In the light of Jodhpur University’s February 16 decision to suspend Rajshree Ranawat, an assistant professor in the English department, for inviting Prof Nivedita Menon to deliver a lecture on nationalism on campus earlier this month, The Wire is republishing an article Menon wrote about the ‘controversy’ earlier this month.
Turn your eyes away, gentle reader. You have already become anti-national by viewing this image.
More on this in a minute. First some background.
On the 3rd of February, ABVP called a bandh in Jai Narain Vyas University (JNVU), Jodhpur, forcibly stopping classes and demanding suspension of the organizers of a conference and police action against them, as well as against myself. Police complaints have now been lodged, and perhaps FIRs, we hear.
The charge? The conference, and my lecture in particular, was anti-national. Not one of these ABVP students attended the event, nor is there yet a video recording available to my knowledge, largely because the ABVP also gathered in intimidatingly large numbers outside the shop that had conducted the recording, and the owner shut up the shop and fled. The entire drama and some sensationalist and outright false stories in the local Hindi press, is based entirely on the testimony of one person, NK Chaturvedi, retired professor from the History department at JNVU, who attended just one session, mine.
At the end of my lecture, he informed me that he had seen me on YouTube and had come to see for himself how anti-national I am. But more on that exchange later. The point is that the blatantly false media coverage and the frenzy whipped up in JNVU is based entirely on the testimony of this one person who on his own admission, had come to measure me against the standards of his own deshbhakti. He did not attend a single other session.
On February 1 and 2, 2017, The English Department organized a conference titled “History Reconstrued through Literature: Nation, Identity, Culture”. Among the speakers were the Chairperson of ICHR, Sudarshan Rao, Sandip Dikshit of the Congress and scholar Himanshu Roy who replaced the original invitee, Seshadri Chari of the RSS when he declined due to ill health. Apart from these there were several academics and practitioners from universities and institutions in Delhi, Gujarat and Rajasthan; among them, Ameena Kazi Ansari and Rizwan Kaiser from Jamia Milia Delhi, Avdhesh Kumar Singh from IGNOU, Ashutosh Mohan from GGS University, Balaji Raghunathan from Central University of Gujarat, Gauhar Raza, scientist and film-maker, Aishwarya Bhati, Supreme Court advocate.
Evidently, the key organizer, Rajshree Ranawat, faculty member in the department, had ensured that the widest possible range of political and scholarly views were represented. There were also presentations by young research scholars and younger faculty on their areas of research, ranging from George Orwell in the era of Trump, to Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwesh and the writing of Shashi Deshpande.
A scholarly, stimulating academic event, to a room of about a hundred students, male and female, undergraduate and research scholars, an event marked by debate and sometimes sharp disagreements among panelists, and challenging questions from students to speakers. It was a wildly successful conference, and on any other planet but the RSS griha, the Conference Director Rajshree Ranawat and her colleague Vinu George would have been congratulated and felicitated by their university, the local press would have reported the conference in glowing terms.
Now here are the two “news” stories that were published yesterday, the only reportage on the event.
Please note that the picture of me is from an event held years ago in Delhi. Why is this relevant? Because not a single photograph from the actual event is available with these “reporters”.
Why? Because not one of them attended the event.
I will not reproduce my entire lecture (delivered in English) from my lecture notes here, I will simply pick up the distortions and outright lies in these reports.
1. I did not at this event, ever make the statement “India is illegally occupying Kashmir,”as one of the headlines claims. When Rajshree Ranawat was introducing me, she began by saying that this is the scholar who became well known for her statement during the JNU nationalism lectures, and then she quoted verbatim what I had said in JNU a year ago, including the phrase above. She said this scholar was hounded by the media on the basis of a decontextualised clip from the JNU lecture, which included this statement.
During my lecture at JNVU on 2nd February this year, what I said about Kashmir and the North-East was the following. As young students, you should read for yourself and find out the history of how Kashmir and the states of the North East were brought into India, and ask yourself why these places have to be retained in India through the massive presence of armed forces. This took about five minutes, while one of the reports says I spoke for 45 minutes on Kashmir.
I could well have spoken for the entire duration of the approximately hour long lecture on Kashmir, that is my constitutional right. But as it happens, I did not.
My point is that the headline distorts what happened in that room. Did I make that statement? Yes, at a lecture delivered a year ago, quoted by the person introducing me. What did I say at this lecture? Isn’t that the point? I am a serious scholar and academic, I don’t simply go around repeating the same things everywhere. This lecture had a different focus, and I said different kinds of things.
My views on Kashmir and India are available in writing, in Hindi in which the lecture was delivered, in the volume of the JNU lecture series that has now been published – What the Nation really Needs to Know (Harper Collins 2017).
2. Did I show the map of India “ulta”? Guilty as charged. I showed the picture that is at the top of this post, and asked the students in the audience to ask themselves why it appears upside down. Because after all, we all know the earth is round, and nothing is upside down or right side up. There was delighted and surprised laughter from the young people who suddenly understood what I was saying. This was in the context of my critique of the Hindutvavaadi and RSS notion of nationalism, which sees the nation as a body, the body of the mother. This implies that the nation pre-exists the people, and so if some group wants to leave the nation, it can only be seen as amputation or dismemberment. But in fact, the people pre-exist the nation, they have lived on this earth for millenia, and it is they who decide in what sorts of organizations to live. The nation-state as a form is only about 300 years old, and nation-states are both dissolving as in Europe, and being reasserted in other places, including India.
I said the RSS Bharat Mata can be easily transposed on to the map of India we are familiar with, with Kashmir as the head, Bengal and Gujarat as the arms and so on, but if we turn the map the other way round, which is still an accurate depiction of the region, suddenly you can see that the nation is not a natural unchanging object, but something constructed by people.
For the information of the astoundingly ignorant RSS and its storm troopers, the ABVP – the map of India is not the flag of India, and there is no way in which you can show a map “upside down”!
3. Did I say that soldiers join the army for a livelihood and not because of patriotism? Partially true. I did say they join the army for a livelihood. I did not at any point question their patriotism. I said that sons of poor families join the armed forces to feed their families, and that they are treated badly. I referred to the picture of the rotten food men at the border are served, that BSF Constable Tej Bahadur Yadav had posted on social media, and how he was being harassed and attacked by the state. Meanwhile his actual charges are not being addressed at all. This is the treatment actually meted out to soldiers, while the hypocritical celebration of our brave soldiers at the border is continually used by RSS and its hordes, to attack those of us who are critical of this corporate driven, Islamophobic, manuvaadi and misogynist regime.
4. Did I say that the RSS Bharat Mata does not ever hold the national flag, the tiranga in her hand? Oh yes, I did. (One report says I asked why does the RSS Bharat Mata hold the tiranga in her hand! I am speechless at this kind of motivated ignorance, stupidity and malice.)
I did also counterpose the RSS Bharat Mata – apparently savarna, fair skinned, laden with ornaments, holding always the RSS bhagwa jhanda never the tiranga; with artist Lal Ratnakar’s Bharat Mata, the proud adivasi/dalit/mazdoor woman, dark skinned, holding her work tools, standing before a buffalo, with the tiranga behind her.
RSS Bharat Mata
Artist Lal Ratnakar’s Bharat Mata
Did I say this image is a better representation of Bharat Mata? Yes I did.
ADDING A POINT HERE:
There are also claims that I said “Siachen should be given up.” I said Siachen should be demilitarized, and that there is an international campaign for this, on ecological grounds as well as because soldiers on both sides die there routinely from natural disasters. Here is a link to an article by an Indian strategic studies scholar who does not fully trust Pakistan to honour a pull-back agreement, but still thinks it worth making a sincere attempt on both sides to demilitarize Siachen because of the grave environmental concerns posed by the fragile ecozone there.
Now I don’t expect Hindutvavaadi trolls to understand the difference, but I do believe that most others would understand that to “demilitarize” means that all sides withdraw troops, not just one side. It is not India “giving up” Siachen. You may disagree on demilitarizing Siachen, but it is not “anti-national” to hold such a view.
5. Did I attack Hindutva? Yes I did. I differentiated between Hinduism and Hindutva or Hindutvavaad. Hinduism as a heterogeneous set of religious practices, that have cultural roots and deep meaning, which I respect as I do all religious practices. Hindutvavaad or Hindutva as a political ideology that claims only Hindus have the right to be citizens of this country. I said that most Hindus do not accept Hindutva as an ideology. That Hindutva is violent and masculinist, and paradoxically, tries to fill Hindus with anxiety and fear about Muslim domination, Muslim men and so on, rather than making Hindus as the majority in this country feel confident enough to live peacefully with other religious communities.
Hindutvavaadis and RSS keep trying to conflate the two. I said this is wrong.
I also said Hinduism is deeply marked by caste discrimination, and excludes and discriminates violently against Dalits, and to that extent Hinduism is to be criticized as well. That Savarkar in fact was opposed to caste discrimination but modern day Hindutvavaadis don’t read him or respect his views.
The audience in the room agreed with me, as was evident by their applause every time I replied to a challenge from Chaturvedi.
I closed my lecture by stating that I believe that the majority of the young people of this country oppose Hindtuvavaadi politcs and the politics of hate of the RSS. And they applauded enthusiastically, every single one of them.
It is these students who will fight Hindutva and defeat it. Chaturvedi could see that. He knows the end of the RSS is near.
That is why he started off this process. That is why he called up Rajshree after the news reports appeared, and she had started being hounded by her university, and gloated – “Ab madam, kaise lag raha hai?” (How do you feel now, Madam?)
“Bahut badhiya“, she replied. “Aap ne hamein surkhiyon mein laga diya, heroine bana diya. Shukriya.” (Great! You have put me in the headlines, made me a heroine. Thanks)
Don’t think people like Rajshree Ranawat are so easily intimidated, Chaturvedi!
My lecture was anti-RSS and anti-Hindutva. Therefore, I hold it was in fact utterly patriotic, because a more anti-national organisation than the RSS does not exist.
Nivedita Menon is a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
This article was first published at Kafila and has been reproduced here with permission.