“JNU,” as it is now, is an event. It is no longer simply an institution, or even a place made exceptional by its unique tradition of activism/protest — one that requires defense or saving. It is a rift opened by the words Kashmir ki azadi tak (‘Until Kashmir is free…’). It is a possibility that is presenting itself, to dissolve the “national conscience” in India which passed a death sentence on Afzal, and to end the silence on Kashmir, which can no longer be silenced.
Our esteemed teachers in India and beyond, who have spoken in defense of JNU and against the fascist crackdown, remain caught up in seeing this event only as an opportunity to preserve a privilege, which is what has become of the right to freedom of expression. Of course, as a right—even as an abstract idea—freedom of expression carries its potential against fascism, but, in reality, it is exercised as a privilege of the majority over the marginalized. More than anything, JNU-as-Event is, unwittingly, opening this precise question for all to see, especially for all those who have till now refused to see. Rohith, Shaista, Umar, Kanhaiya, Danish, all represent singular instances of resistance, but together they gather a counterhistory that demands a fidelity which must go beyond protesting in defense of an institution or a constitutional order.
I suspect you have not yet heard of Shaista Hameed and Danish Farooq. Shaista was a recent graduate in her early 20s, and Danish a university student in his late teens. The two were shot dead by government forces in Kashmir the day before Modi regime started its attacks against JNU students.
The same day frothing TV journalists were holding court martials against Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar, the news of Shaista’s and Danish’s cold-blooded murders was quietly suppressed—part of a larger history of suppression, which makes a certain kind of “national conscience” possible in India. The two were not armed, but they were protesting the terror unleashed by troops in their villages, and they wanted to protect a fellow youth who among many now have yet again been forced to give their lives to end the occupation. They didn’t know JNU was ringing with slogans for Kashmiri rights the day they died, nor did JNU know that their protests against the silence on Kashmir had become more imperative than ever.
What this tells us is that JNU-as-Event carries within itself a plurality of events, all erupting to fight the same logic of repression, inequality, and denial of rights. It is not a coincidence that against the demands for justice, for Dalits, for student-activists, and for Kashmir, the Brahminical state machine has deployed the same set of coercive terms: “anti-national,” “terrorism,” “sedition,” while also calling the protestors, “parasites,” and “free loaders.” It is for this reason that we must retrace the itinerary of the repressive logic now facing JNU students. If its previous stop was the University of Hyderabad, its brazenness has for decades been perfected in the University of Kashmir, from where students regularly disappear and where the authorities demolished even the Student’s Union building whose presence they felt to be seditious.
To those, then, who see JNU simply as a liberal space that must be preserved, here is something Kashmiris have to offer: it is not in conformity with majoritarianism, or in accepting its terms of discourse, that one can truly practice free expression. The true and courageous practice of free expression necessarily challenges the majoritarian logic and its acceptable models of speech. In Kashmir, where even people’s existence is not safe under the state of emergency that the occupation has imposed, the right to free expression, like the one our teachers seem to advocate, has never been a possibility. Yet, people express themselves courageously, in defiance of India’s nationalist codes, and they truly defend this practice by putting their lives at risk for it.
Indeed, many in Kashmir are bitter, even though they give their unconditional solidarity to those hounded by the Indian state. They feel the protests so far have not understood the truth of the event: that its truth is not in lectures about “true” or “real” nationalism but in an embrace of sedition. They feel you will give up soon. That you are waiting for the government to step back. And as soon as it does, you can also step back, while preserving your silence on Kashmir. The fact is, even if BJP is gone tomorrow, you will not have destroyed the core of what keeps fascism at the heart of the logic behind the “unity and integrity of the country.”
Originally published in Raiot, JUNE 7, 2016