The JNU Student Union president’s speech after being released from jail was carried live by most news TV channels and displaced Prime Minister Modi’s parliament speech in newspaper headlines on Friday morning.
From this platform on behalf of all of you, as JUNUSU president I take this opportunity of the media’s presence to thank and salute the people of this country. I want to thank all the people across the world, academicians and students, who have stood with JNU. I salute them (lal salaam).
I also wish to acknowledge and thank all the people standing firm with the struggle, who are demanding justice for Rohith Vemula, be they from the media or civil society, political or non-political. I salute them. (lal salaam).
I especially wish to thank the worthies of this country sitting in parliament who claim it is they who decide what is right and what is wrong. Thank you to them, their police and also to the media channels… [resounding cheers] In our parts they say, so what if one’s name was vilified, it got one some publicity! At least they gave space to JNU on primetime even if it was to vilify it.
I have no rancour against anyone – none whatsoever against the ABVP [Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, student wing of the BJP]. You know why? (crowd roars – why?) Because the ABVP on our campus is actually more rational than the ABVP outside the campus. I have one suggestion for all those people who consider themselves political pundits – kindly watch the recording of the last presidential debate to see the state the ABVP candidate was reduced to. When we decimated the sharpest ABVP intellect there is in the country, which happens to be in the ABVP of JNU, you can draw your own conclusions about what awaits you in the rest of the country. There is no ill-will against ABVP because we are truly democratic; we truly believe in the constitution, and that is why we look at the ABVP not as enemies but as the opposition. Rest assured, my friend, I will not indulge in any witch-hunt against you for the simple reason that one has to be worthy enough to be hunted….
JNU has shown the way. JNU stands unshakeable today to state what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong. The best thing about this protest is that it is spontaneous. I am stressing this aspect because everything on their part was planned.
We have unstinting faith in the constitution of this country, the laws of this country and the judicial process of this country. We also believe that the only truth is change, and we are standing here rooting for change. This change will come about, make no mistake
We have unstinting faith in the constitution. With all our alertness we stand fully behind the articles of faith declared in the preamble – socialism, secularism, equality.
I don’t want to give a speech here; I want to tell you about my experience. Earlier I studied more, endured the system less. This time I studied less and endured the system more. Since JNU has a tradition of research I can say I have primary data, first hand information! First things first – I don’t want to say anything about the judicial process. I have said just one thing – and all the people of this country who truly believe in the constitution and want to bring Babasaheb’s dreams to fruition would have taken the hint. I don’t want to say anything about the matter that is sub judice.
So the honourable prime minister has tweeted. He says, Satyamev Jayate [truth will prevail] (laughter). My reply is as follows: honourable prime minister, I have serious ideological differences with you but Satyamev Jayate is not your slogan; it is the motto of the country and the constitution, so I too will happily say Satyamev Jayate.
Truth will emerge victorious….In my village – you have become acquainted with my family these past days – we have confidence men at our railway stations trying to trick people into buying a ‘lucky’ ring that will give them anything they desire.
We have some policy makers in our country who are cast in the same mould. They say many things – black money will return, har har modi, this killing inflation will come down, sab ka saath sab ka vikas. Although Indians easily forget such things, the spectacle this time was so huge that we are unable to forget the slogans.
Nevertheless, attempts are on to make sure that these slogans are forgotten. How? Stop the [money] of research fellows so that they have to beseech you to restore their fellowship. Then you agree but on the condition that the remuneration will stay at the same level of Rs 5000 or Rs 8000. Who speaks out against this? JNU, who else?….
If you speak out against this undemocratic regime, what will its cyber cell do? It will send a doctored video and insults, and the condoms in your dustbin will be counted too. But make no mistake, this is a critical moment and we need to understand that the attack on JNU is a planned attack because they want to delegitimise the Occupy UGC movement. It is a planned attack because they want to discredit and destroy the struggle to get justice for Rohith Vemula. You are running this JNU issue on prime time, ex-RSS worthy [Subramanian Swamy], because you want the people of this country to forget the prime minister’s assurance that he would put 15 lakh rupees in their individual bank accounts. A word of friendly caution – it is not easy to get admission in JNU and it certainly is not easy to make JNU students forget. We will remind you repeatedly that every time a government has turned oppressor, JNU has raised the voice of protest…
Don’t play soldiers against students
You cannot simply dilute our struggle by saying that on the other side of the picture are the country’s youths who are dying on the border. I salute these heroic figures. I have a question for a BJP leader who made a statement in Parliament. (I will not name him for I learnt one thing in prison, where the fight is ideological, one should not give individuals needless publicity). On the floor of the Lok Sabha this BJP leader thundered that the country’s youth are dying at the border.
I want to ask that leader – is that youth a brother to you? The thousands of farmers who are committing suicide, who grow grain for us and our youth on the border; farmers who are fathers to these youths – do you have anything at all to say about that, about them? I want to tell that leader the farmer who works in the field is my father, and it is my brother who joins the army. By erecting this binary don’t you go creating a false debate in the country – because those who die for the country die within the country and also on the borders of this country.
My question [to the BJP leader] is this: by standing up in parliament who exactly are targeting with your politics? Who will take responsibility for those who are dying? Those who fight are not responsible; the ones who make them fight are the ones who are accountable.… Who takes responsibility for this war, who makes people fight? See how my father is dying, how my brother is dying. I put this question to the two-bit primetime anchors who create this binary all the time.
Is it wrong to seek freedom (azaadi) from the ills that plague our country today? They ask belligerently – who do you want freedom from? Has India enslaved somebody?
My answer to them is NO. So isn’t it obvious we are not seeking freedom from India? We are not seeking freedom FROM India but IN India. There is a difference. We are certainly not issuing a call for freedom from the British; that freedom has already been wrested by the people of our country.
What prison was like
Now I come to my experience in prison. Some of the policemen asked me why we keep saying lal salam, lal salam. I should perhaps make it clear this was not part of the investigation! The policemen would come to give me my meals and to take me for my medical check-up. I being a JNU student, more so from Brahmaputra [hostel], how could I stay without talking? So I struck a conversation with a policemen and discovered he was just like me. Think – who takes up a police job inside a jail – someone whose father is either a farmer or a labourer, someone whose father is from a disadvantaged section. I too come from one of India’s backward states, Bihar. I too come from a poor family, a farmer’s family. By and large it is only those from poor families who join the police. Here I am talking about policemen of constable, head constable and inspector rank. I have not had much interaction with the IPS.
So the policeman asked: what is this lal salaam.
I replied: Lal means revolution (kranti).
He: And salaam?
I: It means ‘hail revolution’.
The policeman did not get it. I asked him about the slogan ‘Inquilab Zindabad’. He said he knew of it. I told him ‘Inquilab’ means revolution (kranti) in Urdu. He said ABVP members also use this slogan (Inquilab Zindabad). I said, do you understand now – they are false revolutionaries, we are the real revolutionaries!
Then the policeman asked me another question: Everything is very cheap for the people of JNU, right? I asked if the same was not true for him? I asked him if he was paid overtime (he works 18 hours a day) and he replied in the negative. When asked how he manages he replied, that same thing which you call corruption?
He gets a uniform allowance of Rs 110. You can’t buy even an undergarment with that amount. All this the policemen volunteered on his own. I explained to him that it is precisely from this – hunger, corruption – that we seek freedom.
By then the agitation in Haryana had started and as you know a large part of the Delhi Police force comes from Haryana. I salute them for they are very hard working. Anyway I asked the policeman what he thought about reservation. ‘Casteism is not a good thing at all,’ he replied. It is precisely from this casteism that we seek freedom, I told him. The policemen exclaimed: ‘But there’s nothing wrong with what you just said, there is nothing anti-national about it.’
Then I asked him one more question: ‘who wields the maximum power in the system?’
He looked at his lathi and said, ‘danda’ (the lathi).
Can you wield your lathi at will, I asked.
No, he admitted. On being asked who has the most power his answer was, ‘the ones issuing fake tweets’!
It is from the Sanghis who tweet false statements that we want freedom, I told him.
The policeman then said, ‘It seems to me that you and I are one the same side.’ Well, there’s a small problem, I replied.
Now I am not saying this about all journalists because all of them don’t get their remuneration from there. Of course some get their wages only from there, and some after long years of reporting parliament are making desperate efforts to enter it as well. And what an atmosphere they have created.
So I told the policeman, Here you and I are having a one-to-one chat and there they screech ‘Dekhiye sansanikhez’ (Watch this sensational news.)
‘Shall I tell you something in confidence,’ asked the policeman. ‘I had decided I would beat you up when you arrived – your name was there on the FIR*…. But after talking to you I now feel like beating them up.”
Democracy matters, as does social justice
He said something very important. And through the media here I want to draw the attention of the entire country to it. This policeman, like me, comes from an ordinary family; like me, wanted to pursue studies; like me, wanted to understand the systemic ills of the country and fight against them, wanted to understand the difference between being literate and educated, yet is working as a policeman. This is where JNU comes in and that is why you want to suppress JNU’s voice – to ensure that a poor marginalised individual is not able to do a PhD because it is clear as day that the poor simply can’t afford the lakhs of rupees needed to pursue a PhD in a private institution.
They want to stifle all the voices that can come together, whether they are standing on the border, dying on the field or standing tall in struggle in JNU.
You who don’t want these voices to come together, I want to remind you of what Babasaheb said – political democracy is not enough. Well, we will establish social democracy. That is why we speak of the constitution repeatedly. Lenin said, ‘Democracy is indispensable to socialism’. We speak of democracy, freedom of expression, equality and socialism so that a time may come when the son of a peon and the son of a president can study together.
This voice of struggle they want to choke. Science says the more you press down, the more pressure builds up. But then these people have nothing to do with science for studying science is not the same as being scientific. But if a dialogue could be established with people who are engaged in the quest to build a climate of scientific temper then we will surely wrest the freedoms that we are fighting for in this very country: freedom from hunger and poverty, exploitation and injustice, and securing the rights of Dalits, adivasis, women and minorities. That we will secure this freedom in this country through this very constitution, this very parliament and this very judicial process, is our dream. This was the dream of Babasaheb. And this was the dream that our comrade Rohith dreamed.
Do you see now? You killed one Rohith and tried to crush the movement that emerged in its wake. See how massive that movement has become.
One more thing I want to say from my prison experience. This is my self-criticism and if you think it applies to you too then take it in that spirit. We from JNU are refined and civilised in our speech, but we speak in heavy jargon which the common people of this country are unable to understand. It’s not their fault. They are honest, straightforward and perfectly capable of understanding. It is we who are unable to explain things to them at their level. In the end what reaches them? ‘No more prevarication, just sell on OLX’ (Ab no more dekhte hai OLX mein bechate hain.) It is critical that we establish a conversation and debate on this ‘for sale’ mentality that has been created in this country.
Now let me talk about my prison experience. I got two bowls there – one was blue the other red. I kept looking at the colours and thought to myself that although I am not a believer in destiny, nor do I know god, but surely something good is about to happen in this country now that these two colours are here together, side by side. The plate looked like our India, the blue was the blue of the Ambedkarite movement and the red bowl like [the red of socialism] . I thought if this unity were to be created in this country, then no more prevarication, we will send those who put everything on sale packing. Those who auction off everything we don’t want. We will put in power those who can ensure the protection of the law for everybody. We will make the slogan of sabka saath, sabka vikas a living reality….
Modi’s and RSS’s agenda
Today, when our honourable PM (I have to be respectful, no, or they will doctor this too!) spoke about Stalin and Khrushchev, I had an irresistible urge to enter the television, tug at his suit and say, Modi ji, why not talk a little about Hitler too? If not Hitler, then Mussolini at least – whose black cap was worn by your Guruji? Golwalkar ji had gone to meet him and had been advised to fashion the definition of Indianness on the German model….
Now I come to something very personal. I spoke to my mother after three months. When I was in JNU I never kept in regular touch. After going to prison I felt one should keep in regular touch; I advise you to do the same. When I spoke to my mother I asked her: So you took a dig at Modiji? She replied that it was not a ‘dig’ at him. ‘To make fun of people is their prerogative. We just express our pain – those who understand, cry, and those who don’t, laugh.’ My mother said, ‘It was my pain which made me say Modiji is also a son to a mother, my son has been falsely accused in a sedition case. So when he talks about ‘mann ki baat’, why not also talk about ‘maa ki baat’ (mother’s plight)?
What words of comfort could I offer her? Whatever is happening in this country shows a dangerous pathology. Here I am not talking about one party or one media channel, or only about soldiers – I am visualising the entire country. What will be the face of this country when it is emptied of its people? That is why it is important to salute all those people who have stood up in support of JNU. They understand the importance of JNU – 60% of its students are women. Moreover, despite any shortcomings it may have, JNU is one of the few institutions which implements the reservation policy; where it doesn’t we fight to ensure it does so.
Also the people who come here – I have not told you until now, my family lives on 3000 rupees. Would I be able to pursue a PhD in any big university? So when a serious offensive is mounted against JNU, the people who are standing up for it are also being tarred with the same brush (in saying this I am not expressing sympathies for any particular political party, for I have my own ideological path). Sitaram Yechury has been charged with sedition, Rahul Gandhi, D. Raja and Kejriwal too. Even those from the media who are speaking up for JNU – actually they are not speaking up for JNU, they are stating the truth as truth and falsehood as falsehood – are being hounded and threatened.
Where is this self-proclaimed nationalism coming from? I was asked by some in prison whether I really shouted those slogans. I said, yes, and I will do so again.
My question is, Are you [those in power] able to see the difference or has your rationality been destroyed…. Is it a good thing to lose one’s rationality so soon because 69% of the people of this country voted against this kind of mindset? Only 31% voted for you and among them were some who were taken in by your slogans. Some of the people you lured with your har har slogan can only think of the price of arhar [dal] these days.
So don’t delude yourself that your victory is forever…. If you repeat a hundred times that the sun is the moon, will the sun become the moon? Certainly not. It will remain what is – the sun – even if you repeat your lie a 1000 times.
The beauty of it is that in parliament they table a ‘call attention motion’, but outside the Lok Sabha across the country they revert to the ‘distract attention motion’ – draw people away from their genuine problems and entrap them in ever new agendas. Here the Occupy UGC movement was going apace and comrade Rohith was killed. As soon as we raised our voice for him came the new salvo – ‘witness the biggest betrayal of the nation, look carefully at the epicentre of sedition’. This agenda too will lose steam.
So they are planning their next move – Ram mandir, what else. Let me tell you about a conversation I had with a policeman just before stepping out of prison.
He: do you believe in religion?
I: I need to know about religion to be a believer.
He: You must have been born in some family?
I: Coincidentally, I was born in a Hindu family
He: So do you know something about your religion?
I: From the little I know I can say that God created this earth and is present in every little speck. What do you say?
He: Absolutely right
I: Some people want to create something for God. What do you have to say about it?!
He: Height of madness.
You cannot dupe the people endlessly with an agenda that has run its course. Your duplicitous game helped you gain from 80 to 180 seats once, but not anymore, for the axis has shifted. But still they will not give up their efforts to distract people’s attention. They don’t want the people to raise genuine issues.
All of you sitting here – you feel as if you have been assaulted. True, but this is not the first time. I want to draw your attention to a cover story on JNU by (Subramaniam) Swamyji in the RSS mouthpiece Organiser. Now I have full faith in democracy. If my friends in the ABVP are listening, I request them to bring Swamyji here so that we can debate the issue. If through logic he can prove that JNU should be shut down for four months, I will agree with him wholeheartedly. If not, I would request him to leave the country and live outside as he has done on earlier occasions.
There is just so much of planning behind these attacks. Maybe you being inside the campus could not see. There was a plan from day one. They don’t even think to change their posters. The same posters with the same content used by the Hindu Kranti Sena are used by ABVP and ex-armymen. What it means is that all these things are being planned in Nagpur. This is no spontaneous surge, my friends. There is but one overarching aim: wherever the voice of protest emerges in this country, choke it; whenever it seems people might start thinking about their fundamental problems, distract them; wherever the voice of protest emerges in this JNU campus, be it of Anirban [Bhattacharya] or Umar [Khalid], be it …Ashutosh…. or anyone among you, to brand it anti-national and delegitimise JNU.
But I say to them, you will not be able to suppress this struggle, this protest – for the more you try to repress us, the faster we will bounce back on our feet to stand our ground.
This is a long struggle and we have to carry it forward without stopping, without bending, without pausing for breath. WE will stand united against divisive forces like ABVP within the campus or the BJP and the RSS outside the campus who are trying to bring the country to the edge of destruction. JNU will stand united against them; as history shall bear witness. The struggle that was launched with the Occupy UGC movement, the struggle that Rohith Vemula waged, and the struggle that you and so many peace-loving and progressive people in the country have launched – that struggle we shall wage and win.
Thanking everybody who has been part of this struggle and appealing to them to walk by our side, I will end here…
Rashtra ekta zindabad! (long live national unity)
Samajik nyay zindabad! (long live social justice)
[*After the policeman mentioned seeing Kanhaiya’s name on the FIR, Kanhaiya interjected: Before the FIR our names had come on the ABVP complaint, they were noted in the FIR]
Translated from Hindi by Chitra Padmanabhan.