The fact is that the government's efforts directed at crushing the students movement by brute force has only ended up in galvanising the whole nation to take part in the movement.

Voices Protest Wednesday, January 15, 2020 - 14:50

On the 5th of January, the bloodied face of JNU students' union president Aishe Ghosh was flashed across all news channels and with that unfolded three hours of uninterrupted violence in one of India’s most prestigious institutes.

For at least five decades now, JNU has held the reputation of providing an equal opportunity at niche education for students spanning caste, class and regional barriers. It is one of the few institutions in India that allows diversity in thought and encourages students to address these diversities in the form of debate, discussion and dissent. It is this tendency of JNUites to question and criticise any deviance on the part of the government or the civil society in general that has been a sore point for the ruling government for the past four years.The fact that the government is allergic to any kind of critique has been obvious on more than one occasion.

Myth of the tukde-tukde gang

JNU has been a consistent target since 2016, when a group of students were accused of raising anti-India and pro-Pakistan slogans in a protest that marked the third anniversary of the hanging of Afzal Guru. The students were branded as “anti-nationals,” with three prominent names — Shehla Rashid, Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar — being the “face” of this anti-national gang. 

A video of the said incident was circulated on news channels, which was later found out to be doctored. It was Arnab Goswami, who first came up with the catchphrase “Tukde-Tukde” gang and since then, many media houses, politicians, and BJP IT cell members have made sure to keep this myth alive through regular debates, speeches and hashtags, where they made sure to invoke the catchphrase at opportune moments. People have been made to believe that JNU is a breeding ground for good-for-nothing middle-aged freeloaders who are living off taxpayer money and wiling away their time in pursuing useless degrees in humanities, which apparently serve no purpose for the country. Through regular doses of propaganda and lies purported in the form of 9 pm debates, JNU gradually became a symbol of mutiny and anti-nationalism. This sentiment has been so firmly entrenched in the psyche of a section of Indians that they hate JNU with almost the same intensity as they hate Pakistan, maybe even more as they view them as traitors. 

Attack on educational institutions 

In recent weeks, there has been a systematic attack on three premier Indian institutions. The first were Jamia Millia Islamia and AMU on the night of December 15, both carried out by the police as an effort to break the protests that had been going on against the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens. Both attacks were brutal, where excess force was used, which resulted in grievous injuries to many students. In the case of JNU however, in addition to the CAA protests, a simultaneous protest against the hike of examination and hostel fees had been underway for many days.

The attack on JNU was perpetrated allegedly by the members of ABVP and the police in this case acted only as mute spectators. It is also interesting to note that while in case of AMU and JMI, the police didn’t wait for any written permission before entering university, for JNU it waited for a whole three hours before taking any action, while the masked goons went on a rampage, grievously injuring students and teachers alike. Predictably within a few hours of the JNU attack, some news portals and verified BJP handles started spinning the whole narrative against the JNU “leftist” students, irrespective of the video evidence or the fact that the 25-odd students who had to be admitted in AIIMS owing to serious injuries belonged to the Left. That a certain section of our society is still apathetic to the sight of young college students being attacked is testimony to the fact that propaganda has a strong hold over the conscience and rational thinking. 

A precedent has been set

In the past few years, the country has been generally nonchalant to some of the most unprecedented and shocking developments, which was a result of what I would term as systematic desensitisation. It's only after the students of Jamia Milia decided to break this monotony of collective apathy that the whole nation has been gripped in a wave of a much-needed dissent. 

The first time India witnessed a student revolution was during the Bengal Renaissance in the 19th century. Mahatma Gandhi kick-started the non-cooperation movement from the campus of St Stephen’s College in 1920, after which lakhs of students hit the streets against the British. After that, India has seen many student agitations, one of the notable ones being the Assam Students Union-led agitation (1979-85), which finally led to the signing of the Assam Accord.

The fact is that the government's efforts directed at crushing the students movement by brute force has only ended up in galvanising the whole nation to take part in the movement. The government is well-aware of the power of a students’ movement, and hence it is pulling all stops to brand them as anti-nationals, any dissenting voices from the civil society are termed as Urban Naxals and so on. Since they are unable to smother the voices, the next approach is to discredit them and the whole system, including a section of media, politicians and paid spokesperson, are working in cahoots to achieve that.

A compromised system

A case has been registered by the Delhi Police against Aishe Ghosh and 19 other students for allegedly attacking security guards and vandalising the server room a day before the violence that took place on January 5. More than enough evidence is available to incriminate ABVP members in the JNU attack, but even after more than 24 hours passed, no arrests had been made. The same police failed to arrest a single perpetrator who wreaked havoc on the campus, in spite of being present there for more than three hours.

This is a glaring reminder of our compromised law and order system, where the victim is harassed even more and the perpetrators are given a free pass. A few months ago, the Rajasthan police filed a chargesheet against Pehlu Khan who was lynched by a mob of cow vigilantes. So it does not come as a surprise that an FIR has been lodged against Aishe Ghosh, who herself is a victim of the violence perpetrated in JNU. This is the kind of impunity provided by the system, that emboldens a member of the Hindu Raksha Dal to claim responsibility for the JNU attack on camera with no fear of consequences.

Inspite of its incessant efforts to crush all forms of dissent, the movement is even bigger than before. People are finally seeing through the farce of the “tukde-tukde” myth and realising that it is a label that will be dispensed to each and every individual that dares to question or dissent. It’s also high time that the government realises that it can’t go on a war with its own citizens and instead of trying to smother the voices, it should make an effort to listen to them. They have to realise that the JNU spirit has now engulfed the whole country and while it may have been successful in discrediting an institute, it won’t be successful in discrediting the voice of an entire nation.

Dr Nazma Parveen belongs to Kolkata and writes on socio-political issues.

Views expressed are the author's own.