Two Cheers for Indian Democracy!
Ashley Tellis reports on a panel on Kashmir at the University of Hyderabad
Abhiyan and Social Science Forum, two initiatives loosely associated with the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) Unit, a student party linked to the Communist Party of India, Marxist (CPI (M)), organised a panel discussion on Kashmir entitled ‘Kashmir 370 and Beyond’ at the Humanities Auditorium, University of Hyderabad (UoH) on August 13, 2019. The CPI (M) itself is nothing short of nationalist on the Kashmir question but this was just a discussion. That was a miracle enough for the SFI, not a party prone to much reflection or critical thinking.
The event almost did not happen. Five minutes before it was to start, permission for it was withdrawn. The students had taken formal permission, had the keys to the auditorium, had just cleaned it themselves and were about to start the event. No reasons were given but the students were told by the Dean of Humanities, the execrable Prof. S. Sarat Jyothsna Rani, that it was now being used for a Telugu event (she teaches in the Telugu Department).
The students decided to have it outside the Department/Humanities building, in the open. She came there and said they could not have it there. She ordered them to go outside the University and have such an event. The students surrounded her, stood their ground and said they would have the event there and there was no stopping them.
Five minutes into the event, the police arrived (no guesses as to who called them) and went straight to the only Kashmiri on the panel. He wisely pointed them to the organisers of the event. They began to heckle the organisers who took them a few feet away from the event. The heckling went on pretty much through the event (which lasted a little over one and half hours) with the police showing no respect for the panellists, the students, and, most importantly, for themselves. They came across as crass, foolish and braindead.
The event was peaceful, held in the spirit of discussion and critical thinking and the CRPF vans and the police interceptor vehicles seemed not just absurd but also unable to do much. One only hopes they learnt something listening to the speakers and the students’ questions but it seems unlikely.
Strangely attired government officials videographed the event, students videographed them videographing the event. The police were bullish and refused to see sense despite Professors Sowmya Dechamma and D. Vijay (one of the panelists) patiently trying to explain things to them.
The professors and the students stood their ground. Short of breaking the event up through violence (which would have really exposed their pathetic insecurity), the police could not do much. Their last attempt was to intimidate the only Kashmiri on the panel with a criminal complaint. The Dean too tried some ham-fisted coercion. He was not to be silenced. The event went on peacefully.
This is the new democratic, shining India and its second-time triumphant government. So triumphant that it cannot bear anyone speaking against it at all or even having a discussion.
The University of Hyderabad students, like Jawaharlal Nehru University students, and like students everywhere in this beleaguered country, are used to this sort of heckling, harassment and intimidation and continue to stand their ground, somewhat tiredly. It is a sad, sad country we live in.
The panel itself was nothing to write home about, barring one speaker.
Prof. Kham Khan Suan Hausing of the Political Science Department, UoH, opened and could not make up his mind whether he was offering the BJP political advice or giving us a banal lesson in political theory. Explicitly assuming an investment in the idea of the nation, he said the BJP was self-destructive in doing what it did in Kashmir by abrogating Section 370. A nation stands together by looking after its peripheries not alienating them. He then said identities do not go away with modernity (which he called modernism!) and we have to engage with and respect identities.
Dr. Shefali Jha of the Comparative Literature Department, UoH, epitomised all that is wrong with a woolly, ahistorical, unengaged Cultural Studies perspective. With absolutely no knowledge of the historical context of Kashmir and no real engagement with the issue at hand, she waffled on about the nation and the Hindi film Fitoor and India’s obsessive and gendered love for Kashmir. Mercifully, she did not take half as long as Hausing, not least because she really had nothing to say.
Dr. G Vijay of the Political Science Deparment, UoH, taking a break from engaging with the police, spoke about his own heroism with a Kashmir student and a police station at an earlier moment and urged us, as he did the policeman then, to love Kashmiris. With allies like this, does Kashmir need enemies? He had nothing to say about Section 370, had clearly prepared nothing on the topic and joined the legion of Liberal-Left professors who just love the sound of their own voice and agree to be on every panel to which they are foolishly invited.
The evening, and the panel, were saved by a scrawny, soft-spoken Dr. Masrook Dar, the only actual Kashmiri on it, Lecturer in Comparative Literature, UoH, who had done his homework, had a perspective and had something to say. That he spoke at all was a miracle as he was personally threatened by the police, heckled by the Dean (he is not a permanent faculty in her Department) and singled out. He admirably stood his ground. Hesitatingly at first, he took us through the history of the Instrument of Accession, the formation of the Article 370, Article 35 A and showed that what the BJP government has done is completely illegal, unconstitutional and “a cautionary tale for us all” as this could happen with any state now and spells the death of Indian democracy. He opened with Edward Said on Iraq and closed with a direct address to the police asking them never to interfere in discussion and debate in University spaces.
The gathering erupted in applause and cheers.
He saved the day by also answering student questions (with their usual mixture of sincere stupidity and unintended insight) with great intelligence and rational calm. Putting paid to the “bringing development to Kashmir” argument by citing data on how advanced Kashmir actually is in comparison to most Indian states and making clear that the Kashmir problem stays whether or not Section 370 is around, he also rejected the kind of ‘love’ for Kashmiris in gestures like having lunch with Kashmiris on Eid or the mindless Hausing-style nationalism that demanded hypernationalism in response to ignorant bigots who called him ‘Chinese.’
Referring to the attempt to close down the event, Dar reminded us that this was Hyderabad, and the University of Hyderabad, and asked us to imagine what Kashmir was like right now.
Questions flowed, the evening ended, the CRPF-filled trucks began to leave and democracy returned to India.
Ashley Tellis is an LGBH, anti-communal, feminist, child, Dalit, adivasi, and minority rights activist. He lives and works in Hyderabad.
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