Last Day at Teach-In: Prof. Suvir Kaul’ Discusses “That Conversation about Kashmir”

17 March 2016| 5:30 PM: The 23rd lecture at the Teach-in was the last in the series on “Nation and Nationalism”. And as Prof. Janaki Nair led the audience through the one-month-long process of “learning” and “unlearning” and the myriad, multiple nationalisms and identities, Prof. Suvir Kaul, speaking after her, in his lecture, took us back to where it all began, where it had all started, to The Country without a Post Office.

    The lecture commenced as Prof. Janaki Nair took the opportunity to reflect on the ideas of ‘nation’, ‘nationalism’ and ‘anti-national’ gathered from the lectures spread over the span of one month. She also took the time to thank all students and faculty members for successfully conducting the lectures, and offering a body of investigations, inquiries and engagements on the issue.

    Speaking on the occasion she said, “It’s not just that we have had a very successful series of Teach-ins, we have also demonstrated not only to the nation but to the world that JNU students… teachers and faculties are capable of listening to all kinds of views, views that have helped them to learn about nationalism, but perhaps also to unlearn very important things that they may have come here with…both learning and unlearning has been a part of the process of the Teach-ins.”
She said “…today more than ever before, we need to know what the roots of this dark neo-nationalism that has filled our public sphere is all about?” and “whether nationalism always carries the seeds of the darkness or whether it is some distorted version of what is essentially a good thing?” Having said so, she went through some important points raised by the various speakers during their lectures.

    Responding to the onslaughts on the university, she said, “It is worth thinking at this particular time that ‘love’ has become a four-lettered word, in other words it has become something dirty and disgusting and which should somehow be eliminated from our university campus…but I would like to believe as Anand Kumar also mentioned yesterday, that many people find their partners in JNU, many people have experienced this extraordinary feeling of camaraderie in JNU and that’s not such a bad thing at all…what is threatening the Government today is this alliance that has been forged in JNU not just between students and teachers…this has not happened in India probably since the Quit India Movement …it has also demonstrated that the colours of the red and blue, the Left movement and of the Dalit Bahujan movement have been joined in the struggle…feminism does not have a colour, but we all know that the feminists have been on the forefront of this struggle.”

    Speaking on the larger issues she said, “I feel that this education that one receives in JNU is something that should have been extended to people like Hardik Patel and the leaders of the Jat movement, they would have had a very different idea about the systems of reservations and how to politically agitate for a more just and humane society.”
Further, commenting on the manner in which the different views of the speakers were received and patiently heard by the audience she said, “What JNU has also demonstrated to the nation and the world is that there is much to be gained from respectful listening”.

    Prof. Bikramaditya K. Choudhary, delivered a vote of thanks to the organizers of the Teach-in on ‘Nation and Nationalism’ on behalf of JNUTA. Thanking Dr Vikas Rawal, for his contribution he said, “it was a tremendous effort…to let the world know what we are doing out here, and archiving it in a manner in which it can be later used…the history which will be coming, people will be using these lectures for all forms of understanding- as a continuing protest, as a mark of student-teacher unity, as a mark of debate, as open classroom teaching, all the forms that the time will come will interpret….”
Following which Prof. Niladri Choudhury made announcements for the scheduled lectures on ‘azadi’ beginning on Monday.

    Prof. Suvir Kaul, introduced by Prof. Uday Kumar began his lecture by thanking the students and teachers of JNU for initiating a conversation on Kashmir, and making it possible to debate and discuss on the topic, avoided by most. Prof. Kaul speaking on the idea of nation as a ‘postcolonial legacy’ presented his critique of nation and nationalism, as was received and accepted by the colonial subjects as they became citizens after independence. He said, they merely inherited the power, along with its hegemonic structures, without questioning the structure and machinery of the nation state, which was envisaged for reasons other than for creating an inclusive democratic space.

    He also briefly spoke on the archaic ‘sedition’ laws which India came to inherit from the English, which traces its origin to the law called “An Act for Safety and Preservation of His Majesty’s Person and Government Against Treasonable and Seditious Practices and Attempts” framed during Restoration in 1661 of Charles II, after the fall of the commonwealth; the law was passed to sediment the authority of monarchic regime in England.

    He also, spoke of his own experiences, as a Kashmiri Pundit, and an Indian, and his trying to come to terms with the two phases on his identity which were often at disjunctions, and his attempts to understand the problem of Kashmir: “it took an enormous amount of work for me to read against my own sense that I understood the history of Kashmir”. Cautioning against a simplified understanding of what is right and what is wrong, he said “I would recommend that for all of us as democrats that we do not have the a priori right to decide how a community or people should think about their political future but it is our political responsibility as teachers, as students, to argue that conversation about Kashmir, its future, its present, its past, must happen and it must happen in places like this”. 

   Further he added, one of the things that “a genuinely postcolonial nationalism [must] make available for all of us” is “the possibility of political debates about the flashpoints in our democracy”. He also urged the audience, to unearth and go back to the “pre-Gandhian” and “pre-independence” struggles, and think of what kind of nationalism could replace the narrow ideas of nationalism, which form a part of the colonial baggage we still inherit.
The lecture was followed by an address of solidarity by Kislay from FTII, Pune, and ended with a cultural performance by Caravan. The evening however, continued to resonate with Agha Shahid Ali’s words, which Prof. Kaul had recited at the end of his lecture, it seemed but appropriate that the Teach-in, ended with lines from The Country without a Post Office:

We shall meet again, in Srinagar
by the gates of the Villa of Peace,
our hands blossoming into fists
till the soldiers return the keys
and disappear. Again we’ll enter
our last world, the first that vanished…

These lines are from a poem titled The Pastoral. Prof. Kaul had mentioned at the close of his lecture that the poem was dedicated to a ‘Hindu friend’.
Only much later did we find out that this ‘Hindu friend’ was Prof. Suvir Kaul himself.

The Informer correspondent