Dear Professor Paranjape,
I am a student of JNU, fairly regular to classes, unaffiliated to any political party, and striving to be what you termed as ‘independent intellectual’, I attended your lecture on nationalism and then watched your interview on Newsd as well. I am telling you these facts so as to tell you where I derive the legitimacy to write an open letter to you.
I must sincerely applaud you since your lecture provided us with an alternate perspective on nationalism and thank you for your poignant critique of the left as well as JNU. Although, I felt proud of JNU when the audience listened to the alternative and critical lecture respectfully, I felt that there was a hint of hostility in the tone of a few questions which were directed at you, and was disappointed at that. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that I was swayed by your lecture just the way you confessed that you were swayed by Kanhaiya’s speech.
However, that did not last long. Few days later, I googled ‘Makarand Paranjape’ with a high opinion of you in my mind, and came across your interview with ‘Newsd’. Unfortunately, I logged off the internet with sad disappointment. The tone of the interview, the arguments you had put forward and the facts you presented, were so in contrast with that lecture, that I can actually use your own lecture to critique your interview.
A major chunk of your lecture was spent on cautioning us against falling for reductive formulations of theories, ideas or events. You asked us to contextualize everything and look for a space for mediation between two extremes. Not getting stuck with meaningless, extreme binaries was the crux of your lecture. You reminded us to check all the facts again and again. (Though there was a factual error in your lecture itself. It was not Karat and Anand Kumar who were challenged by Jairus Banaji, It was D.P Tripathi and Sitaram Yechury. But since these are minor details, we can get past them.)Then why is it professor, that you yourself began your interview with the most reductive and biased arguments of all?
Within the first minute of your interview, you had reduced the entire student movement across India to an attempt to ‘manufacture discontent’. I agree that no ideology is beyond criticism, JNU also is no utopia, but is it okay to dismiss all of the student movement as some sort of gimmick? No.
Let me take a leaf from your book here, and contextualize the situation. It is true that the universities in India have been in the news constantly, and not for something entirely good. I am not calling the situation entirely bad since I see dissent as a good sign for democracy. The bad part is that the present state is continuously raking the hornet’s nest. First it was scrapping of the non- NET fellowships, then it was the suicide of Rohith Vemula and then the crackdown at JNU. So you see, you are right that a certain discontent is being manufactured, but it is not from the side of students, the state itself is manufacturing it.
While I was still digesting the highly biased insinuation, you gave the media’s favourite, “taxpayers’ money” argument. The most shocking part of this argument for me was when you hailed only the middle class as the taxpayer. I was shocked since I never expected half- baked and factually inaccurate arguments from you after you chided Kanhaiya for his factual errors. I am certain that you are aware that income tax is not the only tax you pay. Directly or indirectly, every citizen of this country pays taxes, not just the middle or the upper class. We students realize that our education is being funded by every citizen of this country and therefore we are duty bound to utilize it to its maximum potential.
As Gandhi said, and you quoted, freedom is not political independence. Until and unless someone else is suffering, my freedom is meaningless. Keeping this in mind, we consider it our responsibility to stand for the poorest and the weakest. I am sure you are aware that less than 10% of the Indian population is studying in its universities. Percentage of people coming from oppressed classes or communities is even lesser than that. In the presence of such depressing data, our HRD ministry scrapped non- NET fellowships. You tell me sir, keeping in mind these facts and Gandhi’s talisman, what exactly is negative about students demanding their fellowships?
I am sorry to word it so strongly, but your altercation that the suicide of Rohith Vemula is being capitalized on by the students is nothing short of appalling. It sounds as if you were moved by the dramatic speech made in parliament. Sir, his suspension, institutional and social boycott, freezing his scholarship, all were based on some false claims made by a certain group which considers itself the sole harbinger of nationalism and morality. The HRD ministry wrote not one, but five letters to the university demanding action against his ‘casteist’ and ‘anti- national’ activities, i.e, his activism in the Ambedkar Students Association. This is clearly a provocation for suicide. It’s a murder sir, an institutional murder. His final grievance was that “…a man was reduced to his immediate identity”. And yet again, his institutional murder was reduced to a mere suicide by several people, including you. Such a Shame.
And finally, the cherry on the top was when you decided to give reasons for your critique of JNU as well as the students’ movement. Again I must clarify, I do not consider any ideology or institution to be beyond criticism; however, the critique at least should be based on some logical arguments. Your arguments were nothing but well worded repetition of the typical Bhakt arguments. As a friend of mine said, it was not the ‘Hermeneutics of mediality’ you professed earlier, it was ‘Hermeneutics of partiality’.
First of all, it is laughable to compare the structure of IITs with that of JNU or other universities. Their entire subject matter is different. The reason students of social sciences are so vocal about social issues is not because they have ‘easy’ courses, it is because society is their very subject matter! While we are at it, please clarify, what did you really meant when you said that since in IITs and IIMs students pay a lot of money, they care about the classes? Didn’t you just subtly pushed for a fee hike?
I guess you did not realize how shallow you sounded when you said that the middle class taxpayer and the state funds our education and in return it gets not just ingratitude but also accusations of inequality and oppression. I was literally staring at the screen in shock when a person of your intellect gave such a trifling reading of recent happenings. Even now, I am wondering where to begin explaining to you that inequality and oppression are not accusations levied by us, these are hard realities. We are not trying to defame anyone, we are just giving the Indian society a reality check. We are trying to be Gandhi’s ‘Unafraid populous’; fighting to bring the dreams of an inclusive state to reality.
Sir, you accused us of trying to offend a certain religious group by organising Mahishasur Diwas and Beef festival. You said it is alright to worship Mahishasur, but not okay to term Durga as a sex worker. Well, firstly, I do not understand what is so insulting about being a sex worker? I for one, would be proud to be a part of a community where a sex worker is worshipped as a deity. Secondly, when the Savarnas can insult a tribal deity in their mythology, what is wrong with the tribal mythology insulting a Savarna deity? You should know that alternate mythologies exist. There are over three hundred different versions of Ramayan itself.
As for the accusation that we organise beef parties but not pork festivals, sir, the reason is simple. Pork is not banned, no one is being lynched for eating or storing pork. You can easily see pork being served freely in several restaurants of Delhi, and in several food festivals organised inside the campus itself, be it the north eastern night or the International Food Festival.
Although you are claiming that you stand with JNU and that you are simply pointing out the scopes for improvement, in reality you are just using the garb of criticism to defame this institution. Not one of your arguments hold ground when tested logically and factually.
Signing off, I would like to reiterate that in spite of all their fallacies, JNU as well as the entire student movement, are inevitable if you wish to strengthen this democracy. We all wish for better academic outputs from all our universities, but we cannot achieve that without standing up against the constant attacks over the dissenting voices and the autonomy of these institutions.
Right now, we are standing at a juncture where attempts are being made to crush the very soul of JNU. History will not forget that at this critical moment, you chose not to stand with it.
A JNU student
P.S: In your lecture, you said something to the effect that since you presented a dissenting voice, a bully campaign has been launched against you, where open letters are being written. I must clarify that this letter is not an attempt to bully you. Open letter are a medium to engage in conversations.