27 February 2016: Jawaharlal Nehru University continued its outdoor lecture series on ‘India: the National and Nationalism’ at Administration Building Steps with a lecture by Mridula Mukherjee, renowned historian and retired professor from Centre of Historical Studies. These teach-ins are part of a program initiated by JNUTA in which professors from various schools and departments have held daily outdoor classes in response to concerns about rising ‘intolerance’ and ‘fascism’ in the country.
Mukherjee’s lecture was preceded by a public meeting by Mrs Lalita Ramdas, women’s rights activist and founder of Greenpeace India, and her husband Admiral Laxmikant Ramdas. The public meeting, titled ‘Demilitarising Nationalism: Anti-war Perspectives on Patriotism’, acknowledged that ‘national security is human security’ and that ‘no nation can be strong only with a strong military’. Mrs Ramdas, a staunch believer that the ‘personal is political’, stressed that militarism cannot be destroyed without the active presence of women’s rights in the nationalism debate.
Admiral Ramdas described himself as ‘an idealist like Nehru’ and compared nationalism to seas, in that both are boundless. Ramdas said that he finds the best citizens of India in JNU and used his lecture to paint a hopeful portrait of the nation. He anticipates more tolerance and celebration of diversity in its future.
Following these speeches was a Chhattisgarh Chief Minister’s effigy burning programme organised by BAPSA at 5:45 pm, in response to the attack of tribal rights activist Soni Sori on 21 February. Students gathered around chanting Jai Bheem and demanding a resignation of the Chief Minister. Chinmaya Mahananda, BAPSA called upon all the students ‘[to fight] brahminical patriarchal forces in the society’ and stressed on the need of a greater unity amongst the oppressed.
After the effigy burning, Professor Mukherjee began her lecture by telling the gathered students that India is currently facing one of her toughest times in history, and that not only the University’s but the country’s future is at stake. She asked her students to bring sobriety, gravitas, and a sense of responsibly to the movement.
‘Our nationalism is progressive, revolutionary and pro-people and their nationalism is jingoistic…. We are telling the world that we believe in debate and dissent and today we are fighting for our autonomy.’
Professor Mukherjee used her speech to recall stories of Indian nationalism as old as those of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Tilak which illustrated past Indian leaders fighting for civil liberties. She emphasized that fighting for the protection of civil rights was instinctive to this community. She defended her approach by reminding her students that Tilak and Gandhi were tried under Section 124(A), the same Sedition Act under which JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar is currently being charged.
The lecture was followed by speeches from different individuals, activists and leaders in solidarity with JNU.
The classes, which began on 17 February, are scheduled to continue until at least 4 March.
You may access Professor Mridula’s lecture online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5i-CZEMRV8.
Sibel Güner contributed the photos and works for The Informer.
Kumar Prashant is a BA student at CRS and works for The Informer.