own citizens: when I lived in London I participated in a five kilometre long human march with various nationalities, though predominantly British, shouting anti-UK slogans protesting against unprovoked bombing of Palestine territory killing innocent civilians including women and children, and the police did not even raise a finger. Noam Chomsky by now should have been cut into pieces if the US had the same indicators of ‘nationalism’. The US of course has different norms for non-citizens, and since we mimic them in everything we have gone two steps forward in having double norms even for our own citizens – one for those who are ‘certified’ nationalists and one who are not.
It is indeed a fight between ‘build India’ and ‘break India’. What do we want to build: a more humane India, a more equal, and a more democratic and confidant India where people of all faiths, languages and colours can live in harmony despite differences in views, positions and actions or do we want to build a homogenous India by using force and coercion. To add, to build, to be together, you have to win hearts!India will break into pieces if scholars are treated as fools, if all voices of dissent are referred to as anti-nationals. India will not break if few individuals shout so-called anti-India slogans. Think. Let us think why these bright young men and women belonging to different religions and various parts of India, with high grades in their courses,are shouting those slogans.Let us win their hearts and minds – and build India. Let us save our dear Mother India!
* Jyotsna Jha is an ex-JNUite who heads an independent research institute in Bangalore expressing her personal views.
[Disclaimer: Views presented above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CBPS]