Why the Centre and the ABVP must take classes on citizenship and democracy

Why the Centre and the ABVP must take classes on citizenship and democracy30.3K
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There are two forms of political engagement. In one, the exchange of ideas, and even intractable disagreements, are part of the rough and tumble of democratic politics. In the other, the coercive power of the State is used to settle all arguments forever.

The battle lines between proponents of these two forms of political engagement were firmly drawn this week, when union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, responding to complaints of his party’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad or ABVP sent the Delhi Police on to the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus, with the intention to intimidate an entire University.

Plainclothes policemen entered the JNU campus. A police photographer took pictures of students and faculty gathered at the university’s administrative block to protest the police presence and the arrest of students’ union president, Kanhaiya Kumar, on February 11.

Kumar has been remanded in police custody as the police “want to investigate any links he may have with terror organisations related to Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan”.

Central intervention

Rajnath Singh said the police were acting on his instructions. He pre-empted any formal investigation of a complaint and the verification of facts with his comments a day after Kumar’s arrest. “… about what has happened in JNU… I have given the police all instructions necessary in these situations,” he said. “…strict action will be taken against them… Under no circumstances will I forgive those who raise this type of anti-Indian slogan or who question the unity, integrity…. of India.”

With the might of the State against it, the faculty and students on the JNU campus feel like they are under siege. The University has a system of complaint redressal, and a committee was set up to inquire into the events of February 9. That day, students are said to have chanted “divisive” slogans at an event organised to discuss the execution of Parliament attack-accused Afzal Guru, and the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir.

While there was some dissatisfaction with the composition of the committee, everyone agreed it was within the norms set by the university. There was no disruption of work and classes. Life should have gone one as usual. Yet, the administration caved in under government pressure and allowed the police to enter the campus to do what it “deems fit” after receiving a letter saying there was “seditious activity” on the campus.

The everyday world of a university like JNU has room for all sorts of opinions and political affiliations. Even the students’ union is composed of three different political groupings, one of which is the BJP affiliate, the ABVP. That JNU students of the ABVP themselves summoned the coercive forces of the State has shaken the world of this campus, where hot words and angry arguments are usually the most extreme form of political engagement.

The Rohith connection?

A master’s student from the Hindi department, who was standing alone on the edge of the crowd of students gathered at the academic block, told me in a quiet voice that the police should not have been brought into disagreement between students. “This is a disagreement between students, even ABVP students are JNU students, why have they sent the police?” the student said. “I don’t agree with some of the slogans that were shouted [on Feburary 9]. But how can they arrest students for a slogan? I think because JNUSU supported Rohith Vemula and the government is looking bad because of Rohith Vemula, all these things – Siachen deaths, slogans etc., are being combined to attack JNU students.”

But, this is not the first time that the ABVP has acted in what might be a less-than-straightforward and collegial manner, and the BJP government has lent it active support. When wardens in JNU shut down a “havan” in a hostel room as a fire hazard, ABVP students filed a police complaint of sexual harassment and hurting religious sentiments against a Christian faculty member present. A university fact-finding committee has proven the claims false, yet a court case continues. At IIT Madras, a letter from the Human Resource Development ministry based on an “anonymous” complaint got the Ambedkar Study Circle banned. In Hyderabad, it was an ABVP student’s complaint to the same ministry via a BJP member of Parliament, and a court case his family filed, that escalated a campus students’ dispute into a battle between the BJP and non-ABVP students. This led the university administration to take disciplinary action against Rohith Vemula and his friends. In JNU this week, an ABVP complaint to the police and a BJP member of Parliament about a students’ dispute over slogans raised on campus unleashed the wrath of the union Home Minister against non-ABVP students.

ABVP vs the others

It is indicative of what the two sides in this battle represent that the ABVP massed non-student supporters from the neighbouring Munirka colony to protest against students inside JNU. It also held a demonstration at India Gate calling for the arrest of students in JNU.

The non-ABVP students have raised concerns about the police presence on their campus and against arbitrary arrests in the public spaces of the university. For the ABVP, this is clearly part of the Sangh Parivar’s battle to redefine the idea of India in which anyone who does not agree with them is a “desh drohi” or anti-national, but for the non-ABVP students, this is a battle for the rights of students at a university in India.

By bringing its clenched fist down on a university campus the government may be winning the battle of the airwaves, but it is not winning the battle for the hearts and minds of students in JNU.

“ABVP is always trying to say if you don’t agree with them you are anti-national, that is not a good argument,” said a woman, an undergraduate student from the School of Languages. She was one of a group of first-year undergraduates who have not joined the protests on campus because their parents told them not to. But they said they supported the protests in spirit because they felt Kumar’s arrest was wrong. “He is not the type to shout such slogans. Even if someone did, how can you put him in in jail?”

JNU legacy

The BJP and a segment of the media like to portray JNU as a hotbed of subversive political activity, or in the words of a BJP member, “a Maoist production factory”. This characterisation finds favour with those who watch aggressive television anchors shout their studio guests into submission or silence every night. But there is truth beyond television news.

A young woman from Assam, a first year MA student, tried to explain to me why she and her friends were going to join a student and faculty protest at the administrative block in JNU. “Look, you must understand, it was our dream to study in JNU,” she said. “Now we are finally here, and they are telling us that in JNU they teach us about terrorism, that we support terrorists! They have sent the police to arrest students! They are saying this university we worked hard to enter is a bad place and we are bad people. That is why we are going.”

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There is a video now online of Kanhaiya Kumar, the students union president, who is spending this weekend in police remand. The video is an eloquent young man’s impassioned affirmation of the idea of India that was created through the struggle for independence, of democratic principles, the value of the Constitution and a denunciation of the “constitution written in Nagpur” (the home of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh).

He clearly does not need lessons in nationalism from his political opponents. But his political opponents and our central government, however, could do with lessons in citizenship, how democracy functions, and on what universities are.

In a democracy a State does not intervene in the functioning of a university where life and limb are secure. Universities are not factories where people are beaten into identikit followers of state ideologies, but sanctuaries where young people can think, argue, debate and become the active questioning citizens that make democracies thrive.

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Three love poems by Ghalib for every day of the year

Three love poems by Ghalib for every day of the year
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In translation or in the original, these ghazals transcend the commercialisation of a day dedicated to conventional and commonplace romance:

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Let’s Live In That Place

Let’s live in that place where there’s no one, let’s go,
Where no one knows our tongue, there’s no one to speak to.
We’d build a house without doors and walls,
Have no neighbours, watchmen forego.
In sickness no one to nurse us, enquire,
If we died, no one to mourn us, no!

Rahiye ab aisi jagah

rahiye ab aisī jagah chal kar jahāñ koī na ho
ham-suķhan koī na ho aur ham-zabāñ koī na ho

be-dar-o-dīvār sā ik ghar banāyā chāhiye
koī ham-sāya na ho aur pāsbāñ koī na ho

padiye gar bīmār to koī na ho tīmārdār
aur agar mar jāiye to nauha-ķhvāñ koī na ho

~~~

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At Every Little Thing

At every little thing you say, “Who art thou?”
Is this the way you talk to one, anyhow?

In flame not this miracle, in lightning not this art,
Tell me what’s behind her bold, impulsive glow?

This jealousy is there that he confers with you
Else, what fear of the enemy’s influence now?

With blood, my shirt sticks to the body,
What need of any darning does it allow?

Where the body’s burnt, the heart would’ve too.
Raking the ashes, what do you seek now?

We are not convinced of simply running in the veins,
What blood that which from the eyes did not flow?

That thing for which we esteem Eden so high,
What is it but wine of the flower, musk of blossoms, mellow?

When it comes to drinks I see through a few barrels,
Why then in glass, goblet, or pitchers wallow?

Gone’s the power of speech, and even if it
Stayed, on what hope would I, my hopes, show?

Become the king’s protégé, he struts about,
Else, what shall be Ghalib’s fame in this town?

Har ik baat pe…

har ek bāt pah kahte ho tum kih tū kyā hai
tumhīñ kaho kih yih andāz-e-guftagū kyā hai

nah shole meñ yih karishma nah barq meñ ye adā
koʾī batāʾo ke vo shoḳh-e-tund-ḳhū kyā hai

ye rashk hai ke vo hotā hai ham-suḳhan tum se
vagarnah ḳhauf-e-bad-āmozī-e-adū kyā hai

chipak rahā hai badan par lahū se pairāhan
hamāre jeb ko ab ḥājat-e-rafū kyā hai

jalā hai jism jahāñ dil bhī jal gayā hogā
kuredte ho jo ab rākh justajū kyā hai

ragoñ meñ dauṛte phirne ke ham nahīñ qā’il
jab āñkh se hī na ṭapkā to phir lahū kyā hai

vo chīz jis ke liye ham ko ho bihisht ʿazīz
sivā-e-bādah-e-gul-fām-e-mushk-bū kyā hai

piyūñ sharāb agar ḳhum bhī dekh lūñ do char
ye shīshah-o-qadaḥ-o-kūzah-o-sabū kyā hai

rahī na t̤āqat-e-guftār aur agar ho bhī
to kis umīd pah kahye ke ārzū kyā hai

huā hai shah kā muṣāḥib phire hai itrātā
vagarnah shahr meñ ġhālib kī ābrū kyā hai

~~~

Thousands of Desires Such

Thousands of desires, such, that for every wish I’d die,
My many hopes came true, but many more did defy.

Should my killer be scared? Will it hang upon his neck?
– that blood which dropped lifelong from my ever-brimming eye.

We’d always heard of Adam’s exile from Eden, but,
When we left, we left your street so disgraced, all awry.

The myth would come undone, O tyrant, of your growth in
stature, were the coils of your turban uncoiled, let fly.

If a letter to her be commissioned, we’ll write that,
Come every morning, a quill on our ear we supply.

In that age was established, my habit for wine,
Once again the days for the jar of Jum to ply.

Those who we hoped would harken to our woes,
Were more woebegone under the cruel sword’s sway.

In love there is no difference in living and dying,
We live looking at our idol that takes our breath away.

For God’s sake do not remove the veil from the Kaaba,
O Tyrant! What if here too is my beloved idol’s stay?

Whither the way to the bar, Ghālib, and where the preacher,
Yet, we know that yesterday, thither he went, as we’d stray.

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Hazaron Khwahishein Aisi

hazāroñ ķhvāhisheñ aisī ki har ķhvāhish pe dam nikle
bahut nikle mire armān lekin phir bhī kam nikle

Dare kyūñ merā qātil kyā rahegā us kī gardan par
vo ķhūñ jo chashm-e-tar se umr bhar yūñ dam-ba-dam nikle

nikalnā ķhuld se ādam kā sunte āe haiñ lekin
bahut be-ābrū ho kar tire kūche se ham nikle

bharam khul jāe zālim tere qāmat kī darāzī kā
agar us turra-e-pur-pech-o-ķham kā pech-o-ķham nikle

magar likhvāe koī us ko ķhat to ham se likhvāe
huī subh aur ghar se kān par rakh kar qalam nikle

huī is daur meñ mansūb mujh se bāda-ashāmī
phir āya vo zamāna jo jahāñ meñ jaam-e-jam nikle

huī jin se tavaqqo ķhastagī kī dād pāne kī
vo ham se bhī ziyāda ķhasta-e-teġh-e-sitam nikle

mohabbat meñ nahīñ hai farq jīne aur marne kā
usī ko dekh kar jīte haiñ jis kāfir pe dam nikle

ķhudā ke vāste parda na kābe se uțhā vāiz
kahīñ aisā na ho yāñ bhi vahī kāfir sanam nikle

kahāñ maiķhāne kā darvāza ġhālib aur kahāñ vāiz
par itnā jānte haiñ kal vo jātā thā ki ham nikle

Translated from the Urdu by Maaz Bin Bilal

Maaz Bin Bilal recently earned his PhD in English from Queen’s University Belfast for his thesis on the Politics of Friendship in EM Forster’s work. He teaches at Ashoka University. He is an avid translator and a poet.

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Eclectic sounds of the subcontinent

Eclectic sounds of the subcontinent
Photo Credit: via YouTube.com
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There is simply so much interesting and surprising music happening all across the subcontinent. Here is a just a glimpse of some of the eclectic sounds coming from the mountains, the delta, the plains and the oceans of South Asia.

Raalheh’henn
Different Medicine (Maldives)

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Mixing elements of Psychedelia and Prog Rock this group serves up a different medicine indeed. With a sound that is more akin to early Pink Floyd than the sun lashed paradisiacal islands of the Indian Ocean, this song is pleasing in its improbability. Understated vocals suggest the glisten and sparkle of ocean waves while a bluesy guitar meanders like a toddy-soaked fisherman on his way home from a night out with the boys.

Gallan (Kalashnifolk)
Ali Azmat (Pakistan)

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Welcome to the Kafkaesque nightmare world of Lahori rocker Ali Azmat. A founding member of Junoon, arguably, the Land of the Pure’s best rock band of its time, Azmat puts together what could be a rocking soundtrack to a dramatic sequence in a Lollywood sci-fi thriller. By turns bizarre and funny, one wonders if there is not a political sub text hidden somewhere in this amazingly creative pastiche of out-sized insects and hirsute villains. If ever there was a reason to know Punjabi!

Untitled
Tashi Dorji (Bhutan/USA)

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Tashi Dorji, is one of America’s great unsung musicians. In particular, he plays a guitar like nothing you’ve ever heard. He makes the strings sound exactly as if you were in a Himalayan monastery, joining in on a Buddhist prayer session. There is that wispy, slightly atonal drone that flutters with the prayer flag. It hesitates and gets going again but never really stops. Dorji uses his guitar as a drum too, an old trick. But to make it sound like a Tibetan hand drum is something fresh! You can’t help but feel the cool breeze coming up the valley to transport you into another world.

Bijli
James (Bangladesh)

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Faruq Mahfuz Anam aka James (among other monikers) is one of Bangla-rock’s big stars. A veteran of the scene in Dhaka and among the Bengali diaspora, he leads a rocking performance of Bijli, an appropriately title for a song with the electric blues at its core. An accomplished guitarist, James keeps the train moving swiftly down the tracks with his scratching and occasional picking but it is the two lovely ladies on either side of him that steal the show. One for her voice and the other for a wicked handling of the harmonium!

Hip Break!
Cadenza Collective (Nepal)

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What a way to wrap this week up! A bit of jazz (Afro-funk, no less) in and from the heart of Kathmandu! Part antidote, part catalyst Cadenza Collective came together like an essential chemical reaction to challenge the rock-culture of Kathmandu’s night life. Well awarded for their efforts, the Collective has collaborated with international stars while tearing through the Himalayan kingdom’s cultural space like an avalanche.

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The Daily Fix: Dissent and freedom in India and nine other great weekend reads

The Daily Fix: Dissent and freedom in India and nine other great weekend reads
Photo Credit: IANS
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The Latest: Top stories of the day
1. The Delhi Police want the National Investigation Agency and the Special Cell to probelinks between Jawaharlal Nehru University and the terrorist, Afzal Guru.
2. The Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam will contest the Tamil Nadu polls together.
3. Prime Minister Narendra Modi opens the Make in India Centre in Mumbai.
4. India is “too tolerant” of intolerance, says economist Amartya Sen.

Weekend reads
1. In the Hindu, Gopalkrishna Gandhi explains how the decision to impose President’s rule usually emanates from Delhi.
2. In the Telegraph, Ruchir Joshi on everyday racism in India.
3. In the Indian Express, read Amartya Sen’s lecture on dissent and freedom in India.
4. In Mint on Sunday, Sowmiya Ashok explores the lives of two men who had escapedbonded labour.
5. In Mint Lounge, Somak Ghosal on what literature tells us about love and aging.
6. In the Guardian, Jason Burke on how it’s time for the West to update its image of Inda.
7. Also in the Guardian, Robert McCrum imagines a sequel to War and Peace.
8. In the New Yorker, Nicola Twilley gives you the inside story of how scientists finally found gravitational waves.
9. In the Independent, Alexander Lenz on why you should care about the discovery of gravitational waves.
10. In the Washington Post, Yoav Fromer on why Democrats shouldn’t fear Bernie Sanders’s talk of a revolution.

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