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The Need To Re-invent Our Vocabulary of Solidarity

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The following is the talk delivered by Heba Ahmed at Madhyamam Literary Fest organised on March 4, 2017. Heba Ahmed is a research scholar at Centre for Political Studies, JNU. She is general secretary of YFDA(Youth Forum for Discussion & Welfare Activities). She attended this fest as its representative. This transcript has been prepared by Wafa Razak from farook College.  

“Good afternoon everyone. This is my first visit to Kerala, not just to Calicut and I am really grateful to Madhyamam for giving me the opportunity to visit Tirur and also to speak to all of you. We are living in the times of fascist Hindutva onslaught in universities and elsewhere right now. In a time like this to be able to speak freely, without fear, to be able to state one’s position on campus politics has also become a privilege, because the Sangh Parivar and forces of Hindutva do not want students like us to speak freely, or to keep our opinions among people without hesitation or fear of being beaten up.

That is exactly what happened in Delhi University a week ago.Students were assaulted and attacked all because there was going to be a seminar on ‘cultures of protest’. Students were beaten up and the police sided with the members of the ABVP in beating up students of Ramjas College in Delhi university. This attack is a pattern in Hindutva’s onslaught in universities. The attack in DU was not the first one. There have been previous instances of that.There have been even murderous assaults in universities and the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula was the most spectacular example of that. ABVP in cahoots with the central ministry and even with the HCU administration conspired to compel Rohith Vemula to end his own life. This is because Rohith Vemula was a Dalit student with a very courageous voice against Brahmanism, Hindutva and casteism. He protested, he chose to ask questions, and he chose to question the influential role which Hindutva has come to attain in our universities. The institutional murder of Rohith Vemula was supposed to be a disciplinary action for all students like us who aspire to not just study in universities to not just educate ourselves but also to agitate and to organize, as Babasaheb said.

But then the enforced disappearance of Najeeb Ahmed happened following almost a year after Rohith Vemula’s institutional murder. Najeeb Ahmed disappeared from JNU on the 15th of October last year. Rohith Vemula has been institutionally murdered and Najeeb Ahmed has been forcibly disappeared from JNU. The enforced disappearance of a student like Najeeb Ahmed is even more dangerous because Najeeb had yet not been inducted into campus politics. He had come to study and to do research in M.Sc. Biotechnology.He was attacked by the ABVP on a supposed provocation. It was said that he took offence to a sacred thread worn by some ABVP member, but there are no grounds to support this claim. Let us remind ourselves of the favourite trope that Hindutva uses to attack and to kill Muslims: the action-reaction formula. It began with Narendra Modi saying that the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat is justified as per this formula.Because there has been an action in Godhra, therefore the reaction, the pogrom of Muslims in Gujarat is justified. But the alleged “action” itself is a complete lie; because as we know after 15 years of the Gujarat massacre, the pogrom was not a reaction but a well-conspired well-planned state-sponsored massacre. And the same trope of the action-reaction was replayed during the enforced disappearance of Najeeb Ahmed. It was said that he was the one to start the attack, he was the one to slap someone and therefore the assault on Najeeb by ABVP members is fully justified.

I don’t know with which concept of justice Hindutva tries to reason this out: you beat me once and I will beat you a 100 times. Perhaps this is what justice in Hindutva terms looks like:not justice, but an intense urge for revengeful hatred against Muslims, something we saw in JNU itself. And the reason why I’m mentioning this in detail is that somehow it makes us question the comfort zone of universities like JNU. Many students in this country aspire to go to JNU because it is a premier university in the country. But what if a student coming from a small town in Uttar Pradesh, from a town called Badayun, to JNU where he spends 2 weeks, is not able to make friends in that small amount of time and is just known to be a Muslim boy studying in biotechnology in JNU?And that is the reason why the enforced disappearance of Najeeb is even more scary. Because he wasn’t asking any questions yet. He was just studying and that is what Hindutva does not want us to do. And the reason why this attack on Najeeb is even more dangerous is because there are many demands which Muslim students like us make in JNU: to make the campus more inclusive, to make sure that JNU implements minority deprivation points, so that the percentage of Muslim students in JNU can increase.Right now, Muslim students form a very small percentage in JNU. But then when ABVP along with the administration is able to successfully carry out an enforced disappearance, it makes our struggle for social justice so much more difficult. We can argue for social justice only when we assume that we have safety and security of our lives in JNU, in every university campus. If the life and liberty of that person is put at risk, or is negated, and a person is physically removed from campus, it makes our struggle to ensure the presence of Muslim students and to ensure that Muslim students should study in campuses without any fear more difficult.  Then instead of arguing for deprivation points, instead of arguing for inclusion, instead of arguing for recognition, we have to argue that give us the freedom to exist at least. Give us the freedom to exist physically. This demand of liberty and security of personhood isa fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. Hindutva is trying to negate this right because it operates not according to the constitution, but according to the Manusmrithi.

There was this video which was circulating on social media,in which an ABVP member called Satwinder Awana is quoting the constitution in DU. He’s quoting the constitution to justify why members of the ABVP had attacked students and he says that according to article 19 ‘any student who speaks against the nation can be declared an anti-national’. People like Satwinder Awana misquote the constitution for their own benefit; they’re not only completely ignorant of the constitution, but they also misuse the constitution in justifying the assaults which ABVP does on students in DU, JNU, HCU, and even universities in Kerala. As we argue that more and more students from marginalised sections should aspire, should be able to go to universities, should be able to pursue higher education, even as we make this demand, the fascist conspiracy of Hindutva of the Sangh Parivar is absolutely intent in weeding out students from universities,so that students from marginalized sections such as Dalits and Muslims, do not go and study in universities like JNU. That is the message that Hindutva wants to give to Muslim students like Najeeb Ahmed who aspire to research in science or social science.

The assault on Najeeb Ahmed did not stop there. The administration took no steps in securing any kind of justice for him.The administration in fact took the opportunity to turn our protest spaces in JNU into prison spaces. There were iron bars installed at the places where we stand and protest. Najeeb’s family members, his mother Fatima Nafees and his sister Sadaf Irshad  have been harassed continuously by the administration. They have been humiliated when we went to protest in different places in Delhi. We even went to Lucknow, we went to Badayun, we took out rallies for insaaf, for justice from Badayun and Lucknow. What was the response of the Hindutva state apparatus? No action been taken against those people who assaulted Najeeb. On the contrary, people demanding justice for Najeeb Ahmed have been harassed. The Delhi police conducted a raid in Najeeb’s house, in his relatives’ house in the middle of the night. The reason they did this is to intimidate Fatima Nafees, and Najeeb’s relatives so that they withdraw the legal process in Delhi High Court right now. So this is what Hindutva and fascism intend right now: ”We will kill you, We will remove you from campuses, we will negate your demands for education and we will also oppress you when you try and secure justice and try to protest against us” .

If Hindutva is intensifying its attack upon ourselves and our protest spaces, our cultures of protest should also strengthen and intensify themselves. And therefore the meaning of solidarity must be re-examined. Solidarity must be given without questions, without limiting the meaning of solidarity. And solidarity is so much the need of this hour. Solidarity must be given irrespective of political differences. Something perhaps which our university campuses have not learnt to do as yet. Especially in campuses which are dominated by certain leftist modes of resistance. Solidarity is often a trade-off: I will give you my solidarity only if you adhere to the political vocabulary which I propound. And therefore when we were arguing that Najeeb’s disappearance must be seen as an attack on Muslim students, there were many voices in JNU who refused to accept that. These dominant voices argued that if we call Najeeb a Muslim student, Hindutva will be able to polarize students even more.I don’t see how we can claim ourselves to be a successful democracy if we are so shy of given recognition to the minorities of this country. And therefore our vocabularies of solidarity in universities like JNU have to radically reinvent themselves so that we can make a space for recognition, so that a Muslim woman gets solidarity not just because she has removed the hijab from her hair.This is the solidarity which must be given to Salwa, I think she’s here right now. Salwa Abdul Khader does not need to claim herself as a non-practicing Muslim to be able to get solidarity for the attacks of SFI which were unleashed on her. We need to question our own prejudice, our own limitations of giving solidarity,such that when we protest against Hindutva, our protest is not a compromise.

When fascism makes itself manifest in any system, everyone else tries to adjust themselves to the right wing shift.In this process of adjustment,protest issues are prioritized. Within this hierarchy of priorities, the first casualty isthe radical voice, the one demanding Azadi for Kashmir, for example. Next are those voices who argue for the recognition of Muslim and Dalit students. But how far can we compromise on our solidarity? We all love quoting Martin Niemoller, that first it came for so and so and I did not protest because I was not that person, but instead of just reducing those quotes from fascist Germany into our speeches, let us enact those quotes in our day to day acts of solidarity. Instead of qualifying our acts of solidarity by stating that so and so is an extreme leftist, so and so is a Muslim student so and so is a Dalit student, let’s all reinvent our vocabulary of solidarity of protest, so that we can stand up for each and every student, each and every victim who has been attacked by Hindutva.

The agenda of the Sangh parivar is to continuously restrict our solidarity and our protest spaces. If we let our solidarity,our protest spaces get compromised by the  fascist conspiracy, we are already letting them defeat us. So instead of restricting our vocabulary of solidarity, let us reinvent it. Let us make it more inclusive, even to include those with whom we may have political differences. It’s good to have political differences. But in an age of fascism, if we make political differences the ground for not giving solidarity, a ground to not condemn those acts of fascism which are there within the Brahmanical left, then we will have already conceded much ground to Hindutva. And I hope we do not do that anymore. I hope we can have more radical acts of solidarity in the days to come.

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