Asking questions, chanting slogans, walking to the left where the heart resides

This statement of support by Mukul Mangalik, who was at JNU in its early days and now teaches History at Ramjas College University of Delhi, was read out at Freedom Square on May 7, 2016 at the meeting called by JNU alumni in solidarity with the struggle of JNU students and teachers. Featured image by Tanushree Bhasin

Anyone who hasn’t been in the Chilean forest doesn’t know this planet’, wrote Neruda. ‘I have come out of that landscape, that mud, that silence, to roam, to go singing through the world’. Neruda would never know, but for most of us who’ve come out of JNU, he could very easily have been speaking for us and for our university. This after all has been the university which, as any university should, taught so many of us to take risks and ‘Dare to know’, to become women and men of intellect like Diderot or Voltaire, carrying banners inscribed with mottoes of impudent and hazardous intent, ‘Everything must be examined, everything must be shaken up, without exception and without circumspection’. JNU after all, is the place that taught many of us to take flight on the wings of love, to sing with Majaz as the joys and stabs of pain and longing made the impossible seem possible, ‘Bakshi hain humko ishq ne woh jurratein Majaz, darte nahin siyasat-e-ahle jahaan se hum’, while also teaching us with Faiz, ‘gham aur bhi hain zamaane mein mohabbat ke siwa’.

These would be reasons enough to stand with JNU in its times of trouble, but I stand with JNU today for another reason too, and I know I speak for many friends, puraane JNU waale, jo aaj, meri tarah, gayab bhi hain aur haazir bhi.

I stand with JNU today with a passion for solidarity that I have not experienced in a long time. More than what JNU has meant to the likes of me, this has to do with the magnificent struggle, comparable with the best in the history of worldwide student rebellions, that students and teachers of JNU have waged over the last few months.

It is truly remarkable that in the face of the gravest ever assaults not just on JNU but on the relative autonomy of all universities and on Indian democracy, you at JNU, your backs to the wall, the earth being pulled from beneath your feet, and just when it seemed that nothing was possible, achieved the impossible. Drawing on the strength of the critical and democratic traditions established by student movements in different parts of the world, including in various parts of India and JNU itself, you refused to budge, refused to turn tail and run, refused to grovel opportunistically and seek forgiveness in return for promises of good conduct. Instead, holding hands, you helped each other hang on to the shifting earth, and with feet planted more firmly than ever on the ground, came back to life individually and together. With spunk and spine, heads held high, fully aware of costs and consequences as storm-troopers roamed the campus while fascist mobs bayed for the blood of JNU-ites outside, and Ministers and hyper nationalist gasbags unleashed the ‘might of the state’ against you, JNU fought back and continues to do so. And how?

Not with sticks and stones, bombs and arson, violence and terror, but with creatively and powerfully crafted words, images, slogans and graffiti rooted in convictions and in a passionate commitment to ideas, boundless imaginations and the ideals of equality, justice and liberty.

It is nothing short of miraculous that far from allowing the severe crisis consciously engineered by the Sangh, through the degradation of language and the hollowing out and brutalisation of politics to knock you out and shut you up, you have used speech to lift yourselves up, rescued both language and politics from being further demeaned and disgraced, and set an example by humanizing and elevating them instead. You have done for speech and politics, what Neruda says he loves doing to words because ‘it’s the words that sing, they soar and descend…Everything exists in the word’.

It is equally marvelous that in so doing you have transformed the crisis thrust upon you into an opportunity, creating new possibilities for many others, like many student rebellions have done at other times in other places. As with slogans and sedition, it is remarkable that far from being cowed down by the rhetoric of a vacuous patriotism and nationalism being used cynically by the current regime as a stick to beat down democracy, rights and anyone daring to speak truth to power, you have opened up an intellectually stimulating, historically informed and deeply political public debate on nationalism, communalism, caste, patriarchy, agrarian distress, growing inequalities, the worsening conditions of work for workers and of working conditions of peasants and workers in uniform, the purposes of education, and the many threats to, and meanings of democracy and freedom.

Like your predecessors in the late ‘60s who made it possible for many to ‘Imagine all the people sharing all the world’, you too are making it possible, once again, for many to dream of such a world, a world not only free of want and inequality, but also of alienation, so that human beings, freed from objectification and their immediate identities, can begin to feel themselves ‘at home’ at work as much as outside it, ‘glorious things’, in the words of Rohith Vemula, ‘made up of stardust’. It is no less remarkable that in your sustained call for the forging of new radical solidarities you have begun to chart a new path for wider struggles aimed at upholding constitutional values and liberal democratic freedoms as the necessary preconditions for striving to move beyond political equality to freedoms rooted in social and economic equality, a world in which ‘all belongs to all’.

No governments, except for Ayub Khan’s in Pakistan, fell in1968. Yet, below the return to a surface normality thereafter, tectonic shifts had taken place, changes more fundamental than the rise and fall of governments. The student rebellions of 1968 had done the impossible by rocking and changing the world for the better without taking power. Much of the freedom of today began in ’68’, opening up new possibilities of being and doing for all kinds of people in different walks of life.

Let me then end by saying, my JNU comrades and friends, that by doing what you have done thus far, you, like student rebels earlier have already begun to change the world for the better. This is a victory that nobody can snatch from you, a victory that has drawn unprecedented solidarity and support in your favour. Taking inspiration from this we shall continue to stand with JNU and together face the harder times ahead, ‘asking questions, chanting slogans, walking to the left where the heart resides’, taking one step back if necessary but making things difficult like hell for the fascists.

Salut camarade, Inquilab Zindabad!

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Mukul Mangalik Written by:

Mukul Manglik teaches history at Ramjas College, Delhi University and was a student at the Centre for Historical Studties, JNU in late 1970s.

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