Students, teachers and allies protesting at JNU
Photo : Subin Dennis
Students, teachers and allies protesting at JNU Photo : Subin Dennis

Bullying the republic

What the recent clampdown on educational institutions in India tells us about the ruling dispensation.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government's chief tactics have long been clear to those who have cared to pay attention: shock and awe violence, pitched noise about majoritarian culture disguised as nationalism, sustained attacks on reason and rationality, and now, by extension, the thought policing of the country's youth. The goal appears to be to create a demos so disorientated, it loses its moral nerve; a republic so confused,  it is found muttering upar di gurgur di intolerance of  tolerance di daal of di why don't you go to Pakistan if Hindustan is so bad of di dar fatay mun! in the manner of Manto's Toba Tek Singh. Writers, filmmakers and artists who returned their national awards in 2015 was one kind of response to this climate of violence. It represented a politics by other means, which for a while at least seemed to have bamboozled the Sanghis, more used to mud-slinging and the standard whatabouttery of party-politics. Unable to figure out how to deal with this, the ruling establishment could only howl for them to be packed off to Pakistan. The repeated intrusion into the affairs of educational institutions in the two years of the BJP being in power has to be a sign of paranoia about these so-called enemies of the state, and it is backfiring spectacularly. For now, emerging from the chaos and climate of violence is the principled opposition we were long looking for, led by the students and teachers from some of India's universities.

On 12 February 2016, the Students' Union President Kanhaiya Kumar was picked up by plainclothes policemen in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), one of India's leading universities, without a warrant, on charges of sedition. This was in response to a protest event that took place in JNU on 9 February, marking the third anniversary of the execution of Afzal Guru, convicted for the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament. At the protest, a few unidentified students had raised "anti-national" slogans. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) – the student wing of the Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which has ideological and organisational links with the ruling BJP – had demanded action against the organisers of the event. This follows closely on the heels of student protests and outrage throughout the country related to Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula's suicide on 17 January 2016  – which were also met with disproportionate police force in New Delhi, resulting in protesters being water cannoned, manhandled, and the cameras of  photojournalists' being broken or confiscated. The recent developments in JNU are another instance of the present government's clampdown on educational institutions and attempted intimidation of its students and teachers.

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Himal Southasian