The targeting of Umar and Anirban shows the deep hatred towards the idea of education that produces contrarian opinions.
We stand disgraced as a country today, for two students of JNU, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, surrendered last night.
Why did they have to surrender? Because a witch hunt is on. Because someone, anyone, but especially a Muslim, has to be caught. The younger the better, and more importantly, the more innocent the better. Umar may never have felt like a Muslim and no one at JNU may have ever made him feel like that. Anyone can see that he is no terrorist. But it is the task of the state to show that he is a Muslim first, and hence, by definition, first a sympathiser of Pakistan and a terrorist, and everything else later.
We will convert Umar to Islam. We, as a nation, have already converted him to Islam. The rites of passage have to be gone through, that is all. The police station, the courts, the lawyers, the case, the charges, the arguments and the counter-arguments will all be necessary for the conversion, the stamping of a fine young man as a villain, of an atheist as a believer, of what is a truth metamorphosed into a lie. But that won’t further our disgrace. Disgraced we are, already.
The surrender took place because of one fact: prejudice has reached such levels that we do not see it any more. Some sections of the media have been strident in baying for Umar’s blood – some channels are showing pictures of Umar as if he were some dreaded terrorist, an Osama Bin Laden, a wanted man – that it is surprising that we live in a free nation.
Such heresy would not have been in sight had the name of the person been anything else, maybe Shyam Surjewala or Govind Mehta. Does the police act with such alacrity, such efficiency, such swift footedness, in other cases where FIRs are filed? The answer is too obvious to be stated.
But where the target is easy, where the quarry is defenceless, there the police must act. Where the target is a Muslim, on top of that young and bright, someone who can articulate his opinions, then we have to get him, we have to get on top of him and crush him under the weight of a Kafkaesque nightmare. For that is what the police is for in this country. Umar must see the full weight of the great country he lives in – the country of clerks and bureaucrats, of files and notices, of policemen and lawyers, of hearings and postponements, of endless trials and hackneyed judgments. A country that has already decided who is innocent and guilty without a trial.
Umar’s education has just begun. He was mistaken in thinking that he was being educated at JNU. We will teach him. We, the disgraced ones. We are the true professors.
JNU has shown great unity and resilience in these trying circumstances. The resistance of the students is commendable and exciting as well. Something new has come up. Some hope is still there for this country. But JNU is not the country and the country is not JNU. The country is wrapped in the vestments of medieval prejudice and emotions that must be acted upon. Reason is not at a premium here.
The targeting of Umar and Anirban shows the deep hatred towards the idea of education that produces contrarian opinions. Education is fine with us as long as it leads to a job but the idea that education can open our minds and make us feel differently and see differently is so alien to our culture that students like Umar or Anirban shock and surprise us.
How can a person feel for the poor? How can someone have a political opinion that does not celebrate free market economics? How can a person have a different opinion at all? To have a different opinion is an absurdity, something impossible to even understand. This is how sections of the media have reacted. We don’t understand people like Umar or Anirban. They are not people at all, just some strange animals, maybe not even human. We call them anti-nationals, a new species of humans, who are fun to hunt and whose blood we can bay for in this renewed game of nationalism. A fun game to play, as we, devoid of opinions and rights, with our tepid education, sipping our tea and eating our cakes and paying our taxes, can take some pleasure at seeing the innocent crushed by the system we support.
It is certainly true that we are a great nation, that we have a great culture, that we have great achievements to our credit, but there are moments of disgrace and shame that we must recognise if we have to continue to be great. Today is a such a moment.
Nilanjan Bhowmick is an Assistant Professor in Delhi University’s Department of Philosophy.