SAR Geelani – he-who-must-not-be named

“I know not what to say, my title’s weak.” 
—Henry VI

Antonio Cutrera, one of the finest researchers on the mafiosi culture and codes of conduct, once quoted a wounded man saying to his assailant: “If I live, I’ll kill you. If I die, I forgive you.” But there is another possibility, one might neither live nor die. One simply might carry on with life, doing business as usual, respecting codes, particularly those of radical politics. In and around Delhi University we respect codes; we live in blood-ties—in love, mercy and may I add, in silence.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani—he-who-must-not-be named, is present with us through a spectre of vital absence [/pullquote] Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani—he-who-must-not-be named, is present with us through a spectre of vital absence.  All we know is that he has been taken into judicial custody on charges of sedition, criminal conspiracy and unlawful assembly in connection with an event held at the Press Club of India on February 9, 2016.  No information or update about the extension of his remand, his bail options, his financial travails, the treatment meted out or questions asked of him in custody, the position or anxieties of his family and so on, have been forthcoming. No date has been immortalized for a possible annual commemoration, no squares christened so far. This is vertigo inducing musical omerta. We see occasional mention of this apparition of a name, as an also-ran in distant placards, an after-thought in social media updates. The rest is an abyss.

Prof. Geelani, his defense counsel Satish Tamta had informed the media very early on, has not disputed his presence and his being the convenor of the event. It was supposed to be a critical-intellectual session on the question of Kashmir and was an open session. While acknowledging that sloganeering had occurred at the meeting, Mr Tamta quite rightly makes the claim that Prof. Geelani cannot be held responsible for the same. [pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Political battles begin where law ends[/pullquote] There is an obvious continuity in the case of Prof. Geelani who was arrested in connection with the 2001 Parliament attack case, but was acquitted by the High Court in 2003 for want of evidence. At that point, following his arrest, there was a massive and concerted civil and legal campaign against his detention, torture and against the treatment meted out to his wife and children.  The legal imbroglios and tribulations he now faces owe more to his idealistic intransigence—that he is able to keep the issue of self-determination of Kashmir alive in public discourse. But that is a legal battle that he is bound to fight out, if he has taken a decision to go against the now projected idea of India—as a monolithic strong nation, with a civilizational mission. The repercussions owe to the sharpening contradictions of political polarity that besets our country at this point of time.

Political battles begin where law ends.  It ought to carry simultaneously with procedural details. At the least, political mobilization could affect public opinion around a matter that is sub judice. And it is that zone which now bristles. Prof. Geelani used to teach Arabic in a university which has gone quiescent about his case, at a time when coming together and defence are the need of the hour.

The Delhi University Teacher’s Association has been given a letter on March 2 by around 40 teachers who are also members of the DUTA requesting it to take up the matter with utmost urgency and explore all possible means to help their colleague. The fact that the DUTA has been pussyfooting on this matter speaks either of its taking cognizance of certain political realities or its well thought-out distancing from this particular case. The first option is strategic and political. In the second case, it would be mean a characteristic rejection of Geelani’s politics and the ideology behind it.  To be factual, a 16th February resolution of the DUTA Executive calls for an end to harassment of all the DU teachers in connection with the Press Club function held on the 9th of February. The DUTA president has also promised to work out, in consultation with Dr Geelani’s family, a DUTA delegation’s visit to him to express its solidarity. The aforementioned letter submitted to the DUTA President has been included as an agenda item in the DUTA EC meeting scheduled to be held on Thursday, March 17. One shall see what follows.

But this is not about official response.  I am referring to a climate that now besets us.  First, the left liberal response to issues such as self-determination or linguistic sub-nationalism has always been a vexed one. If you add a possible question of religious belief into the narrative, the national-progressive legacies of the left does not allow it to bring itself into this kind of confrontation with the state, or with the state’s mercenaries and henchmen who work beneath (and sometimes in tandem with) the radar of public law enforcing agencies. Though often the progressives will frame such questions around ideology, it is more often than not a pragmatic strategy on their part.  Such an entrenched form of operation is always already defensive and half-hearted. What is exacerbating this attitude this time is the response that we are witnessing from some of our most progressive institutions around the nation: confronted by a virulent nationalism—our best academics and free thinkers are seeking a clear framework of constitutionalism within which other sociological categories like caste, class, gender, language can be subsumed.  More intangible categories of emotional quotient and psychological warfare are concomitantly being dealt within a certain economy of nationhood. The scope of studying and responding to subjective issues like trauma and tragedy within the sociological changes that our nation is now undergoing is being narrowed down by the liberal response. The omerta is a process of self regulating once the climate is slightly skewed.

The idea of silence around Prof Geelani’s travails is about a misplaced sense of being politically responsible. This is a most spectacular alibi we give to our own selves for being unsure about our own positions on issues about public debate, critical discussion and emotional draining that happen each time when such an omerta is enforced.  It takes a toll within us even as we begin to give a space to our pragmatic and cautious concerns by means of measuring options and making a cost-benefit analysis. Such dragging also, bit by bit, eats up our public spaces of contestation.

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Prasanta Chakravarty teaches English in Delhi University and edits Humanities Underground

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