A day after the Jawaharlal Nehru University debacle, Surekha Pillai, a student in her 20s, sits with a book in her lap, outside Gate No. 10 at Jamia Millia Islamia, reading. Behind her is a banner that says: ‘We learn together’, with the Preamble to the Constitution of India and photographs of Mahatma Gandhi forming a part of an ongoing photo exhibition.
She, and about 50-60 others who sit here every day, all with books in their hands, are a part of the Read for Revolution protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and all-India National. Register of Citizens. “The best way to improve yourself, to calm yourself, to become more tolerant is to pick up a book and read,” says Gayathri Sreedharan. She feels she’s doing her bit, as a subset of the larger protests: “Reading is possibly the most subtle political act,” she adds.
She’s still deeply disturbed by the December 15 incident at Jamia Millia Islamia. The violence in JNU has fuelled the anger — both institutions have involved students being injured, some grievously. With Jamia’s central library — the Zakir Husain Library — closed, Read for Revolution is the students’ way of protesting against the crackdown on education institutions.
Ironically, the library, named after Dr. Zakir Husain, former President of India and Jamia’s former Vice Chancellor, turned 100 this year. The library that’s usually open seven days a week, even during vacation time, has been shut after it was vandalised.
Sahil Ahmed and Tanya Sablok decided to set up a small makeshift library on December 24th, which they named Read for Revolution, right outside the university gate behind which the locked, empty reading room sits. They began with reading aloud on Satyagrah and Hindu-Muslim ekta from books like Hind Swaraj, Jamia Aur Gandhi, and The Constitution.
“We wanted to have a non-violent Gandhian way of protesting,” says Sahil, who is doing a master’s degree in Peace and Conflict. Jamia was one of the several educational institutions established in response to the call of non-cooperation by Gandhi.
People from the Gandhi Peace Foundation, writers like Rana Safvi, author of The Forgotten Cities of Delhi; teachers and scholars have donated books to the protest library.
While the crowd attending increases over the weekend, on January 3rd, the numbers swelled with many readers and writers (Archana Atree, Tanushree Singh, Rupa Gulab, Sayoni Basu) coming together with students to commemorate the birth anniversary of Savitribai Phule. She had fought for the rights of education, especially for women and the minorities in the 19th century.
Reading protesters like Gayathri feel it’s important to sit here and read, to make a point about being able to learn through books no matter what. Sahil and his fellow organisers invite participation from readers of all ages, to join them for regular reading sessions as well as for the exhibit on 100 years of the university itself.
At Gate No. 10, Jamia Millia Islamia; daily, 12 noon-5.30 p.m.