Where's The Dialogue On JNU? This Lazy Mud-Slinging Doesn't Count

25/02/2016 8:18 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - FEBRUARY 21: Thousands of people including ex-servicemen take out a unity march against 'anti-national' activities in Jawaharlal Nehru University Campus over the hanging of 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, from Rajghat to Jantar Mantar near Mandi House on February 21, 2016 in New Delhi, India. The protest was organised under the banner 'March For Unity To Save The Country'. JNU has been on the boil over the arrest of its student's Union President Kanhaiya Kumar on sedition charges after some students organised a meet to mark the anniversaries of executions of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. Delhi's Patiala House Court on Wednesday sent JNU student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar to judicial custody till March 2. (Photo by Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

"Bharat Ki Barbadi Tak, Jung Chalegi Jung Chalegi"

(The battle will go on till India's destruction)

This slogan (and others like it), that rang out in Jawaharlal Nehru University, has polarized different sections of society in India. There are those who term it downright anti-national and there are those who defend the sloganeer's freedom of speech. No surprises there.

This keeps coming up. This madness, this poisonous finger pointing at others' ideologies, the utter pointlessness of frantic prime time debates. No one is blameless. As much as many, on either side of the debate, would believe themselves to be liberal and/or virtuous, most are not. It is almost always, a battle between the hubris of the powerful and the repressed anger of the ridiculed. Or so they'd like to think of themselves.

As much as many, on either side of the debate, would believe themselves to be liberal and/or virtuous, most are not.

I identify as an Indian and a proud one at that. I am proud of this land's unbelievably rich intellectual and cultural heritage. And one can never say enough about the sheer diversity, the plurality and the harmony with which peoples of India live amongst each other. I mean it really is difficult to put into words. It's something you experience as you travel around India. Her immensity is overwhelming, like a night sky full of stars. You realize how utterly devastating this sea of humanity is; in all its hues and colours, its beauty and its imperfections, its longings and its quiet disappointments.

Growing up, we take everything for granted. We don't do not adjudge any importance to our classmate's last name and we do not question anyone eating meat. We do not wonder if there is a difference between a temple and a gurudwara. When we read about India's history, we do not appreciate the Mughal Empire less than the Mauryan Empire. We do not discriminate between the freedom fighters that fought for our country's independence.

If you focus solely on what the government did, blanketing the hateful slogans as dissent and student activism, then you do a great disservice...

Differences, however, start cropping up as we grow up and begin to read what the intellectuals and the writers and the elites have to say about it all. We start to feel that our mother tongues are a little inferior. We begin to forget about the Mahabharata and Ramayana and store the stories in the back of our mind, as if they were childhood relics. We become assertive of our identities, which in India can mean anything really. The religious identity, the caste identity, the regional identity, the lingual identity; I mean, you name it, and we will have a basis for identity. You know where that comes from? The diversity I could not put into words. While early on in life, our identities are nothing to wear on our sleeves, for some they become a badge of honour or the trigger to an intellectual rebellion of sorts, later on in their lives.

Of late, I'm befuddled every time I see a temple, a mosque and a gurudwara lined up next to each other, like three friends on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Or when the whole country celebrates the seasons of sowing seeds and of harvest, in their own way. It befuddles me when different Indians, with their different dresses and cuisines and rituals and traditions co-exist with each other in the same limited piece of land. It's befuddling because, in many countries, it would be impossible to even imagine something like that. But also because TV crews would have me believing that this version of India does not exist. And that is a crying shame.

Idealism is nice... You needn't indulge your mind, only your emotions. Being realistic takes a lot more effort. It is also soul crushing.

Coming back to the fiasco at JNU, how does anyone justify any support for those who want the destruction of this country to create another one out of it? Why did this slogan and its implications deteriorate into a shouting match between those who consider themselves patriotic and the self-appointed saviours of the values of liberalism? Who anointed one as better than the other? When did it become "nationalistic" to question the student protesters wanting the destruction of the very same state that funds the bulk of their education? The government and its spokespersons have gone overboard in their reaction but the critics haven't done a great job either. If you focus solely on what the government did, all the while conveniently blanketing the hateful slogans as dissent and student activism, then I am sorry but you do a great disservice to the intellectual capacities you claim to posses.

Since the charge is of anti-nationalism, let's talk a bit about nationalism. Ideally, there should be no nation states. No one should be tortured and put in prison for the rest of their lives because they happened to take a mistaken step and cross the "border". Why should Kashmiris forever suffer in the midst of the godforsaken, tedious geo-politics between India and Pakistan? After all, nations are our very own modern constructs. But isn't there always a world of difference between what is and what should be? We could try and lessen the gap between the two, but could the twain ever meet?

Condemn jingoism but to vilify nationalism just for the heck of it is intellectually lazy.

Idealism is nice. It feels nice because it makes us feel conscientious. It makes it easy to have opinions, to figure out the world, to point out the hero and the villain. You needn't indulge your mind, only your emotions. Being realistic takes a lot more effort. It is also soul crushing. For a budding idealist or saviour of the world, that is. As heartbreaking as it is to read stories of people killed, bombed, mutilated and torn apart simply because they happened to take birth in a different piece of land, it is important to understand that the concept of nation-states serves a purpose. It is not something some European dude dreamt of in a crazed state, it unified the region in a time of great strife and chaos. As much as the concept leads to exclusion in a way, nation-states also lead to unity. Condemn jingoism but to vilify nationalism just for the heck of it is intellectually lazy.

There are a million things that are wrong with India. Maybe, even a billion. Or more. It does not help to get into this logjam of ideology over every issue. The empty, utopian rhetoric about the values of liberalism doesn't help. The instantaneous branding of anyone who is critical as anti-national or pseudo-anything does not help. It does not help those countless Indians who are constantly striving to build themselves a better life. It does not help the canon of your ideological camp if all you are going to do is stubbornly and arrogantly hold on to it.

Ideas evolve with time and place, you should too. I might be wrong but I thought the true test of liberalism was the ability to not just listen, but also reflect on the alternative point of view. Again, I might be wrong but I thought those who profess to uphold the values of India and Hinduism would have more patience, dignity and repose. Patriotism comes in all shapes and sizes. If it's a dialogue you pretend to indulge in every day and night, then let it be an honest and sincere one.

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