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JNU becomes a battleground

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By Apoorvanand

On Tuesday, Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid said the institution’s authorities had refused to let him submit his PhD thesis. This despite the Delhi High Court’s instructions to the university less than a week ago not to take coercive steps against Khalid. Khalid had moved the court challenging the university’s decision to rusticate him for a semester in connection with a campus event in February 2016 marking the death anniversary of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, at which students had reportedly raised “anti-national slogans”.
Can things get more bizarre than this – that students have to run to the courts to get their fees deposited or theses submitted? Of all the universities, could one expect this to happen in JNU?
In the new India that has been crafted in the last four years, we are getting used to such absurdities. That JNU blocked Umar Khalid even after being reprimanded by the High Court shows its impudence towards its students.
The Delhi High Court had used very strong words on July 20 as it set aside aRs 10,000-fine imposed by the university on former student union president Kanhaiya Kumar in connection with the same event in 2016. The court had said the action against Kumar “suffers from vice of illegality, irrationality and procedural impropriety”. Justice SiddharthMridul had observed that “the court was of the prima facie view that the decision was unsustainable on innumerable counts”.
After the rebuke, the counsel for the university had told the court that it was recalling the penalty.
Mridul had similarly directed the university on July 18 not to take any coercive steps against two other students, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, though it did not pass any order in their case. Bhattacharya was rusticated for five months and barred from pursuing any course at the university for the next five years.
The court order came as a relief to Kumar, who too had been stopped from submitting his PhD thesis by university authorities. The harassment of Khalid and Bhattacharya continues.
In any other circumstances, the judgement and the observation of the court would have instilled sobriety in the administration. But we are living in new normal times. The university authorities do not feel the need to review their decisions and moderate their attitude towards students. Last week, we learnt that a JNU student had been fined Rs 10,000 for shouting “Jai Bheem” and questioning the vice-chancellor at an event last year. In the last two years, the JNU administration has handed out punishments to students for protesting too close to the vice-chancellor’s office, for their behaviour at a meeting of the Academic Council, and for holding meetings on campus, among others.
The Indian Express reported on Monday that JNU has fined 29 students close to Rs 4 lakh in various disciplinary cases just as it gets ready to start a new semester. This despite the High Court’s strong observation against it. It seems to be taking the view that the students are free to approach the courts for relief, as Kanhaiya Kumar did. But is this the way universities should behave?
Even more bizarre is the penalty imposed by JNU on its teachers and heads of various centres of learning for expressing dissent at selection committee meetings to appoint faculty members and for pointing out problems in administrative and academic bodies. Deans have been removed from their positions and debarred from holding posts.
Jawaharlal Nehru University has turned into a battleground. My friends there tell me that they wake up every morning fearing a new notice from the authorities, and that they are now forced to spend a good deal of their time consulting lawyers and attending court hearings.
Courts are slow. Benches are unpredictable. So, they pray for a judge who understands the nature of universities in general and is aware of the unique character of JNU, who knows universities are not merely administrative entities, a set of rules and procedures. That even when the vice-chancellor has all the powers conferred on him by the Act of the university, he uses them rarely for he is not the owner of the university. He is merely a trustee for a defined period of time and he must earn the trust of the faculty, students and others to be able to administer the university.
Jawaharlal Nehru University, at least on this count, was an exemplar for others. The presence of the vice-chancellor and other authorities was mostly benign. This is the first time JNU has had a vice-chancellor who thinks he owns the university and has the sanction to change its fate. The vice-chancellor is supposed to work through established procedures and statutory bodies, not through a coterie. But this is what has happened to JNU.
Living on the other side of the same city, in a university as famous as JNU, I know how different we were. We have the experience of overbearing and eccentric vice-chancellors with a very low opinion of their teaching colleagues, a teacher politics sharply divided on party lines that seldom speaks in one voice, and student activism dominated and owned by the muscle and money power of the country’s two major political parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress. Yes, there are student organisations with jhola-carrying, slipper-wearing activists fighting for the construction workers or daily-wagers on campus or even the war against Iraq. But they do not define the student politics of Delhi University.
Then there was the freedom teachers at JNU had to design their courses, which the faculty at Delhi University never had and which made us envious of them.
That jealousy and yearning has now been replaced by sympathy and pity. Jawaharlal Nehru University is being de-shaped and if it continues for some more time, we will not be able to recognise it.
We are told that the JNU authorities are filling selection committees with pliable experts, disregarding the suggestions of the faculty, which has been the norm. This has led to scores of appointments with dubious academic credentials. This is the most decisive and cruel step, a death knell for a university, as these faculty members will be there for the next 20 years to 30 years and will appoint more people of their kind.
When a government declares war against a university and a large section of the media manufactures popular anger against it, it has little chance of survival. The JNU community is facing an unequal war. A friend from Gandhinagar in Gujarat once told me about a conversation he had with his driver. The driver asked innocently whether JNU stands for Jinnah National University – the reference being to Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah. We were having this chat in 2016. In villages in Madhya Pradesh or Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, you come across people who are convinced that JNU is a den of anti-nationals. There are people who believe students and teachers there waste the money of taxpayers.
How did this image get entrenched in the popular mind? Let us go back to 2016. Just after the event commemorating Afzal Guru, which was turned controversial by a media house in collaboration with the government, Home Minister Rajnath Singh declared, “The incident at JNU has received support from [Lashkar-e-Taiba founder] Hafiz Saeed. This is a truth that the nation needs to understand.”
This message spread to every corner of the country. A word from the home minister carries some weight. He would speak only after he has credible information: this is how common people think. And this is how there was an overnight change in the popular image of JNU. Its teachers and students became anti-nationals conspiring to break the nation. If the students are being supported by terrorists on the other side of the border, they lose all their rights as citizens and as living beings. If the teachers are supporting these “criminal” students, they also turn into criminals.
Kanhaiya Kumar became the leader of the gang. The past three years have been especially trying for him and for student leaders Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid. They are feted by some and hated by many outside the university, but on campus they have been busy writing their PhD dissertations, facing penal action and dealing with the authorities’ refusal to clear their theses.
One cannot comprehend the threat they face in their daily lives. A colleague told me that during a chat with a co-passenger on a train journey, the conversation turned to Kanhaiya Kumar. When my colleague tried to defend him, the co-passenger became so enraged that he whipped out a revolver.
It is a pity that the courts have had to step in to give them relief. It is a shame that there is no outcry from the academic world. Instead, we have seen a clever and silent distancing of this academic world from JNU. Scholars from JNU are not welcome in academic programmes, their names do not figure in selection committees, degrees from JNU have become a disqualification in interviews for various jobs.
However, JNU has reason to rejoice even in these trying times. If you are speaking or writing somewhere and your thoughts betray some independence of mind or freshness, the audience or organisers automatically link you to JNU. In 2016, a young teacher at the Central University of Haryana adapted a story of writer and activist Mahasweta Devi into a play, locating it in present times. The very next morning, she turned into a hate figure, an anti-national. An enquiry was set up against her by the university. Members of the enquiry committee asked her, “Are you from JNU?” She replied that she was educated in the state universities of Haryana. “You do not have to be from JNU to have a mind of your own,” she protested. Her records backed her claim of no connection with JNU, but in a strange way, JNU had won the day.

 

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Opinion

The point of having democracy

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By Pulapre Balakrishnan

As the general election approaches, we are reminded of the observation by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein that while raisins may well be the better part of a cake, “a bag of raisins is not a cake”. For, while elections may be an integral part of democracy, surely they cannot be its end. The end is the demos, or the people, and the content of their lives. However, going by the actions of political parties when in power and their pronouncements when they are not, the end of democracy gets overlooked in the political process in India.

In the run-up to the present, indeed through the greater part of the past five years, two constructs have repeatedly been projected by the main political formations in the country. These are nationalism and secularism, associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, respectively. As are raisins to the cake, so we might say these two ideals are to Indian democracy. But unlike the fruit which, given to us in a natural state, is not malleable, the concepts of nationalism and secularism have proved to be quite that in the use to which they are put by India’s political parties. This by itself may have proved to be less disappointing if they had not in addition privileged these constructs over everything else.

 

Actually, it is possible for nationalism and secularism to be part of state policy even in the absence of democracy. Thus both Iran under the last Shah and Iraq under Saddam Hussein ran a secular state, though they were both dictators. The People’s Republic of China is so nationalist that even its socialism is said to be imbued with ‘Chinese characteristics’. Its state is not just secular but avowedly atheist. However, it is not a democracy. What is at stake here is that democracy is meant to be something more than just nationalism and secularism. None of this suggests that these two concepts are unrelated to democracy. Indeed they are of it.

Take nationalism first, once we have imagined ourselves as a democratic community we must defend our national interest. Threats to India come from two sources. There are authoritarian regimes in the region that are hostile to India. Second, the western powers have captured global bodies to promote their economic and political interests, for which think of the multilateral agencies that attempt to prise open India’s market without yielding the West’s to migration.

Take secularism next. Based on first principles, we would say that a democracy cannot allow any religious influence on the state’s actions. However, there is a reality in India today that requires a contextual understanding, and this would require the secular state to go beyond this limited brief to protect religious minorities. The relevance of this is brought home by an incident that took place on Holi day when a gang of hoodlums, attacked without provocation, a Muslim family including young children with iron roads in broad daylight in Gurugram outside the national capital. The video, uploaded on the Internet, makes for horrific viewing. It should leave every thinking Hindu raging with anger that terror is directed at innocent Indians in his or her name.

To accept the relevance of both nationalism and secularism to Indian society does not, however, entail agreement with the use made of these constructs by India’s political parties. We have just completed five years during which a toxic nationalism has been unleashed. In the BJP’s hands, nationalism or national pride has shown itself to be a means to establish Hindu majoritarian rule, a project with potentially destructive consequences for the country. A substantial part of India views this with trepidation. For its part, over the past 30-plus years the Congress party has often resorted to a sham secularism, the high mark of which came in the form of its response to the Supreme Court ruling on the Shah Bano case. Many citizens, including Muslim Indians, were deeply demoralised. In the State of Kerala, the Congress routinely shares power with sectarian parties while proclaiming its secular credentials. Nobody is fooled.

Of all the leaders India has produced, it is Jawaharlal Nehru who has been the most clear-eyed on the goals of Indian democracy. When asked by the French writer André Malraux as to what he considered his biggest challenge Nehru had replied: “creating a just state by just means [and] creating a secular state in a religious country.”

The significance of this was that Nehru saw these goals as challenges to be overcome. Not for him the thought that these tasks were done merely by stating “acche din aane wale hai” or publicised visits to mahants and imams. Some years earlier, at the moment of the ending of colonial rule, Nehru had stated that it was an opportunity to create a “prosperous, democratic and progressive” India. He had read the aspirations of his compatriots astutely. Prosperity was not considered second to progressive thinking, even if the latter meant nationalism and secularism.

In the close to three quarters of a century since, the goal of Indian democracy had been articulated prosperity is not in sight for the vast majority. On the other hand, a section of Indians has surged ahead economically. Not just the very rich but the middle classes too are now much richer than they were. For the rest of the country, however, it is an ongoing struggle to earn a living. A just society must seem far away to these Indians. But a just society by just means is no longer a pipe dream, it is entirely feasible, and in our times at that. The pathway to it lies in adopting the right public policies, and it is in the hands of India’s political parties to do so.

To address the economic hardship of the majority of Indians, public policy should now shift gear to launch an assault on the capability deprivation which underlies India’s low human development indicators. The poorly educated millions are helplessly caught in the eddies of a market economy. Their skills do not match what is required for them to earn a decent living. Overcoming this requires two actions to be undertaken. It would require committing resources to education and training and then governing their use. In fact, we elect and then maintain a political class to govern the system. Instead, it acts as if its sole task is to lecture the public on either nationalism or secularism, as the case may be, leaving the task of governance entirely to the bureaucracy. This empowers the bureaucracy in an undesirable way, amounting to its not having to be accountable.

The second task of public policy in India at this moment is to raise the tempo of economic activity. Jobs are an issue. The government cannot create jobs directly but it can create the preconditions. It does so through public investment and macroeconomic policy. For about a decade now, the latter has been conducted unimaginatively. Amateurish economic management is responsible for rising unemployment. India’s political parties cannot say that the pathway to the ends of democracy has not been shown to them. If they fail to take the country there, they must assume responsibility.

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Opinion

Hope

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By Tavoos Hassan Bhat

It is said that the most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history, culture, and language. It’s a known fact that people of Kashmir are being denied to know and understand of their past and this can be proved from the school textbooks which are completely silent on the Kashmir history and at the same time Kashmiri language losing its speakers.

Kashmir is well known as only part of the whole subcontinent with an uninterrupted recorded history of more than five thousand years. Before the advent of Islam in Kashmir, the country was governed by Hindus and Buddhists and the majority of the population followed these two faiths. Though there are enough debates being held on the political events after 1947 in the mainstream media usually an important part of the Kashmir history (Dogra rule) is generally ignored.

 

Oppressive Sikh rule (1819-1846) was still not completely over when British sold Kashmir to Gulab Singh. Treaty of Amritsar was signed on March 16, 1846 and by Article 1 of the treaty, Gulab Singh acquired “all the hilly or mountainous country with its dependencies situated to the eastward of the River Indus including Kashmir and the westward of the River Ravi including Chamba, Under Article 3, Gulab Singh was to pay 75 lakhs (7.5 million) of Nanak Shahi rupees to the British Government, along with other annual tributes. The Treaty of Amritsar marked the beginning of Dogra rule in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Therefore, Gulab Singh became master of every movable and unmovable thing in the whole state of Jammu and Kashmir. For a Kashmiri, it was a scenario like out of the frying pan into the fire. As his freedom was long back taken away when Mughal emperor Akbar annexed Kashmir in 1579 after arresting the last king of Kashmir Yusuf Shah Chak by deception and treachery. Akbar was unable to subjugate Kashmiris militarily.

What followed in the Dogra rule was tyranny, a complete breakdown of social order, degeneration of moral values and continuous humiliation of the helpless Kashmiri people which is hard to imagine in Preset times. Two Englishmen (Edward Frederick Knight and Walter Roper Lawrence) visited Kashmir during this period and they have well-portrayed scenario of the valley at that time in their books “Where Three Empires Meet (1895)” by Edward Frederick Knight and “The Valley of Kashmir (1895)” by Walter Roper Lawrence. Both of these books mention hardship, abuses, and suffering of native Kashmiri population at the hands of rulers and government officials.

The first hand account of the situation by these two Englishmen presents a very grim and heart breaking scenario. Native people especially the cultivator class were subjected to very harsh and inhumane treatment and two-thirds of their agriculture produce was taken away by the State. Rampant Corruption, extortion and harassment by the government officials also increased the misery of native Kashmiri. As mentioned by Lawrence in his own words “The peasants were overworked, half-starved, treated with hard word and hard blows, subjected to unceasing exactions and every species of petty tyranny (P 2)”. Even after working the whole day in the farms “before 1887 peasants rarely taste their beloved food rice (P 4)”.

In addition suffering from state tyranny two natural calamities happened in around same time, Famine (1878) and Cholera (1892) both of these natural calamities could have been averted had state administration acted in good faith but due to corruption by government officials grains were stored and let to be rotten instead of being distributed within hungry population both of these writers agree on this. More than half of the population of Kashmir perished due to the combined effect of state tyranny, huge taxation and natural calamities. Both of these writers have mentioned that they have observed completely deserted villages where people died of hunger, natural calamity or have migrated to pre-partition Punjab.

Further to make things worse for a native Kashmiri, a horrible practice of forced labour called Begar was also introduced in the Dogra rule. Kashmiris were forced to carry goods to Gilgit, most of the unfortunate people who were taken away from their homes by force used to die of hunger, thirst or cold climate and very few managed to return back home alive. In his own words Edward Frederick has mentioned that “when a man is seized for Begaar his wives his children hang upon him , weeping , taking it almost that they will never see him more (P 68)” and “Gilgat is a name of terror throughout state (P 68.).

Not only physical and emotional abuses natives were even subjected to the lowest form of moral degradation. Prostitution was legalized and encouraged by state as one-third of total state revenue was collected from this immoral trade. This is just a brief account of events in the Dogra period.

Though times have changed and Kashmir has seen a huge improvement in the economic activities with started with the land reforms after Dogra rule was over. The local economy has remarkably improved in the last six decades even in the midst of political instability. Improvement in agriculture and horticulture sector (As 80% economy of the valley is dependent on agriculture and allied activities) also helped the local economy. Unlike rest of the subcontinent where there is still a huge gap between poor and rich Kashmiris have managed to distribute wealth almost equally within masses, as a result, we have a large middle class and just 4% incidence of poverty, one of the lowest in the whole Indian subcontinent. At the same time, the population of Kashmir has also raised manifold. However, corruption and unemployment have remained as major challenges and one of the reasons for unemployment is that is most of the workforce is not technically skilled.

Low levels of democracy, Low accountability, low political transparency, higher levels of bureaucracy and inefficient administrative structures have contributed to the corruption in addition to the current political conflict. Dealing with the above may help in decreasing the levels of corruption.

Past suffering of our ancestors should always act as unifying force and encourage us in remaining steadfast in achieving our goals. Current generation needs to work very hard to provide a suitable environment and best education for the next generation so that they have better job opportunities and excel in their respective fields. This can be achieved by turning our society into a knowledge economy with Technically Skilled Workforce of very high moral values.

(The author is Senior Occupational health and safety officer (health care), Abu Dhabi, UAE and can be reached at: tavoos@rediffmail.com)

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Opinion

Learning love from New Zealand

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By Harsh Mander

“We are broken-hearted, but we are not broken,” declared Imam Gamal Fouda, while leading prayers in Christchurch in New Zealand one week after the terror attack. “We are alive, we are together, we are determined to not let anyone divide us.”

In a moment of immense tragedy, the people of New Zealand have shown a world riven by bigotry and hatred what solidarity and love can accomplish, even in the darkest times. It is a lesson which Indians, more bitterly divided today than ever since the blood-drenched days of Partition, must heed. But will we?

 

The azaan was broadcast before the memorial service all across New Zealand. Outside the mosques where the terrorist had massacred the worshippers, and in mosques around the country, hundreds of men, women and children assembled in solidarity with the families of the dead. They locked their hands with each other, creating a wall around their Muslim brothers and sisters who prayed. Many of the women wore hijabs.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern attended the prayer meeting, her head covered by a black dupatta. After the prayers she quoted Prophet Mohammad. “According to Prophet Mohammad… the believers in their mutual kindness, compassion, and sympathy are just like one body. When any part of the body suffers, the whole body feels pain,” she said. “New Zealand mourns with you; we are one.”

Earlier too, when Ardern visited the mourning families to comfort them, her head was covered by a black dupatta. As she embraced them, her face mirrored their pain, making plain to those who had lost their loved ones in the shootings that she shared their suffering.

The contrast with India over the last five years could not have been more telling. There have been many brutal mob attacks against Muslims, videotaped and circulated widely on social media. These hate attacks — by individuals and mobs — have spread fear and anguish among Muslims across the land. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has never once visited the bereaved families and has never communicated his empathy in a public address or through social media. When Kashmiri students were being attacked in many parts of India after a suicide bomber killed 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel in Pulwama, Kashmir, Modi declared that the rage that burnt in the hearts of people burnt in his heart too. It was an unambiguous message encouraging revenge.

While Muslims constitute 14% of India’s people, in New Zealand they are only over 1%. Ardern recognised that many of them could be migrants or refugees, but “they are us… The perpetrator is not”. The message that Mr. Modi communicates with his deafening silences is exactly the opposite. He is rooted in the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which believes that the Muslim who has been part of this country for centuries is not one of “us”, but the perpetrator of violence is.

In the last several months, we have made 27 harrowing journeys of the Karwan-e-Mohabbat into 15 States of India. In each, we have gone to the homes of the families of those who have lost their loved ones to hate and violence. Each time we have learnt afresh how much our simple gesture of reaching out means to these distraught families. They feel alone and abandoned as they battle loss and the hate of their neighbours or strangers who attacked their loved ones. As we embrace and hold each other’s hands, our eyes turn moist as they weep. Often, families in distant parts say that we are the first people who reached out to them.

It is this that . Ardern did for the loved ones of those slaughtered while in prayer in Christchurch. I have often wished that this is what our Prime Minister and leaders of the Opposition who claim to stand for secular politics would do. But none of them has shown the spontaneous compassion or the political courage to reach out to these stricken victims forced to battle hate alone.

Take also the symbolic question of headgear. Ms. Ardern covered her head with a dupatta to show respect to a stricken people, not necessarily as an endorsement of the practice. Inspired by the Prime Minister’s gesture, women all over New Zealand — newsreaders, policewomen, ordinary people — covered their heads with hijab scarves.

Imam Fouda said to Ms. Ardern, “Thank you for holding our families close and honouring us with a simple scarf.” By contrast, Mr. Modi has worn every conceivable form of headgear in his travels across a diverse India, but he has pointedly refused only one, and this is the Muslim skull cap.

Ardern also took firm steps to not allow the hate propaganda of the killer or the video he live-streamed to be circulated, and pledged never to utter his name publicly. By contrast, the videos that perpetrators of lynching and hate attacks shoot and upload in India are freely circulated. So are the hate speeches by them and indeed by many leading members of the ruling establishment. Those charged with hate killings are celebrated by Union Ministers, with garlands and the national flag.

A handout image obtained from Dubai’s Public Diplomacy Office on March 23, 2019 shows the Gulf emirate’s Burj Khalifa tower lit the previous night with an image of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in appreciation of her solidarity position with her country’s Muslim community following the March 15 massacre of 50 worshippers in a mosque in Christchurch by an Australian white supremacist.

Dubai projects New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern image on Burj Khalifa

Religious leaders of Christian and Jewish faiths in New Zealand, Australia and around the Western world have come out in iridescent solidarity with the Muslim community, and have attended joint prayers in mosques. Stu Cameron, Minister of Newlife Church on the Gold Coast, said, “Good neighbours always weep when the other is weeping, and stand together in solidarity when the other feels threatened.” Sikh gurudwaras in New Zealand opened up for the survivors’ families. In India, there have been no similar demonstrations of care by religious leaders after brutal hate attacks.

However, what is even more worrying than the failures of political and religious leaders in India to resist hate violence is the profound lack of compassion and solidarity in local communities wherever these attacks have occurred. There is no empathy with people who are so pushed into fear that they can no longer recognise this as a country to which they belong. Nowhere in our journeys of the Karwan have we heard reports of care and support for survivors of hate attacks by neighbours from other religions and castes. In upmarket Gurugram, mobs supported by the administration have succeeded in bullying Muslim worshippers to reduce the numbers of places where they can worship on Fridays to a tenth of the original number. It is nothing short of a civilisational crisis that we have allowed hate to curdle even our capacity for compassion.

Imam Fouda in New Zealand said, “We are broken-hearted but not broken.” Our civilisation crisis is that as our brothers and sisters are being felled by hate around the country, we are not broken-hearted. We just don’t care. In fact, some of us endorse and celebrate the attacks. This is how broken we have become as a people.

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