How do you kill a person? You starve him of food, water and air. How do you kill institutions of higher education? You deprive it of the academic space and atmosphere for open-minded debate, dialogue and discussion. And how do you kill a democracy? By depriving it of basic values, and means of redressals.
As Aligarh, and primarily the Aligarh Muslim University, the epicentre of the controversy involving hypernationalism, police brutality, and curbing of students’ freedom of expression in institutes of higher education, regain a foothold in the cyber world, after being cut-off from the internet for close to 34 hours, an integral question to ask, is that can democracy here, and in similar institutes bounce back?
AMUSU claims that countless non-violent students were lathi-charged, and tear-gas bombed in exchange for a peaceful protest to file FIR against armed members of Hindu Yuva Vahini, accompanied by uniformed policemen, who came down to forcefully enter and attack the Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, right before the visit of ex-Vice President of India, Muhammad Hamid Ansari Sahab, because of the controversy surrounding a portrait of Mohammad Ali Jinnah hanging in the Union Hall of AMU Students’ Union.
It has been four days since that incident. No FIR has been filed till date. Nobody in power has questioned the violence inside a Central University, an institute of national importance or condemned the attack. News Debate anchors are more than willing to politely ask, “Why do you hang the portrait of the person who caused the partition?”, and get even more polite while remarking, “you’re a Muslim Institute, obviously you won’t remove the portrait. And once more, far-right fringe groups have openly remarked that “Anti-national activities” in AMU, will be dealt with “severe action”, without any action by the police, or other forces. And the AMU students have been protesting peacefully all this while, in spite of a police and force presence at a yard’s throw from the campus, provocation by various religious right-wing groups, and of course, a blanket ban on the internet for nearly two days.
The biased handling of the event seems apparent in the letter written by the District Magistrate of Aligarh, Chandra Bhushan Singh, where he solely blames the AMU students as the cause for inciting violence, while curbing internet facility in the city for two days. It should be noted that 13 Universities had come in support of AMU after knowing of the events by social and alternate media, and this ban could have severely damaged the ongoing protest.
At the very outset, the AMU Students’ Union student leaders have made one thing clear, the protest is not for Jinnah’s portrait. The protests are against the atrocities committed by right-wing groups, and the state excesses committed by the police, against the AMU students. The ideology and works of Jinnah are complex, and on a time-dependent curve through history, reading which, any student may form his or her own opinion. Historically, Indian Muslim institutes already rejected Jinnah and his ideology, by choosing a secular India, over Pakistan. But, the history can’t be altered. History states that Jinnah was a lifetime membership awardee 1938, and a proponent of Indian unity and freedom struggle all through the 1930s. History can’t be put down a wall, it can’t be hidden behind curtains. History is absolute, and distorting it is not good for any democracy, and yet, it is happening on a frequent basis under this regime.
The distorting of history to suit the current regime’s ideology or agenda is unethical. The forced removal of any historical artefact in an Autonomous Institute of National Importance, as mentioned in the constitution (AMU Act 1920), is anti-national. The illegal entry of violent and armed religious groups into an institute of higher learning is undemocratic. And yet, nobody calls them out on it. No sedition charges. No screaming at primetime debates. No suggestions to move to Pakistan.
In AMU, the narrative is scarily similar to that of Jawahar Lal Nehru University, or Banaras Hindu University in the past. Any action, act, study, or discourse that is considered different from the prescribed ideology of the State is treated as blasphemous, or worse, seditious, and a forced remedy is immediately applied, irrespective of its legality or ethicality. The value of independent thoughts and historical significance in an educational institute is being degraded to an act of communal or ideological prescription.
In a series of events, not restricted to just this particular happening, the citizens of India are coming to terms with the realization that liberty of free-thinking ideas is becoming a luxury, the fourth pillar of a democracy, the media, is acting according to the whims and wishes of the State, the machinery of the State feels free from any obligation towards the constitution of the Nation, and with the few means of political exposure being curbed, the dystopia of George Orwell’s 1984 seems not so fictional.
Democratic rights and freedom have come under direct threat since the current regime prepares itself for upcoming polls, with their focus being on hardlined, rightwing politics. The protest at AMU, is this democracy trying its best to fight back. Through democratic means, the students of an educational institute are asking for the constitutional and democratic remedy for the attacks committed against them. They are asking for justice.
Like those in JNU. Like those in BHU. The young, educated masses are fighting for the pluralistic, secular, inclusive, and progressive character of the country.
It is about time, we stop being apathetic. It is about time we stop Democracy from dying.