Amidst Protests, Masses are Getting Politicized and Energized

Conference Photo

 It is a historic moment for all of us that Jamia is among the first Central University in our country which has now completed its hundred years of an academic journey. This august institution and its stalwarts had vehemently participated in the anti-colonial struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi. And its founding members like Zakir Husain, Mohammad Mujeeb and Maulana Mohammad Jaguar Ali (who were staunch nationalists and patriotic in nature) widely contributed to nation-building. To commemorate 100 years of Jamia, several programmes, seminars, conferences, cultural activities and Qawalies (singing of Sufi songs) were held and will continue to be so in the upcoming months as said by the vice-chancellor Prof. Najma Akhtar. In this respect, JTA ‘Multidisciplinary International Conference’ (JTACon-2020) has been organized from 16th to 18th as a mega event to commemorate and celebrate 100 years of Jamia Millia Islamia.

On the said occasion, an inaugural public meeting was organized by JTACON, in which Prof. Bhikhu Parekh has delivered a keynote speech in a very thoughtful manner. In this conference, Prof. Parekh has spoken about, why India’s social and natural sciences are lagging behind in terms of producing academically worthwhile works. The contributions of Indian academic the community in the knowledge productions are very dismal and they have not produced refereed articles and good research papers in academically recognized journals at the global level. Prof. Parekh has also admitted that only academic community is not responsible for said problems. However, the institutional constraints and not proper academic supports from consecutive governments (for instance, the bureaucratization of academics institutions and lack of autonomy have created academic constraints) might be reason for lagging behind in terms of knowledge productions and improving our academic ranking globally.

For Parekh, the crisis of knowledge production does not exist because our country lacks academically talented persons but due to good academic environments and institutional facilities is not available to the Indian academic community. For instance, when our students and teachers who are presently studying and teaching in the reputed universities like Harvard and Oxford, they have produced excellent academic works in comparison to Indian counterparts. For Prof. Parekh, in order to produce good academic social and political theory in India which has universal appeal, Indian scholars must do hard works and ‘political community’ must provide institutional supports and assistance rather than imposing tough bureaucratic norms and regulations. Elsewhere in his writings, Prof. Parekh talked about problems that lay mainly around three questions. First, in India most of the central universities including state universities teach political and social theory based on old traditional pedagogy which has been often under-researched and hence not grounded in Indian social and political realities. Besides, Indian students and teachers both do not know classical languages (for instance, Sanskrit and Persian to produce original academic works) and having no mastery over the modern English language which required for reading closely relevant texts and producing the kinds of political theory relevant in our social and political context. Due to the lacks of skills, most of the Indian universities students and including teachers depend upon the secondary sources and guidebooks.

In addition to this, Prof. Parekh has underlined that we have uncritically received western/ Euro-centric concepts and categories, produced by them for their own society. For instance, he pointed out that Indian scholars have not contributed substantially to theorize concepts like multiculturalism, minority rights, social justice, secularism, the Indian state, and political obligation, etc., keeping social and political lived reality in mind. Indian intellectuals are the best commentators and not still thought of, producing something original academic political theory rooted in specific Indian history and culture. Till now, only the Indian conception of ‘secularism’ not any other concepts as stated above, is seriously taken by western scholars. Our version secularism is included in the pedagogy of several European universities, as shared by Prof. Parekh during my conversation at Jamia. For Parekh, the poverty of Indian political theory and knowledge crisis cannot be addressed entirely without overcoming these complex problems. These points have been discussed by Prof. Parekh and Prof. Rajeev Bhargava in their works, like “The poverty of Indian political Theory”, 1992 and what is Political theory and why do we need it, 2010.

Having stated these points let me come back to relevant themes which have been shared by scholars in the JTACON-2020 on 18th February 2020. In the three day conference, 100 technical sessions are being conducted in which 600 papers were presented on different themes such as ‘Mahatma Gandhi and his legacy’, ‘Founding fathers of Jamia Millia Islamia’. It is interesting to note that more than 60 percent of papers were presented by female scholars.

Another session, which I have attended on a theme like Citizenship and the Indian Constitution: Rights and duties that were related to directly and indirectly with an ongoing protest against the anti-constitutional Act like CAA and NRC-NPR exercise. The session was moderated by Prof. Mukul Kesavan of Jamia and eminent speakers like Prof. Zoya Hasan, Prof. Jayati Ghosh, Prof. Mr. Harsh Mander, Prof. Nandita Narain and journalist from NDTV Mr. Srinivasan Jain have spoken and commented on the ongoing protests at the nation-wide. Most of the speakers have taken stand against the Act and NRC-NPR exercise (because of, it is linked to each other) and said that given the current pathetic situations of our country where youths are jobless, the current steps taken by the ruling government is not in the interests of our nation and people at large.

Unlike the BJP-RSS combine (they often said that the people who are protesting against CAA-NRC-NPR are anti-nationals and belong to tukde tukde gangs who are spreading violence, social unrest, anarchy and chaos in our country), for respective speakers, the people who are fighting on the streets are committed to save constitution, secularism, diversity and multicultural ethos of our society enshrined in the Constitution of India. For Prof. Zoya Hasan, contrary to the principle of secularism and constitutional values, this Act is having communal contents because it has defined citizenship, keeping the religion as criteria in mind. However, protests against the said Act are initially started by AMU and JMI students but later on acquired pan-India character.  As Prof. Hasan in her earlier article Observes,

the protests started by students of JMI and Aligarh Muslim University have since developed into a much wider opposition. Tens of thousands of people have come out on the streets against CAA-NRC in numerous cities, universities, public squares and maidans to express their opposition to the CAA, with a marked emphasis on upholding the Constitution” (see Zoya Hasan, “An anatomy of anti-CAA protests”, The Hindu, dated 1 January 2020).

Another prominent speaker, Prof. Neera Chandhoke (who was formerly associated with University of Delhi, Department of political science) spoke about the concept of secularism, Indian Constitutions, and problems of communalism. For Chandhoke, minority rights including civil and economic rights are long back recognized and mentioned in the Motilal Nehru report (1928) which was later incorporated in our Constitution. Indian secularism is not only based on a concept like Sarva Dharm Sambhav (loosely translated as equal respect for all religion) but also liked with minority rights, substantive democracy and equality. She also criticizes the manner in which Supreme Court (in the S.R. Bommai and subsequent cases) has interpreted Indian secularism keeping Hindu majoritarian sentiments in mind rather than liberal-egalitarian values, enshrined in the Indian constitution. While citing the British colonial ‘divide and rule’ policy which sharpened communal feelings among the Hindus and the Muslims (before the arrival of colonial state, community identities were not so hard and fuzzy in nature as Prof. Sudipta Kaviraj pointed out in his works) through conducted the colonial census and reports (as a result major riots in Kanpur took place around the 1930s). She criticizes the ‘politicization of religion’ (not religion as ‘faith’ but religion as a political ideology which Mahatma Gandhi had long upheld) in the public domain on communal lines as done by Hindutva forces. Besides, she said that the official philosophy which was written by former Persidernt of India Shri Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan ( 2nd President of India) in two-volume is problematic solely because he endorsed the upper caste brahmanical views in his writing and undermined the other critical traditions like Buddhism, Shankhya and the atheistic philosophy of Charvak. The concept of secularism is interpreted as Sarva dharm sambhav in-fact endorsed directly and indirectly the Hindu upper-caste views over the other diverse critical traditions prevalent in Indian society historically.

The Hindutva forces have a political project to build up the Hindu Rashtra and thereby try to isolate minority especially Indian Muslims from enjoying equal rights and citizenship mentioned in our Constitution. The current Act can be seen in this light as shared by respective speakers.  In this respect, Harsh Mander, a noted social activist has underlined that Indian Muslims have been targeted at the three levels such as political social and now legal to disenfranchise and make them second class citizens in the public domain. In doing so, Indian Muslims have been made ‘politically untouchables’, and as a result, not even secular political parties (since the rise of the RSS-BJP combined at the center stage of Indian politics) are interested to give political representations and raised their issues in the public sphere. Most of the political parties are now succumbed to the pressure of Hindutva juggernaut and have been moving towards the soft-Hindutva agenda.

Like Congress party, now the AAP (Aam Admi Party) is also pursuing the agenda of soft-Hindutva and still has not taken any firm political stand against the CAA- NRC-NPR. However, the works done by the AAP in terms of providing basic civic facilities like water, electricity, quality school education and free health facilities cannot be ignored. Secondly, Indian Muslims are also targeted by communal forces and the hate speech, lynching and mob-violence at a societal level have increased enormously in the social sphere. Thirdly, after passing the said Act, Indian Muslims have been now made legally ‘invisible’ in the larger public sphere. In short, Indian Muslims now politically, socially and legally have been made ‘invisible’ and reduced as a second class citizen, Mander added. In short, for him and other speakers, this is ‘ideological battle’ and must be fought by the civil society and progressive forces within the democratic and constitutional framework by applying Gandhi methods. While responding to the audience, Mander said that Delhi police, public officials and medical personnel must be upheld responsible for committing the crime and utter negligence towards students and other peaceful protestors at Jamia and elsewhere.

Prof. Nandita Narain former president of DUTA (Delhi university teacher association) said that public-funded universities are now under attack by both the Hindutva and neo-liberals collaborations. Currently, women of Shaheen Bagh (including Daadi Amma) and Students of universities are leading the protests at nation-wide as vanguard to save public universities and roll back the anti-constitutional Act like CAA-NRC-NPR, Prof. Narain added. While citing the example of elite collage St. Stephens Delhi University, she said that the present generation of young students is now actively participating in the protests against said Act. However, the students of the same college during the 1990s had participated in anti-Mandal and Ram temple agitations, pointed out by Prof. Narain.

While echoing earlier speakers, journalist of NDTV, Mr. Sirinivisan said that current CAA and much expensive and unnecessary exercise of the NRC-NPR have the sinister design to achieve the political project. After the Act has been passed (more than 2 months have been passed away) still the ruling government has not issued formal guidelines in the public domain, to how can implement the said Act and conduct exercises like NPR-NRC. While citing the case of Assam, it is clear that like demonetization, the current government is guided by to ‘political imperative’ rather than giving the citizenship rights to persecuted minorities who were the victim of partition and Islamic state, added by the speaker. While debunking the logic of the BJP government, Srinivasan raised the question- why the CAA is included a country like Afghanistan when it was not affected by partition like an episode. Citing the anomaly of NRC which has been conducted in Assam, he underlined that several Indian citizens other than Muslims like Army officials and Generals were also excluded from the list of NRC.

While responding the audience on the positive the outcome of protests, Prof. Jayati Gosh expressed that due to sustained protests launched by Jamia’s students and Muslim women of Shaheen Bagh; we have got huge success and there is a big shift as far as public perception is concerned. Earlier common people have stereotypical images about JNU (because of media trials of JNU students, which created discourse around anti-nationals, and tukde tukde gang as happened when sedition like charges were allegedly imposed on Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid), created by media and communal forces. However, due to sustained protests, now the perception of common people has greatly changed. This is the success of ongoing protests, as stated by Prof. Gosh.  The potential of protests has been rightly demonstrated by Prof. Zoya Hasan in her recent article. As she writes,

These demonstrations[around anti-CAA-NRC-NPR] have yet to have a tangible effect on the current dispensation as it is unwilling to either listen to or talk to the protesters. But they have already made an emotional impact on the people. The veil of fear that had gripped the country for six years has been lifted. A determined counter-mobilization cutting across religious lines has begun to challenge the BJP’s Hindutva project. The lines are clearly drawn as the Sangh Parivar’s effort to redefine Indian nationhood has finally provoked a popular upsurge and created unexpected obstacles in the path of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’”  (see  Zoya Hasan, “An anatomy of anti-CAA protests”, The Hindu, dated 1 January 2020).

To sum up the discussion so far (while responding to the concerns of audience on the positive outcome of ongoing protests) most of the speakers shared that due to sustained protests, the opposition parties are now changing their earlier positions. In doing so, they (oppositions) are taking a stand by passing resolutions in respective state assemblies for not implementing the said Act and have expressed that we will not allow the much expensive exercise like NRC-NPR in our states. Kerala, Punjab and now M.P. can be cited as cases in point here.  In short,  given the unprecedented nature of protests since the freedom movement, one could argue that whatever the immediate result will be, but in the long run ongoing  protests around CAA-NRC-NPR has created grounds to derail the project  of the Hindu Rashtra  put-forward by Sangh Parivar. The point has been rightly demonstrated by Prof. Zoya Hasan in her article cited above. Before ending the session on said theme on 18th Feb, Prof. Nandita Narain had recited (joined by the audience) poetry of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, a famous couplet which has now become a symbol of resistance and in the site of every protest,  his poetry is recited.   

        Lazim hai ki Hum Bhi Dekhe Ge…….

  The author is a research scholar University of Delhi 




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