I have been to JNU on two separate occasions. The first time was in 2013, it was a brief visit to meet a senior who happened to be an alumnus from AMU. We visited the campus quite late at around 1:00 am, the streets of JNU were bedecked with dim lights and spread out with students, some on their late night strolls while others sitting in groups at 24×7 (the JNU campus dhaba), sipping tea, philosophizing life. There was an illusory, dreamy atmosphere about the place. The campus seemed to stand in stark contrast to the rest of city, spreading out on the rocky Aravalli Hills, its very existence mocked everything that had come to be characteristic of the rest of the city, unsafe for women, corrupt, its lavish South outrageously out of place from its haphazardly unplanned and poor Jhuggi Jhompri colonies.
In JNU, the walls covered with graffiti and posters on gender sensitization, against the policies of WTO, for the rights of the most vulnerable in India, the dalits, the adivasis were embedded with hopes and dreams to change the world. In its diversity, from the poorest to the richest; from jhola carrying, khadi kurta-wearing students to white-kurta pajama and topi-wearing, bearded Muslim students, to dhoti-wearing men, salwar kameez, skirt and abaya-clad women, everyone seemed welcome to be an insider.
The second time I visited JNU was last month, I was visiting Delhi to meet friends. This time I stayed for a few days, mostly because it was convenient, safe and there were generous seniors, our AMU alumni who were willing to host us, but partly because, I felt the place would give me some hope, perhaps the loud, passionate sloganeering would inspire me towards the unrealistic dreams I shared with some of these JNUites, of being a part of something meaningful, of in fact, changing the world. On my first night in the campus, I stood as a spectator at one of these sloganeering sessions at Sabarmati dhaba. When I heard the morphed slogans “hum lekar rahenge azaadi” being played as a part of sedition video over and over on Zee News and Times Now, I felt like I had already heard different version of these on that night at Sabarmati. I could clearly remember the slogans being phrased something like, “azadi manuvaad se,” “azaadi brahmanvaad se” and so it went on. The slogans might have been slightly different from what I remembered, but their context was definitely the same. Like most JNU students and faculty who were agitated by how the media portrayed JNU and Kanhaiya, Umar Khalid and other organisers of February 9th event as anti-nationals, I was agitated. But was I surprised? Not at all. I happen to have studied in an institution that has been through several media trials and with certain stories blown out of proportion. But that is another story for another time.
Kashmir happens to be a sensitive issue. Having spent five years of my undergraduate and post-graduate life with friends who were Kashmiris, it was not very difficult for me to understand how they felt about their situation back home. In general, not only are Indians largely divided on the matter but those supporting the right of Kashmiris to self-determination rarely state their opinions in public. Those of us who watched Arnab Goswami (and his likes in Zee News) verbally abuse Umar Khalid were appalled. Not only were Goswami’s shouting tactics disturbing to the ears and his speech disturbing to the soul, Umar’s innocent attempt and not so clever move of putting forth his opinion, citing right to dissent, led to him being branded later as a Muslim terrorist, “being reduced to his immediate identity” of having a Muslim name, even though he is a self-proclaimed atheist.
I think I understand why Khalid did that, perhaps Khalid is a dreamer, he believes that changes can be brought and the situation of the most vulnerable sections in our society can be improved. He also believes in those around him. Perhaps, he felt that by participating in the TV debates, he could reach out to their sensibilities in the most civilized manner. I felt that way, once upon a time, when I was a Cabinet member in the Aligarh Muslim University Students’ Union and those times brought troubles at the local level (microscopic really, compared to Umar, Kanhaiya and their comrades’ issues) my way but I managed to tide through that year, unscathed and victorious. In these difficult times, when our media -the crumbling fourth pillar of this democracy is dishing out judgement without trials, spreading lies and inciting violence, angry mobs of lawyers attack journalists and students and our police just stands by unresponsive and insensitive, in these times, I wish you comrades all the best.