JNU Defines the Real Spirit of Nationalism – Nandita Haksar
Newsclick interviewed Nandita Haksar, a human rights lawyer, activist and a writer in the context of crackdown in JNU. Haksar emphasised that the integrity of the Indian state has been achieved through the union of diverse cultures and erstwhile regional chauvinisms. The pluralism, the space for discussions, debate and the right to dissent are the essence of Indian democracy. But this democratic space is shrinking day by day. She said, JNU has perpetuated it's culture and values always to the nation to interpret and to understand on various subjects. RSS and it's affiliations are curtailing the space of creativity and critical thinking by intervening in various institutions. Dalits have been deprived for so long. When a brilliant Dalit student is targeted then the whole community would invariably be affected.
Haksar also spoke on Kashmir. She said, the democratic space in Kashmir also shrinking. Since the government is not too interested in democratic process, people are loosing their hopes. Hatred is being spread, leading to the creation of enmity rather than love.
Prabir Purkayatha (PP): Hello and welcome to Newsclick. Today, we have with us Nandita Haksar who has been involved as a journalist, as a historian, as a practioner of law involved with both Naga issue, with the Afzal Guru case and also with Kashmir in the larger sense and incidentally a student of JNU once upon a time. Nandita, good to have you with us. Nandita, how do you see the nationalism versus JNU debate that has been played up? Do you see the kind of accusations that have been hurled at JNU is not about a few students raising a few sslogan, it's reeling as the entire JNU. How do you place this debate regarding Nationalism and JNU today?
Nandita Haksar (NH): They have posed it as nationalism versus anti-nationalism. But the conflict really is between different kinds of Indian nationalism and JNU is at the heart of the debate in many many ways. I was lucky enough because my father knew the first Vice Chancellor, G. Parthasarathy and I remember the debates and the discussions on what kind of university, JNU is going to be. It was going to be and it was multi disciplinary university in India. It was trans-disciplinary as well. And it was a very exciting idea in which a student could take up history and plus take some courses from Hindi department say medieval India and makes the two. So it was very exciting vision of higher education of university and it was a vision which actually saw India as an extremely inclusive democratic space. And it got it's reputation by it's intellectual vibrancy and the contribution made by the university in building up a academics and I am speaking up from social sciences that anywhere in the world we stood out. I don't think incidentally I am from JNU, I think I am a product. Whatever I am today, I could never have been it unless I am in JNU specially for centre of historical studies.
PP: So when you talk about various forms of nationalism, can you talk a more about it what it really mean? How did it shape in JNU discourse?
NH: Well, little before that as a lawyer, I would say when I read the constituent assembly debates now, suddenly it is a country, although it is an ancient land we must remember that this is a very new nation state. So I think the BJP disposed it and forget the difference between of having an ancient land or history or mythology or the reality, political reality of a very new nation state. And when we became independent, there were very strong Tamil nationalism for instance, Bengali nationalism, there was Naga nationalism already in the beginning and Kahsmiri nationalism of Sheikh Abdullah. So India was evolving and making of all these into a one nation state. And various factor did infer that we were one nation state. We did not recognize it as a multi national state. But at the time and till today for instance Sardar Patel it is his achievement that 552 princely states and units, he reduced it to 15. so in a sense, it is a great administrative achievement but they did violence to the various kinds of nationalism, linguistic nationalism, cultural nationalism within India. So today from 15 we have 29 states.
PP: Part of it is growth of linguistic state and so on which came out in 50s and so on.
NH: Absolutely and till today if we see the debate and in JNU when as a student when I joined I found that I met people from all over. So first time, I mean I have one example in 70 when I joined just at the end of national emergency and at the end of emergency, lots of people where still in jail and they were from across the political spectrum, there were RSS people, there were you in jail and socialist Vijay Pratap in jail and there were all kinds of peopla and RSS people in jail. I remember feeling, first I got involved in human rights and to sign a petition from RSS which I opposed which I felt that the human rights is important. I signed the petition and asked others to sign for RSS people who are in jail.
PP: Incidentally, Dr. Ghatate who was my lawyer during the emergency.
NH: Nationalism I think took over us small sectarianism, large sectarian debate of political difference. In JNU for instance, I met Naga students. Now when I met them also like most Indians felt that Nagas are anti-national. Then I through discussions in JNU one of the students Lui Thui and I we wrote a book called Nagaland file. Now, at that time I was condemned review after review anti-nationalist because I put forward Naga point of view. Now today after many decades, many things have happened today Prime Minister Modi has signed an agreement with the NSCN. So it was my Indian nationalism that I felt that I have to reach out to the Nagas, understand their point of view and understand what was the basis of Naga nationalism and how we could include it within our broader vision of an Indian nation.
PP: It is interesting to say that because when in the 50s the Dravid nationalism which is what you said, Tamil nationalism was very strong. This is exactly the process by which got built as it were into the Indian nation. So it is a very similar process of reaching out and then drawing it with the larger context that really makes it really the Indian nation what it is. Absolutely, if the JNU had not provided the space I remember I met people from Jharkhand and at that time the Jharkhand people, before the Jharkhand state they said it was Jharkhand nationalism and I was convinced it is a kind of nationalism and before that Jharkhand question will always discuss as a tribal question and that's a more diminished their movement. I asked Dr. Panikkar that I want to call it Jharkhand nationalism and he did not agree with it my Professor but he said not you have a right and you write it and you argue with it if there is an argument for it. So there was this space and I think that space allowed lot of people to understand their country much more in depth and it was that which really made JNU something so special because we got students from all over India.
PP: You see what we see today there are attacks in various universities that are taking place not only JNU. JNU is the most blatant example of it but we have seen attacks that are taking place fine arts department in Baroda, we have seen attacks taking place in Allahabad University for instance. So different places, different professors speaking on a larger context in the nation like you are today seem to be on attack. Do you see this is really part of much larger project to narrow what the nation wants and should be and this is strait jacketing the nation this is what the agenda is?
NH: Absolutely because right I think the time I joined Delhi University that was in 1969-70, ABVP was very strong at point of time. It was suffocating because any dissent they would put down by sheer numbers and gundaism. For instance, Bipin Chandra, Harbans Mukhia these historians were still under would speak. They were in Delhi University in the arts faculty. We would have lectures, we would fix it. There were ten of us, fifteen of us, five of us because they would just not allow them to speak. In 1977, on a basis of a memorandum which was an anonymous memorandum given to Prime Minister Morarji Desai all these books by these historians were banned. Then we had a discussion and I felt as a student of JNU then that we must have an open discussion. So five universities, we have got AMU, Lucknow University, Jamia, DU, JNU we got together and had an open discussion. I personally and my friend stopped anyone from disrupting when the pro Jan Sangh historians spoke because we believe that this battle can only be fought democratically. Now, I think that they have lost the battle democratically. They know that the only way the BJP, not BJP but much the RSS can control the thought processes is by destroying the basis and the route of the democracy which lies the intellectual route of the democracy by destroying all these institutions of education and creativity and thinking and film making and therefore, they are really systematically destroying this.
PP: This is an attack on critical thinking which is what the university is supposed to nurture. Do you think that's the really what the process is?
NH: Absolutely, critical creating thinking specially about the future of the democracy. I mean as a student of history, what is the RSS view of history? Their golden age lies in the Gupta period. Now, without going into the debate whether it was golden age or not I think my golden age for my country lies in the future, not in the paste. And that's what the my history department was trying to do us. We don't want India with caste prejudices, patriarchy where women are burnt alive and brutally raped and kind of violence on Dalits. If it is an India which is a vibrant and democratic, then it lies in the future not in the golden age of some Gupta period and they can not win us intellectually. They can not defeat us intellectually. The only way they can do is by putting us in jail.
PP: All brute force you see been executed in different universities in the roads of Delhi, Patiala house court and also the kind of verbal abuse which is being hurled all over the social media which is other space which is being taken over by the goonish behavior of the BJP acolytes.
NH: Absolutely. Now look at the person they have put Kanhaiya. Kanhaiya whose father is an ordinary wage labourer, mother is aanganwaadi worker. They used to say JNU is elitist. Where is the elitism. Here are alit students who have with great difficulty, they are the first generation, first people who have become educated. You put them out a whole community suffers.
PP: See in Rohth Vemula's case in Hyderabad Central University. There was again mother who fought hard to bring up the children, gave them education and it was under ABVP's pressure and backed by the education minister and the labour minister and they were penalized and thrown out of the university virtually.
NH: And their scholarships stopped and then their curb on scholarships for Dalits. So if they do this, then who they do roll. It will be the Brahmins, upper caste people narrow minded people who will rule India. No Indian will accept it. They can't win this game.
PP: Last question Nandita. Kashmir issue. Of course now obviously there is enormous amount of frustration in Kashmir with respect to the Indian state, the kind of shall we say violation of the civil liberaties earlier elections and so on. Do you think that the way to deal with this is by saying all this is anti-national throwing out students for instance Aligarh because of cricket match they supported Pakistan. What do you think it portrays for Kashmir?
NH: Well as a person who took up Afzal's case, as Afzal's lawyer and who has written books about it, published Afzal's letter, I think that what I was doing my slogan was and still is defending Mr. S.A.R.Gilani was defending Indian democracy. If it showed our country had fair trial procedure, if we show that we have democracy our police was not correct and I think the work and the trial because Gilani was acquitted actually it's one over hundreds and hundreds of Kashmiris. They come to me they said we never thought we will buy your book, father was P.N. Haksar, he was responsible for Bangladesh and now we will invited to speak in Kashmir and write for Kashmiri papers. And in the same way that I hope that I could win friends Nagas for India. It was with the same spirit that I and all those I supported I think Gilani and Afzal campaign did. Now, by doing this they will close the space and they have closed the space and Kashmiris are again angry. But their slogans are what 'Thank you JNU' because they felt someone in the mainstream India was still remembering them. So who is the anti-national, those who wins friends for India in Indians or those who make enemies.
PP: Thank you Nandita. I think we will close on that note who are the real friends of India and who are it's real enemies. This is what we need to look at when you look at so called anti-national versus national debate which is going all over JNU. Thank you very much. This is all the time we have today in Newsclick. Please keep watching Newsclick.
Published here with the permission of Newsclick.
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