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Prof Badri Narayan on Cultural Appropriation of Dalit Imagination; ‘Carvan-e-Sedition’ by Nandita Haksar, Sandeep Pandey and Amit Sengupta

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10 March 2016| 5:20 PM: Prof Badri Narayan delivered a lecture titled ‘Dalits and the Hindutva Agenda of Nation-Making’ as part of the teach-in on nationalism at the Freedom Square. Prof Badri Narayan (Centre for the Study of Discrimination and Exclusion), as introduced by Professor Rajarshi Dasgupta (Centre for Political Studies), specialises in social history and cultural anthropology; his most recent work is a biography—Kanshiram: Leader of the Dalits, published in 2014

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    Professor Badri Narayan explored the Dalit imagination of the nation by citing concrete historical examples and multiple testimonial evidences. He argued that there is an attempt to construct a communal history by pitting Dalits against the Muslims. Myth has been used to raise the Dalits against Muslims to achieve certain political ends.

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     “Why should the soldiers fight and die for you [proponents of ‘Brahmanical Hindutva’] and not for themselves? Every party wants to appropriate Ambedkar….Hindutva politics wants to appropriate Ambedkar by severing him from his context. But it is difficult to swallow subaltern narratives. Even if one tries to swallow it, it’ll rip their insides to reveal itself”—were his words on the ‘hegemonising’ tendencies of Hindutva politics.  Further, he went on to discuss the correlation between religion and nation that compliments the notion of ‘Hindu Dharma-Rakshak (protector of Dharma) and Rashtra- Rakshak (protector of the nation)’.

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     A lecture on ‘Sedition and Nationalism’ followed the aforementioned lecture. Supreme Court Advocate Nandita Haksar addressed the gathering at 6:30 PM. According to her, campuses have traditionally been spaces for democratic discussions and hence are essential for the development of nationalism.  She shared some of her most personal experiences from her time in JNU, and asserted that JNU laid the foundations of inclusive nationalisms beginning with the Indo-Naga peace talks.

     “My nationalism is not going to be defined by Mr. Modi or any government or state….This is not a battle between nationalism and anti-nationalism but a battle between different visions of nationalism”—was Haksar’s remark in the context of her argument whereby history is not an evidence in a court of law, and hence law fails to capture our understanding of nationalism.

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      At around 6:30 PM, there was unrest at the Administration Block because of an alleged attack on JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar. Kumar didn’t get into a scuffle, however the media flocked the area as some of the students engaged in a verbal duel with a few outsiders and an enraged media-person. The crowd dissipated within 15 minutes. ABVP held an event parallel to the JNUSU-JNUTA event which commenced at 5:30 PM. Some of the key speakers at the ABVP led event were— Dr Shiv Shakti, Shri Govind Mishra, Sandeep Mahapatra and Dr Amit Singh.

     Haksar’s lecture was followed by an address by Prof Sandeep Pandey ex-faculty member IIT-BHU who was forced to leave the university on account of ‘sedition’ charges. Prof Pandey shared his personal experiences in the topmost engineering colleges of the country. He provided a critique of the value-based evaluation system and the curriculum followed in Indian higher education, which instead of making students critically aware of the problems in the society and their remedies, only teaches how to cram information and hone skills to serve the political-capitalist caucuses in the society. 

     He narrated how, his teaching contract was terminated, because he chose to discuss, an ex-IIT BHU student turned naxalite—Prashant Rahe’s writings, “Why I am a Naxalite?” and wanted to screen the banned documentary India’s Daughter on the 16 December rape victim, Jyoti Singh. He also mentioned how, the administration resented his engagements with the worker’s union, his social activism and especially his manner of teaching and evaluation, for which he has even received recognition from universities and organizations abroad. Prof Pandey was also a member of the All India Defence Committee for S. A. R. Geelani.  His critiques and comments were met with loud applauses. He commented that terrorism is a recent phenomenon in the country and  that “the mother of all terrorist activities in India is the demolition of Babri Masjid.”

     In what was turning out to be a series of lively discussions and speeches, the evening ended with a talk by Amit Sengupta, ex-JNUSU President and former faculty member at IIMC. The audience listened in rapt attention, as he recounted the incidents which formed the aftermath of Comrade Chandrashekhar’s killing in 1997: JNU students in Bihar, the curfew in JNU, the detained students who were rounded up and beaten by the police during a peaceful protest demonstration and how the students still fought and managed to resist the curbs imposed by the administration and the Centre. 

Aakanksha D’Cruz is an MA student at CPS and works for The Informer.

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