Jamia and AMU protests a defining moment: India rediscovering its undivided soul

Students are once again at the vanguard of a movement that has arrested the communal divide, despite attempts made from the highest office in the Government to stoke communal passions

Jamia protests against CAA
Jamia protests against CAA

Salman Khurshid

On the eve of Independence when all around Jamia the fire of communal hatred was threatening to singe the institution, Mahatma Gandhi sent his son to the hostels of Jamia in solidarity.

When people suggested that contributions might be sought from the public if the word Islamia was removed from the name ‘Jamia Millia Islamia’, Mahatma Gandhi had retorted that he would then have nothing to do with Jamia.

When Jamia celebrated its Silver Jubilee on 17 November 1946, Dr Zakir Husain, the Shaikh-ul-Jamia, addressed an audience that had Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Liaquat Ali Khan and M A Jinnah among others and said:

“This fire is burning in a noble and humane land. (But) How can we protect humanity in a world of animals? These words might sound too harsh. (But) at the rapidly deteriorating situation today, harsher words would still be far too mild. We know not how to express the anguish we feel when we hear that even innocent children are not safe in the reign of terror.”

“An Indian poet has remarked: “Every child who comes to this world brings along the message that God has not yet lost faith in Man. But our countrymen have so completely lost faith in themselves that they wish to crush these innocent buds before they blossom.”

Almost three-quarters of a century later, Jamia is once again in the news, this time after being invaded by Delhi Police allegedly in pursuit of an agitating crowd and without seeking the permission of the Vice-Chancellor.

While the police will inevitably have explanations, the fact remains that Jamia is an institution born of the Independence movement, a movement which saw students and teachers of Aligarh Muslim University boycott their parent university as it was controlled by the British government.

Jamia was the child of Khilafat (Succession), which sadly even many of the educated today confuse with Mukhalfat (Against or to oppose)! The Khilafat movement was Mahatma Gandhi’s strategy to bring Muslims and Hindus together in the fight for freedom against the British, although the ultimate cause was the movement in Turkey to defend the Khalifat of Islam.

Similarly, the CAA, whatever the narrow intent with which the BJP government has brought it, has become the rallying point for Muslims and Hindus alike in support of freedom and dignity. Ironically Aligarh and Jamia stand together this time.

If only the State understood that emotion, even if it was inconvenient to their narrative of one country, one thought, one voice, one feeling. The three last singularities do not make up the first, rather our faith in one nation, our noble land India celebrates the diversity in all three dimensions.

The agitation is really about persecution and oppression. Unlike many occasions of the past, this time the Vice-Chancellor and the university administration seem to have stood firmly with the students.

But for the State and its agencies to be influenced by the impression that this protest is only by Muslims and for Muslims, is sad and reprehensible. Muslims have united with Hindus, Christians, Parsis, Sikhs and Buddhists to question the divisive agenda and segregation of pain and deprivation on grounds of religion, and that too somewhat inconsistently in terms of minorities in Sri Lanka and China. Young people like Anugya are the face of this moral protest.

If the incumbent government is hazy about its understanding of the spirit of Jamia or is deliberately inimical to its aspirations, one can understand. The tragedy is that amongst the young people who risked comfort and safety to come out in bitter cold, there were a handful who could not resist creating controversies that showed cracks in the intended unity.

Naming and shaming them will possibly make them feel that they have succeeded. But they are the enemy within to be alert about. They are not sympathisers of the protest movement but enemies of the people and virtual collaborators of the callous and insensitive government.

Then there are the troublemakers from adjoining areas whose concern for the university is perhaps even less than that of the police. Inviting police retaliation by torching vehicles and breaking windows, not to mention pelting stones, they left the peaceful student community, some who were pursuing academic work in the university library, to bear the brunt of the violence.

Furthermore, the students had to bear the indignity of at least one media channel describing them as potential terrorists and anti-national elements. The stoking of the fire by political outfits hoping to score huge gains from the unrest was the final nail in the coffin of unity.

The presence of Harsh Mander, Colin Gonsalves, Sitaram Yechury, Chandershekhar, Saba Naqvi, and messages from academic hubs across the country and indeed the world, cannot and must not go unnoticed.

A wonderful thing is happening. The supposedly unstoppable tide of polarisation has been arrested. India is rediscovering its undivided soul and as always it is the youth who are again at the forefront.

The Jamia and AMU have had their winter holidays advanced and many a weary and worried student will journey back home. But passion knows no holidays and the quest for justice cannot be confined to a week of discomfort. Jamia’s legacy has been stirred but marshaling all peaceful, legitimate instruments of dissent would still be needed.

The nationalist fervour of Jamia was based on supreme sacrifice, not one-upmanship in media bytes. Our pursuit of dignity must be informed by our commitment to Gandhian ahimsa. Let us not forget that Gandhiji suspended the freedom struggle for four long years because of Chauri Chaura.

While legal arguments are important in the fight for justice, ultimately our success will lie in our moral fortitude.

The BJP has attempted to distort the democratic debate and obliterate the historical significance of nationalist landmarks like Jamia. It is time to reclaim the legacy and commit ourselves to preserve and protect it.

This is not just a battle for some students of Jamia and other universities; it is a defining moment for our democracy and heritage.

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