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The last bastions of secular India

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The Jamia Millia, AMU assaults show a dangerous convergence of the Modi regime’s anti-Muslim, anti-university agenda

The battle against the Hindu Rashtra has to be fought simultaneously on all fronts — in electoral contests, in legislatures, in the courts, in the media, in social movements — but most of all, in universities. This is because our universities are now the last remaining line of resistance to the complete fascist takeover of our democratic polity and its myriad institutions. There is simply no option but the one being exercised by students on campuses across the country today: if these young people falter, all will be lost. As parents, as teachers, as voters, as citizens, we have to support them with all our might.

Unravelling the Republic

No official declaration was made, but ever since the Modi 2.0 regime came to power in May 2019, the Constitution has been put on notice and India has been de facto in a state of emergency. Normal life was openly suspended at first in Kashmir, starting with the announcement of the dilution of Article 370 and abrogation of Article 35A on August 5. This suspension is now encroaching on several States of the Northeast, with complete communications blackouts, curfew, and massive paramilitary deployment becoming alarmingly commonplace measures.

Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh suddenly lost their combined statehood; the entire political and civil society leadership of the Valley of Kashmir was placed under preventative detention, where it continues to be four-and-a-half months later; and 50,000 more troops were sent in to occupy the region that already has close to three quarters of a million stationed there. At 136 days, Kashmir has had one of the longest Internet shutdowns in any democracy, ever. There is no word from Central authorities to indicate when this altogether extraordinary situation will cease.

Next, the Supreme Court verdict on the Ayodhya case gave the go-ahead for the construction of a Ram Mandir at the very site of the destroyed mosque. From the siege and lockdown of a disputed Muslim-majority area like Kashmir, from one protracted legal conflict over a single house of worship in the Ram Janmabhoomi case, the entire Muslim population of India, numbering close to 200 million, has now been presented with an existential threat in the form of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 and the National Register of Citizens. This process of systematic exclusion that points towards the ultimate elimination of hundreds of thousands of Muslims from the count of citizens, from property ownership, from the electoral rolls, and from any kind of legal recognition as Indians, began in Assam but is now on the verge of being imposed nation-wide.

Campus and nation

Meanwhile, the state’s assault on universities has been ongoing since Mr. Modi’s first term in office. A few different agendas of Hindutva ideology were unleashed on campuses like the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, Hyderabad Central University, and Jadavpur University in West Bengal, among others.

This multi-point programme includes: one, dismantling public institutions of higher education and privatising this sector; two, disenfranchising the humanities and social sciences because they encourage critical thinking (and especially targeting the discipline of history); three, gutting the bastions of left, liberal and secular intellectuals; fourth, retracting the opportunity for education from weaker sections of society, including Dalits, women, minorities, backward castes, Scheduled Tribes, and the poor; fifth, undoing the gains of egalitarian struggles like the feminist, Ambedkarite and left-wing movements; and lastly, shutting down spaces for free speech, dissent and resistance, so threatening to all authoritarian governments.

From the weekend of December 14-15, universities like Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi and the Aligarh Muslim University have practically been turned into war-zones, with the Central government in the capital and the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Uttar Pradesh sending in police that has been kicking and beating, freely wielding sticks and batons, releasing tear-gas, entering libraries, hostels and toilets, and roughing up students. The sheer brutality towards male and female students alike has been shocking, with dozens of youngsters injured and hospitalised, and hundreds forced to leave their campuses overnight. The supposed pretext for this assault on unarmed students is that they protested — albeit peacefully — against the contentious and draconian Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, pushed through Parliament just earlier in the week.

Here we find a convergence of the Modi-Shah regime’s anti-Muslim and anti-university designs. Jamia and AMU being minority institutions (albeit with plenty of non-Muslim students, faculty and staff in both universities), they present in one place an opportunity to terrorise Muslims and intimidate students. They also insult and repudiate a tradition of secular, nationalist and integrationist Muslim politics that carried the day at the time of decolonisation and throughout the Nehruvian period in the postcolonial republic.

Hindutva’s endgame

Those who populate these campuses are the exact target group for the bigots who rule India now. Their patriotism is suspect. Their rights are fair game. Their citizenship is precarious. Their very appearance, to paraphrase the Prime Minister, singles them out (for what, one wonders). Their physical existence and their presence as a group is an affront to the Hindu Rashtra. They trigger what Arjun Appadurai, in his analysis of majoritarian nationalism, calls “the fear of small numbers”. They provide the perfect occasion for those practising majoritarian politics to turn “predatory” — seeking to swallow up the minority, to narrow and eventually close the gap between the largest identity group and the totality of the ethnos.

What the creators of Hindutva wanted from the very beginning was the separation of a Hindu nation from a Muslim nation. The long road to India’s independence and the making of its Constitution did not permit such a divided and divisive outcome. Now that the Hindu Right has captured absolute power — democratically — they seek to effect a second communal Partition of India, to unravel our secular Constitution, to render illegal and stateless millions of our fellow-citizens, and to subdue our young people —the real majority — into voiceless, docile, obedient subjects.

As batons and bullets rain down on India’s students, Muslims and Hindus alike, all those who care for democracy must stand with them and stand up to the fascist behemoth. The alternative is too terrifying to contemplate.

Ananya Vajpeyi, a Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi, is currently a Visiting Fellow at CRASSH, Cambridge University

 

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 1:52:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-last-bastions-of-secular-india/article30341745.ece

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