Shashwat Sridhar’s Take On The RAMJAS RUCKUS
In simpler words, if we as individuals are constantly evolving, society WILL constantly evolve. Ideas evolve, ideas adapt, just as people evolve and people adapt. We will always remain in the “trying to” stage, and that is the whole point of society.
I was faced with a comment on one of my posts on facebook. It was legitimate comment asking pertinent questions about the Ramjas College issue. My response started off as a comment, but eventually transformed into this article. These questions were asked by several people, on several posts, and I do not have the energy to respond to them all. I will not mention the name of the friend who asked the questions and I will summarize the questions he asked me.
I will instead call this person Shashwat, since this conversation could very well have happened in my own head.
I read somewhere in one of your posts urging people not to believe mainstream media narrative. I refrained from commenting as I do not have firsthand, or even complete knowledge of the events that are unfolding at Ramjas.
And here you are, sharing NDTV debates by none other than “The Ravish Kumar”. The last thing people need is a one -sided narrative from the leftist media houses which so vehemently spew poison against anything/anyone even remotely associated with the Right Wing.
You also mentioned that this is not, or rather shouldn’t be, about the ideology but rather about upholding the values of freedom of speech. True. But, why invite an individual who has been involved (allegedly) in anti-India sloganeering in the past? What’s his credibility? Why extend an invitation to someone who you know is bound to stir the Ramjas campus up?
When you talk about student political outfits, sloganeering and violence are bound to tag along. I’m not justifying violence in any way, mind you. Everyone is party to it, not just the Right Wing. But the extent to which the media has framed and put all the blame on ABVP is shocking, to say the least.
Also hearing stories about how this might all be just another staged exercise (previous ones being Award Wapsi, Rohit Vemula, JNU) to incite violence and malign the opposition. Won’t go into that.
WHY UMAR KHALID – the (alleged) anti-national, seditious student? He is not an academic, not a well-known name. Why invite someone who is such a controversial figure?
I will refrain from counter-questioning, as I have caught myself doing a lot yesterday. But, pardon me if I do. Counter-questioning invites discussion when used in moderation.
India, just as most of the world right now, has grown scared. We are scared of ideas different from ours. We are scared of people who advocate ideas which differ from ours. We are scared they will move large hordes of people, and we are scared those people will topple the so called balance we have in the state. We fear when someone is able to articulate in perfect manner of speech or writing something you so wholly disagree with.
It happens to me, every single time i read something that advocates the sentiment of “anti-nationals should be dealt with”, “liberals are sold to the pakistani government”, etc. But these are silly examples, and I often don’t take them seriously. In response, I don’t go after their head, or their friends’ heads. Something tells me inside that I am no one to tell them exactly what to think. I cannot plant entire trees of thought in their heads, and I cannot expect them to believe exactly the same things I believe in. What I can do is plant seeds. Plant seeds of thought and let them grow. I can write, paint, sing, debate, dance (no I can’t) or use any of the forms of expression given to me to try to convince people of my ideas. What I won’t do is resort to violence, because it is never an answer. Violence is not a response. Violence is an inefficient vent for frustration.
You must think I am ranting, but bear with me.
One more thing I try to do is understand. Understanding doesn’t come from physically breaking open the head of an individual I disagree with. It comes from debate and discussion. It comes from trying to read and analyze another’s words. It doesn’t come from alienating the person from my life, and if possible, society. It comes from trying to build a society where all kinds of views can coexist.
Coexist. It’s such a funny sounding term, nowadays. But, I digress.
The key words (apart from “coexist” and “build a society”) are “trying to”. You can’t build a society where things will reach a static end and people will coexist happily ever after. It took me so long to realise this. Society evolves at a rate that is the sum of the individual rates of change of the people in it (pardon my physics jargon, but i think you’ll understand). In simpler words, if we as individuals are constantly evolving, society WILL constantly evolve. Ideas evolve, ideas adapt, just as people evolve and people adapt. We will always remain in the “trying to” stage, and that is the whole point of society.
By not accepting evolving ideas, by resisting them, you’re stagnating your society. By killing ideas different from your own, you won’t develop a static world, but a stagnant one (look up the difference if you’re confused). You’ll head to a world of incestuous ideas, and incest is the greatest enemy of an evolving entity.
Where does Umar Khalid come in here?
He is an individual who has allegedly said things in a public space which even I would disagree with. His ideas are not new, but he is young, passionate, articulate, smart and bold. Basically, he is an individual with an idea which will scare a lot of people (referring to my initial paragraphs). By instinct, people will want him removed from society, from their lives. They want nothing to do with him or his ideas. Given all of that I have written so far, I do not agree with this instinctive reaction. I believe that if you have an individual with ideas very different from your own, and who is able to put them into convincing words, then you step up your game and respond. Respond with words, questions and ideas of your own. You don’t call him an elitist, crazy “libtard”, or whatever words you want to choose. You break down his argument in intelligent words of your own. If you can’t then either there are issues that need to be handled in different ways, or you just haven’t done a good enough job of articulating yourself.
Talking specifically of the seminar here, he was invited to talk on an issue completely unrelated to the separatist Kashmir issues he is infamous for. He was (supposed to be) there to talk about his ongoing PhD research on Adivasi issues in India. I don’t know how many of you see the irony here, but he was (supposed to be) there on a panel to speak about “Cultures of Protest”. The situation couldn’t have been more laughable, had it not gone violent.
You asked me about his credibility. Firstly, and I repeat, he is a PhD candidate who was invited to talk about his ongoing research. He has an MA and an MPhil from JNU (say what you may, it is one of the most reputed institutions for graduate studies in the humanities in India). Secondly, what is the point of a discussion or a debate if you invite only famous people whose ideas have already been debated and deliberated at various levels. It reminds me of the incest of ideas that I brought up earlier. By inviting only famous individuals to a discussion, you’re limiting the discussion to only mainstream ideas. You want to hear things from people who you know will say things you want to hear. You want to live in a world where people feed back to you what you believe in. Any new taste, any new flavour, any new idea is just unwanted.
I will, briefly, address the issue of the allegations against him. Umar Khalid was charged with sedition but the courts could not prove it and he is out on bail right now. The video evidence that everyone so vehemently cites was proven to have been “tampered with” by the police. Read through the Wikipedia article on the 2016 JNU Protests. If you don’t want to read the whole history, skip to the sections on Aftermath and Fabrication of Evidence. I do not usually ask people to refer to Wikipedia articles, but this one has good, relevant citations and is written in a neutral tone. From how I see it, he is not guilty until he is convicted.
There is another, relatively minor, point I want highlight here. The seminar was organized by the literary society of my college (yes, I am a Ramjas graduate). The scale of the event was probably a minuscule percent of what it has become now. About a hundred odd people were supposed to attend it. From personal experience, these societies get barely enough funds to organize meaningful events, and we try to do the best we can with it. Every year we are allocated a specific sum of money and we often end up contributing from our own pockets to make the events happen. The larger the names of the people we want to invite, the more money we need. So we aim for local figures, people well-known in the local circles of Delhi, people who we may have personal connections with. The point here is not to paint a sorry picture of ourselves and our clubs and societies, but to show to you the intended scale of this event. It was a small event, aimed at a small audience, in a small room on a small campus in Delhi. No one ever intended it to explode the way it did.
And in all of this, Shashwat, do you understand that Umar Khalid never came? That he was not there on campus when this whole thing broke out? That we had to (and very sadly) listen to the threats and had to cancel his invitation? He was not there. The element that supposedly sparked this protest was not there. How is any of this justified now?
Now, to other questions you raised.
Why did I share NDTV’s report on the issue?
As you hopefully have guessed by now from this and my other posts, I am not speaking up against any ideology or political party or political organization. I speak for and on behalf of my friends from my college in Delhi. People I consider family. They’re people who amongst themselves have a wide range of differing opinions, politically and otherwise. I have been in constant touch with them over the past 36 hours, and have heard first hand experiences from people who were there when it all happened. These are people who have absolutely zero vested interest in the politics of all this. They are scared right now, they are fearing for their safety and they are hiding. The NDTV report (specifically the one I shared) was two things.
First, it was, by and large, an accurate account of the proceedings when I compare it to the stories I heard from my friends. It was ABVP students who began the violent protesting, and in taking ABVP’s name I am not going against what they stand for or who they comprise of. I am saying the crowd of people who vandalised my college were affiliated to this organization and identified themselves with it. If Ravish Kumar gives us a platform to try and tell the world what transpired, why am I going to refuse?
Did you go through the whole video? Because that brings me to the second point. He helped us do something we could not have done alone. He took the very same seminar that was cancelled in our college and aired it on national television. He invited Umar Khalid and Mayakrishna Rao to speak on the very same issues which were to be raised in the seminar. He gave us an audience we never could have hoped to get. I hope you understand why this is important. He helped us uphold the freedom of speech and expression that we are trying to defend. In doing so, he showed that there was nothing anti-national about the seminar. He showed that what could perfectly have been just another, mildly interesting event in some college of Delhi University, transformed into a fire that has hurt more people than it was ever intended to (none).
I completely agree that ABVP was not the only one involved, eventually. The second and third day of protests saw participation from other student unions and organizations and I know for a fact that as Ramjas /ites, we never wanted that. We never wanted this to get politicized. We didn’t want it to be a Left vs Right fight at the end of the day. In such a fight, we would lose the crux of what we were fighting for. But, to claim that ABVP had very little to do with all that happened would be a lie I am not willing to accept.
In the end, I want to say a couple of things. First, I may have used “you” a lot in all these paragraphs, but in most cases I was referring to a generic person. I have nothing against you specifically, your beliefs or your political inclination. Second, on behalf of every friend I am fighting for, I want to say that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for us to group up and speak about this. When we speak about this, people want to know what “group” we belong to. They want to know our affiliations, they want to know our motives. It’s difficult for us to create petitions or raise awareness as a group because we are not a group. We are what I would call “normal” people. We are the students of Delhi University who wanted nothing but the freedom to express.
Aazaadi. When did Aazaadi become associated only to nationalistic freedom? When did we stop having deeper definitions to these terms? I want aazaadi. I want aazaadi from the people who try to silence me. I want aazaadi for the people who are being silenced. Aazaadi was never a one-dimensional term. It hurts me to see people take it so literally.
This would be my answer to your questions. I am open for a discussion.
Author: Shashwat Sridhar