Thanks Jamia students for putting your lives on the line, for speaking truth to power – for all of us!

The end, hopefully, of Jantar-Mantarisation of people’s resistance

 jamia cab protest

It took the lesser-in-the-news, supposedly less-flashy Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) to change the complexion of resistance in the country. While we had earlier seen some protests regarding hike in hostel fees, whose narrative was broadened to “affordable public education,” we did not see much mobilization for various egregious national issues like the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, the NRC process as it unfolded in Assam and is being promised throughout the country, the continued atrocities against Dalits and women, and the economic woes of rural India. The last mass protest of such intensity we saw was from HCU students after the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula.

Yes, it took a blatantly discriminatory law, the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), which once again dealt a sickening blow in the stomach to the progressives in the country, for people to take to the streets around the country. But, there was probably never any doubts or tentativeness about the majoritarian agenda of the current government  in the minds of the Jamia students. For whatever reasons, whether the clothes they wear or the undercurrent of steely resolve to fight injustice, especially against minorities, JMI has maintained its own brand of dogged resistance to various kinds of imjustices.

Only recently, JMI students, in a show of solidarity with the Palestinian cause,  went on a strike against the participation of Israel in a campus event, and eventually forced the administration to cancel Israel’s participation. And how can one forget the heroic efforts of the Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association (JTSA) and its efforts to painstakingly investigate the various cases of entrapment against Muslims.

In line with such traditions, JMI students showed Indians – and the rest of the world – what the might of student protests can be like. Suddenly, campuses around India, which had hitherto been somnolent, like the “prestigious” IITs, IIMs, IISC etc joined in their own shows of solidarity. This matters. When people hear about nice, ideal, nerdy IIT-IIM types – known to make the news more for the multi-crore-rupees “starting packages” each year or later as CEOs of global firms – holding placards denouncing government actions and even taking to the streets, suddenly the all-is-well scenario shifts a bit.

It is said that during the Occupy New York encampment in the Wall Street area in New York, several corporations in buildings around Zucotti Park forbade their employees to look out the windows onto the encampment or go and mingle with the protesting riff-raff down below. One iconic image during Trump’s “Muslim ban” in the US was of Google co-founder Sergei Brin at San Francisco airport joining the show of solidarity with incoming people from “banned countries.” Not that things or the nature of dissent at Google or other corporations has changed much.

What the students of Jamia have shown us that it does not take endless meetings and conferences to develop an action plan to decide to do stand up in protest. Just as the students in Hong Kong rose up spontaneously and constantly innovated for weeks to resist the state, just as protestors in Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon, Chile have risen up spontaneously against authoritarian and brutal regimes despite severe danger to their lives, similarly the students of Jamia also knew when enough was enough.

And they were also in no two minds about what to do – get out into the streets in register their protest, among the people, in the midst of people, rather than at some designated, cordoned-off spaces like Jantar Mantar in Delhi.

We have failed the people of Kashmir by not coming out as a nation against their continued oppression; we have failed those excluded from Assam’s NRC; we have failed Dalits who are slapped, beaten, tortured, raped and killed every day; we have failed the Unnaos around the country; we have failed the Vidarbhas around the country.

Hopefully we can utilize this momentum and space created for us by Jamia (and AMU) to widen our dissent and protest. They put their bodies and lives on the line. The rest of us have to take this forward. We must make common cause with all sections of the oppressed and the progressives and broaden and deepen this to a multiple-issue uprising.

Jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-garan

Rooi ki tarah ur jaenge

Hum mehkoomon ke paaon tale

Ye dharti dhar dhar dharkegi

Aur ahl-e-hakam ke sar oopar

Jab bijli kar kar karkegi

When the enormous mountains of tyranny

blow away like cotton.

Under our feet- the feet of the oppressed-

when the earth will pulsate deafeningly

and on the heads of our rulers

when lightning will strike.

Ananda Maitreya is a writer and a student of social movements. He has been involved in various struggles of the marginalized people, including Dalit and Adivasi movements and the Palestinian struggle.



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