NEW DELHI: While I was listening to comrade Rama speaking about the ‘idea of India,’ I wondered: what is, really, this ‘idea of India’? What does the phrase mean? At some level, I believe, we all agree that India is an idea. It is not merely a set of frontiers, a map bounded by political boundaries – it is an idea. What is that idea? I believe this idea differs for everyone. The subjective experience of the idea of India for a Muslim would be different from that of a Dalit. It would be different for a woman – it might well be meaningless, considering she is an individual who is devoid of all rights, all entitlements in this country. Above all, nevertheless, the idea of India is an idea in the making. It is an idea that has to be nurtured and furthered. It is not an idea that has to be worshipped with jingoistic sloganeering.

We are very ordinary people. We have painstakingly occupied streets in chilling winters to protest against the UGC, and we had virtually no protection. Our protection rested on the fact that we were occupying a public space collectively. It is said that girls should stay indoors – but in this protest that I speak of, you could say that women were in leading positions. The safety of women is not indoors. There were, of course, attempts to disrupt the protest. But eventually, they ceased. This is the strength of protest, of solidarity.

What the RSS is now trying to do is not just a destruction of the idea of India, but of ‘ideas’ in general. I’ve been told that students in the Banaras Hindu University have been rusticated and evicted from their hostels for demanding a 24/7 library in the university.

Personally speaking, in my experience in Kashmir, I was an engineering student, and our parents disliked our group studies. Rumour of a 24/7 operational library in the Aligarh Muslim University thus had its lure, its charm. It is this experience, and that of my aggrieved friends in Banaras Hindu University that make me realise that the binary between ‘studying’ and ‘politics’ is extremely flawed. We do not just study, we do not just engage in politics – we engage in politics so that we can study, and everyone in the country can have the right to do so, too. Of what use is my education, my work on a dissertation, if I am apathetic to the horrors unleashed on the defenceless in Bastar? An education like that would be akin to what Marx referred to as ‘alienation.’

When I came to JNU, the demand for 24/7 operational library was raised. This was transformative for me. JNU stands for this kind of study and struggle. We did finally achieve this 24/7 library, and here we have our comrades being rusticated for precisely this demand.

We can see how bizarre all of this is. So is the entire discourse around being ‘national’ and ‘anti-national.’ Are students demanding operational libraries now ‘anti-national’? Where does this end? Does it, at all?

Another contentious binary is that of ‘discipline’ and ‘indiscipline.’ What is this discipline about? As students, we know that we can call a spade by its name. This may be romanticised as the fire of youth, but it is more than that. It is a determined stance we take, an informed decision, and that is precisely what this government does not want.

The government wants to create ‘disciplined,’ obedient subjects. It wants to create indebtedness. Many theorists have pointed out how education becomes a weapon to indoctrinate students; in fact, ‘discipline’ is a ruling class prerogative, and it is employed to further the perpetuation of authority. Before the Emergency, former President V.V. Giri is quoted to have said for the people protesting against malnutrition that they must ‘maintain discipline.’ Why should we maintain discipline? Is discipline only to silently bear oppression, and to maintain the status quo?

Now that we have been catapulted into this position of opposition, I believe we must courageously take on to this mantle. We must be concerted in our mission towards 2019, and ensure that this government does not maintain the authority and power that it has unabashedly abused. We must ensure that no matter who comes to power, the questions we raise are not silenced, that they are furthered and answered. Although this does not and will not happen in JNUSU, we have been driven to a kind of courage that can even make us see Kanhaiya as Prime Minister. We need to foreground our pertinent questions, and that has always been JNU’s prerogative. We must continue to raise questions that no one is allowed to raise, questions that are under the ever-expanding rubric of ‘anti-national:’ AFSPA, Afzal Guru, and such.

JNU has a dedicated sexual harassment wing that earlier operated with the Vishakha guidelines, and now does with the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act. The right-wing has caught onto a video clipping of my speech on the stifling of cases of sexual harassment. It is now being said that the fact that JNU has a high incidence of reported cases of sexual harassment implies that the institution is all about sex, and terrorism.

Beyond these misguided abstractions, however, we must remember that this statistic is because JNU fosters an environment where women can freely report such cases, and it is actually JNU which truly follows the laws of the land. It is now also being said, especially by a certain gentleman, that JNU has been unable to provide the country with solutions and alternatives. We must understand that the illusive ‘alternative’ is only an alternative set of policy choices that must be taken.

Manmohan Singh’s ‘reforms,’ for instance, have been called inevitable. Were they so? That is debatable. But as we critique it: what if the set of policies were channelized towards the alleviation of poverty, towards land reforms? Where I come from, the latter were carried out efficiently, and they were successful. It is, therefore, more a question of what is not being done.

We might also have to confront a reality that may present itself: what if there isn’t an alternative? Even then, I believe, how can we be held accountable? Have we created this problem? Is critique so understated? I believe it is still absolutely justifiable to ask questions, to criticise what is already there.

We have fought, fight, and will continue to fight for the greater good, for the well-being of not just a certain percentage of the population, but for all. It is with the reaffirmation of this spirit that I conclude.

(This is the text of a presentation made by SHEHLA RASHID at the “Idea Of India Conclave: Two Years Of PM Modi.” It has been translated, transcribed and edited by KARTIK MAINI).