Innocence not yet lost

January 19, 2020

As violence is unleashed on JNU, there’s no illusion that these are decisive times for India. The steely resolve on injured student leader Aishe Ghosh’s face shows that the faith in a better tomorrow lives.

It was sometime in the late winters of early ‘90s that I first visited JNU thanks to a relative who had to meet someone. We didn’t find the person but his next-door neighbour simply told us to stay in his room as he was going out. While exiting, he casually told us to leave the key on the ledge of the door when we left. A simple incident really; but somehow this single introduction to JNU made me resolve to appear for entrance exams and when I got in, I remembered that one lesson: an innate trust in people’s goodness. Not even asking their names when someone came calling and knocked at your door. During my time there, I kept that one tradition alive – a tradition that I had learnt from a stranger. Everyone knew where the keys were to be found in case my room was locked. And I wasn’t the only one doing this. It may be too simple a story of ‘days of innocence’ and since then, much water has flowed etc. But nostalgia isn’t just about the good old days, it is about remembering the good in us, and hence that eternal search for lost innocence.

What reminded me of that search was not the unbelievable events that took place inside JNU but the public meeting the next evening being telecast live and steely resolve on the face of Aishe Ghosh, president of the student union, who was bandaged all over her head. That innocence was still there, rather, that informed innocence (quite paradoxical as it may sound) was still there, that unshakeable faith in the goodness of this world and that’s what I longed for after university so much more.

By now there’s no illusion in the minds of even the greatest  sceptics  or even the hard core supporters of the present regime that these are extraordinary, in some ways decisive, times for India. And I am reminded of writer and historian Mukul Kesavan’s comment elsewhere: once this is all over, how would those, who have supported this regime, ever explain to themselves how they did what they did?

The entire world seems to be on a roller coaster ride, a very blunt inversion of what Trotsky had innocently envisioned as ‘permanent revolution’. India seems to have achieved that state very rapidly, but thanks to a fascist right where you aren’t sure what you are going to hear or witness the next morning if you do wake up.

I am reminded of writer and historian Mukul Kesavan’s comment elsewhere: once this is all over, how would those, who have supported this regime, ever explain to themselves how they did what they did?

This is not simply a case of ‘headline management’ any longer – a clever phrase coined by political pundits of this country to explain how this regime is skilled at diverting people’s attention any time a crisis comes calling. This is not the case. While we were being made to believe this was merely a case of ‘diversionary tactics’, something like Donald Trump killing Suleimani post-impeachment, India was being changed in a much more fundamental way. And the absolute victory of BJP last year was an indicator of that. All the acts that followed – abolition of Triple Talaq, a radical change in Article 370 (and an entire state being imprisoned as a result for over five months now), Supreme Court’s decision on Ayodhya and now passing of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the forthcoming National Population Register (NPR) and National Registration of Citizens (NRC, which found its diabolical fangs in Assam), were merely formal symbols of what had changed in this country.

This is also a breathless pace of events, keeping an entire population in a state of ‘permanent revolution’. With NPR and NRC, this regime is set to scale up what we had only seen a pilot of during its earlier tenure through demonetisation, that is putting almost an entire country in the queues outside banks for a few months like a herd of sheep. Only this time, the entire country is going to be in the queue for a long, long time to come proving its identity. And while predictably, Muslims have been forced to come out in the streets, it is clear that even as the first victims of this relentless assault may be more vulnerable populations like poor, rural, dalits, adivasis, women (in Assam NRC a majority of people denied citizenship are women), transgenders, the Pastor Niemoller moment of Hitler’s Germany where no one is going to be spared, has arrived.

And it is in this context that the mass uprising of students across this country (and predictable assault on the universities across India including Jamia Millia, Aligarh Muslim University, Banaras Hindu University and JNU) needs to be seen. This is not merely an assertion against now entrenched fascism, but also one of the innate goodness within us, innocence not yet lost but become more informed: the faith that all will be well in the end!

The writer is a development professional based in Delhi

Innocence not yet lost: Students in India striving for a better tomorrow