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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 16 New Delhi April 9, 2016

Celebrating a People’s Historian in Terrible Times

Sunday 10 April 2016, by Humra Quraishi


On Monday, March 28, the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for Historical Studies hosted a day-long convention—Jashn-e-Azaadi: Remem-bering Bipan Chandra... celebrating the people’s historian, Bipan Chandra, and celebrating the Indian Freedom Struggle. It was simply heart-warming to see that josh/that surcharged warmth, spread out in and around the venue, JNU’s Convention Centre. Discussions, talks, short plays together with lectures on the pluralistic traditions and performance by Madan Gopal Singh and his ‘Chaar Yaar’ group. The highlight was to hear Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya. These three student leaders spoke for about ten minutes each and spoke of the ground realities; in fact, Anirban also focused on the ground realities in the Kashmir Valley—thousands of Kashmiris killed or dumped in the missing persons’ slot or in those unmarked graves... These young students spoke with a sense of conviction... conviction brimming in their eyes, in their gait, in their body language.

Another aspect which was amply noticeable was that sense of bonding between the faculty with the students. It’s rare to see this solidarity, needless to add that it ought to be one of those musts on a campus but a rarity... It was touching to see Prof Mridula Mukherjee, Prof Aditya Mukherjee, Prof Mahalakshmi, Prof Rakesh Batabyal and several other academics being there! Not just for the students but also for all those who are hounded by today’s fascist rulers and by lopsided notions of nationalism. To quote these academics, ‘Today, when university campuses, students and intellectuals are constantly facing ideological attacks and a certain definition of “nationalism” is being imposed across the country, we want to articulate our voice in defence of democracy by remembering the famous historian and public intellectual Prof Bipan Chandra. We want to counter-pose the communalism of the Hindu communal forces with the nationalism that we have inherited from the Indian national movement. Our nationalism has been enriched by the ideas and works of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rabindranath Tagore, Dr B.R. Ambedkar and Maulana Azad, and is the foundation of an inclusive, secular and democratic Indian nation. Writing about the national movement, Bipan Chandra said, “A legacy, especially of a prolonged movement, tends to endure for a long time. But no legacy, however strong and sound, can last forever. It tends to erode and become irrelevant unless it is constantly rein-forced and developed and sometimes transcended in a creative manner to suit the changing circumstances.”’

Hounding in the name of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai...’

With news just coming in (on this Wednesday noon... March 30, when I am writing this column) of at least three if not four madrasa children attacked and thrashed. All this happening on the outskirts of this Capital city, in the Begampur locality. And why were these madrasa children attacked? Because whilst they were walking in a nearby park they were surrounded by goons (quite obviously from the RSS-VHP-BJP brigades) and forced to chant—Bharat Mata ki Jai!

Madrasa children stand out with their white cotton/khadi kurta pyjama attires and skull caps, with that easy targets for the Right-wing brigades. Also, these attackers realize that they have governmental backing so wouldn’t have to face the expected aftermath.

But, yes, one does expect Child Rights forums and the Human Rights Commissions to speak up for these hapless children! In fact, all of us have to speak out. Today its these madrasa children, tomorrow it could be me or you or just about anybody trying to put up a stiff resistance.

Coming to this latest tactic—chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai or else you are declared an anti national—is another of those ploys to bring about yet another round of division amongst the masses. Yes, these are terrible times. The Right-wing brigades are using every and all possible tactics to break the very backbone of all those of us putting up a resistance. According to me, all the ‘Right-wingers’ are the biggest enemy of this land and should be declared deshdrohis.

Thankfully some amongst us are speaking out... First it was Asaduddin Owaisi who refused to chant this particular slogan and refused to be bullied by the RSS brigades. And now the latest to do so is the well-known Sikh leader, Simranjit Singh Mann, who was formerly in the IPS. Last week he said that Sikhs “cannot” chant the slogan ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, as “Sikhs don’t worship women in any form”. To quote him from a recent news report—“According to the BJP, one who doesn’t say ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ is not a patriot and can be tried for sedition... Sikhs should say ‘Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh’.” Mann also said: “The BJP must know that Sikhs can’t say: ‘Vande Matram’ ...Also, Hindu religious scriptures like the Geeta should not be imposed on people from other religions as has been done in BJP-ruled States.”

Whilst I am keying in, it’s just struck—why can’t we chant—‘As—salaam—alaikum to my Hindustan’! Yes, why not! After all, ‘As-salaam-alaikum’ means peace be on you! Yes, I want and pray for peace to prevail on this land... peace which is getting shattered by fascist rulers.

Another thought I must offload. Now, that Mehbooba Mufti is all set to join hands with the fascist forces, one can’t rule out the possibility of she and her colleagues getting ordered or forced or bullied or blackmailed to chant slogans directed from the RSS-BJP headquarters. Refusal to do so could land her and her colleagues with the expected backlash: anti-national deshdrohi tags and much more thrown at them ...

Naïve or short-sighted for the PDP to be welcoming fascist forces to spread out and establish base in the Valley, ruining it for times to come. Amen!

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