Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Culture of silence

Having little or no contact with our college and university students, it is difficult to know what’s in their minds as regards the violence perpetrated on JNU students and faculty members on January 5 last. However, it is pretty certain that they must be very active on social media regarding the same issue and condemning it for they too must be aware that in today’s India, universities have become battle fields of conflicting ideologies and students, with divergent and dissenting ideologies, have become the target of particularly the “ideology of anti-nationalism”. Therefore, it is hard to understand why our university and college students have not protested against attacks on JNU, Jamia Millia Islamia, Jadavpur University, etc., students and faculty members. Normally the bonds of the student community in any country are very strong ~ this is evident now more than ever. I remember how the entire Northeastern students stood together with the students of Assam during the Assam Agitation from 1979 to 1985 here in the region and in the rest of the country. Somehow without knowing the intricacies of the issues involved, we knew that whatever happens in Assam will inevitably affect us. And soon enough we saw the influx of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh enter into other Northeastern states and live and work here pushing us all into existential sidelines with impunity. Yes, we are unambiguously with Assam on the issues of CAA and NRC because if Assam falls, we fall along with it. Besides, we believe in the ethos and essence of our Constitution, which doesn’t define citizenship on the basis of religion. But now, when the battleground has shifted from Assam to Delhi on these and other issues, it is all the more imperative that our student community stands together in solidarity with students of the rest of the country. If Delhi falls, the entire country falls ~ and we are now more irrevocably a part and parcel of the country ~ October 31, 2019 proves that. Who is right and who is wrong is not the issue here but that the sacred spaces of universities should be breached and violated by cops, goons and lumpen elements is condemnable ~ especially when universities have always been the citadels of dissent, arguments, dialogues, debates, discourses and ideation ~ as they must be. Now that the festive season is over and classes have not begun, it would only be in keeping with the Naga sense of justice if our college and university students would stand in solidarity with JNU and other victimized universities in a peaceful but assertive manner. Perhaps the faculty members of our colleges and universities could provide the leadership ~ not that leadership amongst our students is lacking. However, a well-coordinated solidarity rally or a sit-in could be initiated by faculty members but at the same time allowing students to participate in the decision-making. Meanwhile, what has happened at Jamia, JNU and other universities, as also to protesters against the CAA and NRC across the country has disturbed a good number of non-students here in Nagaland and there is much heart-renting that we are yet to stand in solidarity with the rest of the country. However, we are also aware of our societal dynamics and constraints thereof. There are too many civil societies with too much ideological baggage, which hampers spontaneous solidarity stands on any issue that affects the entire country. Then, there are issues of tribal egos and jurisdictional contestations and conflicts wherein the individual(s) simply get out-smarted and out-shouted. Ours is, after all, a collective-centric community which does not tolerate individual leadership, unless supported by the collective and to get collective support is not easy and often the means not desirable. But how long are we going to live in this self-created little pond and pretend we are as big as the biggest fish in the ocean? We were worried that Jammu and Kashmir would happen to us but didn’t even raise our littlest finger in solidarity with that unfortunate erstwhile state. Why has isolationism become such a trait and trademark with us? It is because we have been cowered into silence by the suppression, oppression and repression of decades of militancy on one hand and the power of money on the other? Ergo, that our students ~ and the rest of us ~ have imbibed this culture of silence is not surprising. But are we happy with this culture? And, has this culture served us in any way?