The Shape of the Beast

February 22, 2017, 8:44 pm
The Shape of the Beast
SPOTLIGHT
SPOTLIGHT
The Shape of the Beast

The Shape of the Beast

Amit Sengupta started journalism when he was 19, even while he was working in the relief camps as a student of JNU after the State sponsored genocide of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. Since then, he has been an independent president of the JNU Students’ Union, writer, activist and editor, closely involved with multiple people’s movements and conflict zones in contemporary India. He was Executive Editor, Hardnews magazine, South Asian partner of Le Monde Diplomatique, Paris. He has earlier worked as a senior editor and journalist with Tehelka, Outlook, The Hindustan Times, Asian Age, The Pioneer, The Economic Times and Financial Chronicle. Till recently he has been a professor at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi.

The ghastly, violent and vicious attacks on a seminar on ‘Cultures of Protest’ with eminent academics, filmmakers, students and researchers at Ramjas College in Delhi University since the last two days (21 and 22 February 2017), as an open show of bully power, in full view of the administration and police which seemed to play footsie with the ABVP goons let loose and unleashed, is as inevitable as the contemporary culture of the dominant diabolical discourse set by the ruling leadership of the ruling regime in India. This is the nature and shape of the beast. They understand no other language, or theory and praxis. This is their only window of enlightenment. And they flourish, especially so, like carnivorous creatures, under State patronage.

Professors and students, girls and boys, members of the audience, have been physically attacked. Several journalists have also been attacked and beaten up. People have been hospitalised. Stones have been pelted inside the seminar room while teachers and students were inside. A peace march was disrupted in the most violent and brutish manner. Even while the seminar was a legitimate academic exercise, held with much preparation and high expectations, and with due permission of the college authorities and all concerned.

It seems that the ABVP was given a free run by the police in Delhi University on Wednesday. They beat up several journalists, and allegedly broke up their cameras and mobile phones. A female student from St Stephen's called up this reporter saying that they are being chased by ABVP “goons” and the police is too with the ABVP. Another girl student called up just now that some of them have taken shelter in a flat, but they have been threatened of a “raid” by the ABVP. She said that while the ABVP “goons” were abusing her and threatening to “rape them”, the cops stood by, without taking any action. Section 144 has been imposed in Delhi University.

Students who were attacked, and who were holding peaceful protests, have been picked up and taken in buses, according to sources. students are alleging that the police is taking them to all kinds of distant places in buses. students have reportedly been brought from the north campus to South Delhi at the Hauz Khas police station too.

What is it about the young followers of the Sangh Parivar that they are almost always so pathetically Hobbesian: short, nasty and brutish? Why is it that they refuse to argue and debate, and instead always choose to flex their muscles and use violent mob power? What compels them to be so illiterate and boorish, when all they could do is enter the seminar peacefully and express their dissent – with refinement and finesse? If you disagree, prove your point. Use the power of argument. Who is stopping them?

Why do all of them compulsively choose to behave like the eternal cow vigilantes of Una and elsewhere, or the lynch mobs of Dadri, or the ‘Hindutva warriors’ who destroyed the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, if not those who ravaged human beings and communities in Gujarat, 2002? Why are they so damned predictable?

If they are in power, and if they are enjoying the trappings of power, then why are they so perpetually angry, so unhappy, frustrated and insecure, about alternative opinions, differing views, parallel streams of consciousness? Surely, they have the entire State and RSS machinery to propagate their ideology – with their favourites appointed in cushy positions across the academic kaleidoscope – from FTII to JNU, HCU to IIMC? So what is this phobia with a simple seminar, a medium of academic dialogue, being quietly held in a hall at a college, on cultures of protest? Why are they so driven by this mad, fanatic frenzy of schizophrenic violence?

Why not hold their own seminar?

If their leaders are their role models, and if kabristan, shamshan and slaughterhouses are the dominant symbols dished out from the pulpit, if not hanging criminals upside down, then there is a vicious method to their repetitive madness, unleashed with the backing and patronage of the state machinery. The current regime has only set yet another ‘achche din’ agenda for its followers in the campuses. Crush all forms of intelligent and democratic dialogue, kill all dissent and debate, eliminate the legitimate and time-tested norms of civilised and academic decency, and brand all and sundry who peacefully protest against your full-scale and large-scale criminalisation -- as anti-national and anti-Hindu. Period.

If you question the surgical strikes -- you are anti-national. If you question demonetisation — you are anti-national. If you question the fanatic and narrow notion of nationalism – you are anti-national. If you question cow vigilantism – you are anti-nationalism. Earlier, they would ask all and sundry who don’t agree with them to go to Pakistan. Now, they are not even allowing a seminar to be held in Delhi University.

In Jodhpur, they suspended an assistant professor for holding a seminar, and a filed an FIR against a JNU professor, who participated in it. In JNU, they are banning open spaces of free speech and discussion. Pray, is this a democracy, or a Nazi State?

They tried it in JNU, HCU, FTII, Jadavpur University last year – they failed miserably. They even tried it inside the court premises – using mob violence as the first and last resort of vigilant justice, brutally attacking students, teachers, journalists etc – they failed. They have tried it in the past – again and again – and they have so terribly failed.

Parasites of State power, bereft of an iota of intellectual or academic content, aggressively sexist, racist and xenophobic, unable to write or ask a simple question in a clear sentence without abuses, trolling or perversities, sick to the core of their soul – they can only flourish under state patronage. Give them the backing of the cops and the government, and their chests fly out of their shirts into 56 inches plus. Give them a level-playing field – in terms of ideas, resistance or politics, peacefully – they will end up playing in full volume some stupid Hindutva song, of mythical cows and milk and honey in mythical times, as ‘besura’ as it can get.

When Narendra Modi first came to SRCC, peaceful students protesting at the north campus of Delhi University were attacked by ABVP goons in full view of the police. This reporter was on the spot, and, when asked, the cops feigned ignorance, ended up backing the ABVP, and charging two professors from St Stephen’s and Hindu College who were protesting in solidarity with the students.

This was much before the May 2014 Lok Sabha elections. When a delegation met a top Congress leader, he did sound out the then home minister under the UPA regime, but, added, with a caveat: “Sections of the police have also become communalized. The fight is not against a man. It is against an ideology.”

This is not a fight anymore; this seems to be becoming a war. From Jodhpur to JNU, a relentless, endless, infinite, breathless war – against intellectual sanity, normative structures of university life and collective discourse, rule of law and conduct of the academia, and basic adherence to basic decency and freedom of the mind. Everything seems to be getting buried and blurred by the ‘instant mob justice’ of self-righteous Hindutva mobs going berserk, and Sangh protagonists in top official positions, let loose on all and sundry, with the backing of the police and the state machinery. The campuses are facing the brunt of it, despite the valiant and infinite resistance of teachers and students. If this is the kind of hate politics in the dominant discourse being witnessed in the polls in UP, it has now found full play with total impunity on the university campuses, as in Delhi University today and yesterday.

Indeed, if the rulers are cocksure of their victory in UP, why are they so desperately using the communal card and so openly? Why pitch community against community in the greatest battleground of peaceful and constitutional democracy – the right to vote? Have the wounds of those raped, murdered and the thousands displaced in Western UP in 2014, healed? So why rake up fresh wounds, injustice and mass insomnia?

Politicians, opposition leaders, students, teachers, women’s groups, trade unions, farmers and workers, the middle and educated classes, the media, the civil society and people’s movements – they will all have to answer these terrible and diabolical questions which are at full play for all to see. We can’t run away from them anymore. In a mobocracy, there is no safe space for anybody.

India cannot become a Nazi Germany. India, with all its fragmentations and inequality, is a pluralist, secular, democratic country. It is our constitutional right to vote peacefully and reject a party or leader – however great a messiah he can be. It is also a constitutional right to debate and discuss, and break the walls of prejudice and dogmatism, and celebrate the free movement of ideas and ideologies, with refinement, restrain and respect to all concerned. It is a right to hold a seminar on ‘Cultures of Protest’, as it is on nationalism at Freedom Square in JNU, or parallel cinema in FTII, or Jai Bhim Comrade in IIMC.

Surely, those who behave like uncivilized violent mobs, they will be defeated finally in the kaleidoscope of free minds and with the currents of civilized pluralism. Surely, those who spread hate politics, they will also be defeated by the steadfast rainbows of secularism. Everything is ephemeral – even very, very dark times. Democracy in India is under strain. Democracy in India has to be reclaimed, like women and youngsters reclaimed the nights in Delhi after the ghastly rape of a paramedic in a bus; like JNU, HCU, FTII and Jadavpur University reclaimed their spaces of intellectual and political resistance and freedom last year, when under siege by the fascists.

Surely, India will not succumb. The students and teachers of this country will not succumb. The Ramjas campus will not succumb. The seminar will continue, so will the resistance. We shall overcome.