By Ananya S. Guha
If people today in India speak of secular nationalism, which is at variance with Hindu nationalism or theocratic nationalism, this is because our freedom-fighters had imagined and safeguarded a secular nation. This secular polity was later enshrined in the Constitution of India. One can be a practicing Hindu as well as secular at the same time. However, to promote a political version of Hinduism, what is now called Hindu Nationalism, a form of self-righteousness, is to ignore that others such as Christians, Muslims, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains have an equal nationalistic or patriotic fervor.
The present totalitarian regime has been trying to conceive Indian ‘culture’ as Hindu, to say the least. It is an ominous intermingling of religion and the body politic. One way to understand this, we must remember that the progenitors of the RSS, the Hindu Mahasabha, etc. were never really true to the nationalist urge during the freedom movement. Rather, they pandered to and leant towards the British colonial power. As Ashok V. Desai very interestingly points out, the British neither wanted the right-wing forces nor those fighting for the freedom of the country. We know right from the beginning of the Nationalist Movement, there was a conflict between pro- and anti-secularist ideologies.
The present crisis, if one may call it so, is a reaction to such historical antecedents. The clash between a secular nationalism and a Hindu Nationalism, as Prof. Romila Thapar would call it, is an inevitable outcome of present political culture and incumbencies. The genealogy of student protests in the JNU goes back to the eighties and even before that as the university had opposed the emergency in the seventies. The University has always had a history of anti-establishment agitation.
The recent imbroglio has, in my opinion, a lot to do with uncharitable remarks passed against the university from time to time. Such comments that the university is a hotbed of drug addiction and Naxalism have infuriated the students. It’s an irony that fighting for human rights is anathema in a country, which desperately needs to address the requirements of the poorest of the poor. Simply declaring that a budget is pro-poor and pro-farmer may assuage political feelings, but not social and economic issues. The random slogan shouting of the students has to do with a deeper malaise produced by wounds inflicted in a country over the years: dialectics of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, lack of education for the poor, the orphaned and street children. The budget allocation to education this year is again low, which makes such slogans, “Educating the Girl Child”, sound hollow.
What the authorities and the powers-that-be need to note is that the present scenario of student and teacher unrest is symptomatic of the rottenness within, which is a result of poverty, a burgeoning and insensitive middle class, social, political and ethnic trauma. Further, the conflict zones such as North-East India and Kashmir have exacerbated the situation. In these zones, normal endeavors such as children going to school, students researching and pursuing their education have suffered over the years. The common man is caught in the vicious net of militarism and militancy. As someone who is based in the North-East, I have witnessed an upsurge of superb creative writing in the region, narrating this history of war and conflict. The wounds of these scars have not yet healed.
Those at the helm of power must remember how the Indian nation came into being as a nation of diversities. Any effort to change the foundation of the nation and turn it into a mono-cultural, monolingual, and mono-religious religious entity would result in conflict and violence. Let us not re-invent history, but try to relentlessly combat dark forces within. And this darkness is poverty, abysmal lack of education, alienation from the so-called mainstream, superstitious beliefs, patriarchy and relegation of women to domestic work only. We must relentlessly combat the evil forces lurking within, while at the same time taking pride in our rich legacy of the past and look forward to an economically strong India in future.
Ananya S Guha lives in Shillong where he has been raised. He has over thirty four years of teaching and administrative experience. He has seven collections of poetry. His poems have been widely anthologized and published internationally. Currently he is a very senior academic in the Indira Gandhi National Open University, India.
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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘JNU and Its Tradition(s) of Dissent’, edited by Malavika Binny, JNU, Delhi, India.