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Of JNU, Emptiness and Azadi

(Yes, I love JNU. If I have to choose something that changed my life and changed the way I see life around me, then it has to be JNU. There’s a JNU in the way I see/love India, its rich diversity, pluralism. There’s a JNU in the way I listen to music, the food I eat and relish, the films I love watching, the way I love people of this land and the way I feel for India’s marginalized communities.  

No, I am not a card holding member of any Communist party. I never was one and will never be one.  I cherish the dreams and imagination of a free, diverse, egalitarian, liberal India. I will fight for your right to say though I might not agree with what you say. And yes, I pay my taxes.  I also enjoy my Macbook Air and I start my day with a cup of Earl Grey tea.)  

‘I am feeling so empty,” I told over phone to my friend who lives in Dubai.  I have never felt so empty before. For the last 2O odd days, I have led a life marked by deep anguish, emptiness and pain. I tried earlier to pen my thoughts but I just couldn’t. Today, I sit down, look back and make a note of myriad thoughts that crossed my mind in the last few weeks. Sometimes at the break of dawn, sometimes in the darkness of night. I am using the symbol of hashtags to express myself because we now live in the ‘banal’ times of hashtags.

#  It was a February late night when before sleeping, I scrolled down the notifications on my Facebook .  I came across a post from a friend (ironically she lives in Nagpur) which mentioned #shutdownjnu. I was too tired to delve into the details. I left it there to sleep.

#  After  JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on charges of sedition, I listened to his speech to understand what he spoke. Yes, he ripped apart the BJP-RSS politics in that speech but I didn’t find it at all anti-national. And being a student activist in JNU in the 90s, I have heard far more scathing speeches. I loved that line in Kanhaiya’s speech, “What are universities for? To critically challenge, the society’s ‘common conscience.” Yes, we need universities to encourage a society to think, question and dissect. A nation is not made of computers, smart phones or tablets. A nation is made of men, women and children who think, imagine, love, debate, discuss. There’s no uniform software.

# Just a day after his arrest, the onslaught of hate speeches on social media happened. Prime Time TV studios felt like war zones. The talks of JNU students being ‘prostitutes/call girls/anti-nationals’ dominated the public space. I put a post on my Facebook timeline celebrating the ethos of JNU and an idea called India. The so-called ‘friends’ came up with choicest abuses. They showed the ugly face of aggression through their comments, personal messages.

# As a social sciences student, I am really curious to understand how do these people harbor so much of hatred, venom, violence within themselves. How do they live, work, sleep and raise children with so much of aggression, violence wthin them?  Yes, they have this AK 47 called Facebook and Twitter accounts and they think they can engage in mindless violence without rhyme or reason.

#   What’s nation? What’s the Idea of India? What’s imagination of a nation? Can a nation exist without imagination? Who makes a nation? These are the questions that have always fascinated me. Where does my cook who can’t now afford a bowl of her favourite Gujarati khatti mithi dal (Thanks to arhar dal being so expensive) figure in this idea of nation?  What about the rivers, forests, mountains and valleys that make this nation so beautiful and the way we are abusing them, destroying them in the name of development?  And who will decide what’s nationalism? Who will define how Indian am I? Will the central government (whether it’s a BJP/Congress/any coalition) decide what is nationalism? Will these governments put a stamp on my love and idea of my nation?

#  How will we thrive as a nation, as a society if our young minds are not engaged in debate/discussion? Why are we so scared of young minds? How will we arrive as a society if our young minds don’t think out of the box? Why are we scared of dream catchers, rebels, thinkers, philosophers, poets, artists? Aren’t ideas/cultures/narratives all about evolving? Where does critical thinking figure in our political/social/cultural narratives? Who are these people who are jumping into conclusions without even discussing?

#   I am not even talking about doctored videos, fake voices. I am not talking about somebody offering Rs 5 lakh for cutting off Kanhaiya’s tongue? Or posters offering Rs 11 lakh to anybody who will shoot Kanhaiya. And who were these masked people shouting slogans in JNU? Why can’t our state machinery/apparatus put a face and name to them?

#  Three of my close friends have lived a life of ‘the other’ in this country. My soul sister is from Manipur and she lived in Delhi for more than 15 years. All through her Delhi years, she was seen as a ‘Nepali’. But never as an Indian. House owners in mainstream India shut doors on her face when she went to pay the deposit money because they couldn’t possibly give the house on rent to a Chinese/Nepali/Chinky. Her face became her greatest enemy. She became ‘the other’ in her own country.  My friend ‘M’ is a Kashmiri Pandit who has lost her home in the valley. She mourns the loss of her beautiful land which now hides behind a veil of pain, anguish. Her voice chokes when she talks of her Kashmir yet she says she feels a sense of joy and warmth when she meets an elderly Kashmiri Muslim woman in a phiran in Delhi. She says time has stood still for her as she can’t connect with today’s Kashmir. Another close friend who’s a Muslim feels like an outsider in the land he loves dearly and warmly. His young daughter was traumatized for days when she was called a ‘Pakistani’ in the school.  I can’t understand urban India’s obsession with Pakistan. Pakistan is not my benchmark so far as the ethos and imagination of a nation is considered. I am sure many will agree with me.  Why should I celebrate a monolithic nation?  India with its vibrant democracy, multi-culturalism, diversity is closest to my heart.

#  Post his release on conditional bail, Kanhaiya Kumar became a prime-time hero thanks to his earthy, fiery, witty speech.  His speech appeared as front page lead in many newspapers. In the times of 24×7 channels and social media, he suddenly became the flavor of the day. ‘Azadi’ became the word of the season. For some, spring suddenly felt more enticing, more young, more beautiful. Was his speech a ground-breaking one which would go down in history?  I will suggest restraint. Let us not go overboard. As a student of JNU (in the 90s), I have heard equally soul-stirring, fiery, political speeches by young student leaders. There were no 24×7 channel television then to beam those speeches across the nation. There were no twitter trending hashtags then. Let us not become a desperate nation looking for momentary heroes or anti-heroes. Let us look at the larger canvas of nation building. Let us think of a nation that gives a fabulous world class education and medical facilities to its poor and marginalized. I liked it when Kanhaiya said in one of his TV interviews, “Speeches alone don’t make for political leadership.” The struggle has to go on. And the toughness of the struggle ahead will decide who is what.  The struggle ahead will separate the wheat from the chaff.

Let truth prevail. Let our young and old minds celebrate ‘azadi’.  Let the young think, imagine, feel and work for those who still can’t afford to study in this beautiful institute of learning in the last range of Arravalis.

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About Deepika Sahu

I earn my living through writing stories, editing what other people write (in simple terms I am a journalist). I dream of opening a cafeteria in the mountains, owning a beach home on the shores of Bay of Bengal... but right now, they all seem like wild dreams.. A gypsy at heart --- am passionate about life, music, words, cooking for people I love, soaking in the lashing rain and just looking at the changing colours of the sky.... And I am a great fan of the Indian Railways and I long to travel in First Class AC coupe across India.....with my man

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