Trawling through print and social media coverage of the momentous events of the past few days and of the rousing speech of Kanhaiya Kumar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) after his release and the reactions to them, it is clear that there are certain voices that need to be heard but are getting little attention.
To be sure, the Hindu oppressor-caste fanatics are the loudest. They obviously have the access to and control the mostly urban media – print and online – and are able to articulate their poisonous views in their echo chambers. Witness the comments section below any article that argues for upholding principles enshrined in the Indian Constitution such as secularism and equality and the frothing-at-the-mouth foul language the Hindutva crowd unleashes.
Among the voices that much of Indian media is ignoring are those of the Dalits, Kashmiris (not to mention peoples to the northeast of India – Manipuris, Mizos, Nagas and others who too have borne the brunt of India’s lethal force) and those who wish to opt out of jingoism and even nationalism.
These views are far from being exclusive of each other. Rather they are partly or wholly overlapping circles of opinions, as it were.
Perhaps the most neglected voices thus far are those of the Dalits and their spokespersons, who have been watching bewildered especially as the JNU incidents have deflected the focus from the death of the Dalit RohithVemula in Hyderabad. Of course, Kanhaiya Kumar and others at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and its supporters have invoked Vemula’s name as well as that of the one of the main authors of India’s constitutions, namely Dr BR Ambedkar,time and again but the fact remains that the Sangh Parivar’s anti-Dalit onslaught in the southern city which had gotten it into serious hot water is now off the radar of the few politicians and those few media outlets that had briefly had the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in a spot.
Moreover, some of the spokespersons of the Dalits view JNU as a Brahmanical bastion. You are entitled to your opinion on this, needless to say. What is important is that this is their perception of that university and most if not all other institutions of learning, a viewpoint that is far from being heard.
So what are the views of the Dalits and their spokespersons as regards not only JNU but some other recent developments such as the Budget? Will the media – print and online – seek out their views and not only the views of the Mishras, Joshis and Iyers of urban India?
Whether we like it or not, a lot of the people of Indian-administered Kashmir do not regard themselves as Indian. They want “Azadi” (freedom). Incidentally, there actually are substantial numbers of Hindu-born people – referred to in the Indian media as Kashmiri Pandits – who stand solidly behind their Muslim (or should one say Sufi) compatriots.
In other words, while Kashmir has for too many decades remained a subject of the India-Pakistan dispute, its people who had been taken for granted until the late 1980s or so are demanding to be heard. The doctored videos of the last few weeks are designed to harm their cause while also seeking to destroy JNU’s autonomy, but that is another issue.
As for Afzal Guru, the Kashmiri gentleman hanged by the Congress-party-led regime three years ago in its game of one-upmanship vis-à-vis the BJP and the commemoration of whose death at JNU – without going into who arranged for the videos, doctored and others of the event – that set off the noise-fest, the fact is that quite a large number of Indians including respected lawyers, academics and writers as well as other activists believe he was not given a fair trial.
Prominent people such as the lawyer Nandita Haksar, the academic Nirmalangshu Mukherji and the writer Arundhati Roy have written extensively on the framing of Afzal Guru. Eminent journalist Vinod K Jose interviewed Afzal Guru and published a fine piece in The Caravan, a little over ten years ago.
If questioning the conviction and hanging of Afzal Guru is deemed an offence in Modified India, too many people from even the so-called majority community all over the country would be in serious trouble.
What happened to those generations of urban – mostly oppressor-caste (whether or not they acknowledge the fact is moot) – middle class Indians who listened to John Lennon’s “Imagine”?
A reminder of two relevant stanzas there from:
…Imagine there’s no countr(ies)
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you(hoo…)
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be one…
So where does the current heightened anti-Rohith Vemula, anti-JNU nationalism spring from? How manufactured is it? Subject of a doctoral dissertation in a free university inpost-Modi-fied India, perhaps?
And when will Indians and the media wake up to the ongoing rape of the lives, livelihoods and lands of the Adivasis, the original inhabitants of India, in vast swathes of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha and the state terror unleashed against Northeastern states? Will the “freedom in India” that Kanhaiya Kumar talks about be extended to the Adivasis and the Northeasterns or will it remain an empty slogan in the hallowed groves of academe?
This article First appeared in DailyO.