The Tri-Colour Freedom: Why We Must Stand With Umar Khalid

Himanshu Pandya


An alumna of JNU, Himanshu is a Professor of Hindi Literature in Rajasthan.

Translated from Hindi by Kumar Unnayan.

I will only talk about the most sensitive issue of slogan-poster-meeting. It will branch out to many other questions.

To begin with, I can now claim with full conviction that no ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ slogans were raised in Jawaharlal Nehru University. It was Zee News which shrewdly morphed ‘Bhaartiya Court Zindabad’ into ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ through tampering with the footage and when, in turn, the noose started to tighten on ABVP members, the channel came out with the original video. Though by then, they had managed to stir the ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ frenzy among the people . Even then, it is the least objectionable of all slogans in my opinion; this clarification is for those who find it objectionable.

If Zee News can deceive once, their other video clips should also be viewed with distrust. Audio tampering can easily alter anything. I say this particularly in context of second video which is quite dim and is supposed to have the ‘Bharat ki Barbaadi’ (destruction of India) slogan in it. Evidently, this slogan is most objectionable, cannot be defended and should be condemned by everyone. And everyone, every party did condemn it absolutely. They immediately condemned officially in their statements. Did anyone air their condemnations?

No leftist can ever shout the slogan of ‘Inshah Allah’. Then, the DSU (former members of the organisation hosted the event) comprises of the most hardened leftists, the 24 carat ones’! (No offence! I have some close friends from that organisation. Arguments and clashes aside, I once asked friends from JNU to participate in a dharna at Statue circle, Jaipur for ‘Right to information.’ Three out of six people who accompanied me to Jaipur were from DSU. And no, it was no left wing protest.) Similarly, AISF (Kanhaiya’s party) cannot raise any slogan questioning nationalism. Everyone’s slogans and politics are lucid. ‘Na Hindu Rashtra Na Naksalvaad/ Ek rahega Hindustaan’ (‘ ‘Neither Hindu Nation nor Naxalism/ Hindustan shall remain one’) is SFI’s slogan and AISA will never subscribe to it. On the other hand, it is certain that in collective rallies and protests, SFI will also not raise them. You possibly know how it works.

However, let’s talk about the slogans which I do not find objectionable. The so called ill-mannered slogans of the incident. Foremost, let’s talk about the slogan of ‘Aazadi’ (Independence). You must have noticed how it demands freedom from several quarters, one after another. It is quite an exquisite slogan and is used on several occasions. It demands to drive our freedom to diverse meanings. Baba Saheb Ambedkar himself asserted the inadequacy of mere political freedom and emphasised the need of a long struggle for social freedom. Our friend, Pankaj Srivastava, has rendered one of its versions. I am quoting it here with gratitude:

Main bhi mangoon Aazadi
Tu bhi maange aazadi
Saamantavaad se Aazadi
Poonjivaad se Aazadi
Samrajyawaad se Aazadi
Corporate se Aazadi
Jaativaad se Aazadi
Brahmanvaad se Aazadi
Pitrasatta se Aazadi
Ram maange Aazadi
Rehman bhi maange Aazadi
Sampradaiykta se Aazadi
Dangaaion se Aazadi
Faasivaad se Aazadi
Bhrashtachar se Aazadi
Lad ke lenge Aazadi
Cheen ke lenge Aazadi
Aazadi bhai Aazadi
Humko chahiye aazadi…
(I want Aazadi
You too want Aazadi
Aazadi from feudalism
Aazadi from capitalism
Azadi from imperialism
Aazadi from corporate
Aazadi from casteism
Aazadi from Brahmanism
Aazadi from patriarchy
Ram wants Aazadi
Rehman asks for Aazadi
Aazadi from communalism
Aazadi from rioters
Aazadi from Fascism
Aazadi from corruption
Will fight for this Aazadi
Will snatch and get this Aazadi
Aazadi, brother, Aazadi
We want Aazadi….)

This slogan found a new dimension and popularity during the Nirbhaya/Jyoti movement. At a time when patriarchal machinery was lurking around to intensify restrictions and blaming women for their attire-character-loitering-friendship on the pretext of Nirbhaya’s cruel rape and murder, major women organisations and JNU students judiciously used this slogan to put focus on the fight against patriarchy. They fought notions which consider women as weak, in need of protection and allot the responsibility of looking after women to men. Men who pretend to be supporters of women while erecting fetters of their slavery. (Owing to their inability to comprehend, some channels termed the slogan as ‘inaudible.’ I was amused. They could have asked me, but no! They won’t understand. All they want to hear is “Kashmir wants Aazadi”) ‘We demand freedom from father/ freedom from Khap/ freedom on a secluded street/ freedom to loiter during night….. ‘, the slogan marches on. People have added several dimensions to it with their own understanding. In chronology, it is essential to understand that efforts were also made to go beyond the middle class limitations of this slogan during Nirbhaya movement. It was asked that why should it not include the questions of Soni Sori (a tribal sister who was accused of being a Naxalite and jailed without any evidence.

Dantewada’s SP Ankit Garg thursted stones in her vagina. This valiant SP was felicitated with gallantry award by the Indian government) or Manorma (Manipuri sister abducted by soldiers of Assam Rifles on 10th July, 2004 and whose mutilated, raped body was found on the streets next day. The incident witnessed one of India’s most shuddering protests, in the form of five Manipuri women who stripped naked with a poster on the national flag. It read: “Indian Army, Rape Us.”), or the women of Kunan and Poshpora (Villages in Kupwara, Kashmir. On the night of 23rd February, 1991, the soldiers of 4 Rajputana Rifles gang raped countless women in these two villages)? Why should it leave out Surekha and Priyanka Bhotmange of a Dalit family from Khairlanji? On 29th September, 2006, four members of Bhotmange family were brutally murdered. Both mother and daughter were paraded naked in the whole village and killed subsequently. The women centred movement expressed that they are always the first target of any sort of caste, religion and nation inflicted violence and none of their problems can truly be fought without attacking the same. This is how issues related from caste oppression to repeal AFSPA made their way into this fight. Today, the tribal of Chhatisgarh wants freedom from corporate loot. Kashmir wishes to be free of barbaric inhumane law called AFSPA. The whole nation wants freedom from the venom of casteism running in our veins.

This was only a long example to signify that all struggles for rights are eventually the struggle for freedom and are inextricably intertwined. ‘Freedom’- the most sublime expression in this world. Equality and harmony cannot be attained without it. Why are you so petrified of it? Don’t you want people of this nation to be free? To not feel worried if your daughter comes home late in the night? This independent nation had promised rights and freedom to its free citizens. By discriminating anybody on the grounds of colour, birth, sex, language or region, we first abuse their freedom and rights. Why does this nation not want to hear a woman who has been on fast unto death for last one and a half decade? (For the fact, it is the longest fast unto death in the whole world. Hats off to the nation which do not want to know!) Just so you know, when I arrive at modern period in my literature class every year, I begin with discussing the idea of modernity. I describe the value and meaning of this very freedom as the most pivotal element of modernity. (Reason being the second element) Now, will you declare my classes as anti-national? Will you burn those books from where I learned these values?

Now, the last slogan- ‘Tum kitne Afzal maaroge/ har ghar se Afzal niklega’ (How many Afzals will you murder/ There will be one from every house). If you have followed the course of discussion so far, it should not be very difficult to understand that the direct implication of it is that violence by state fosters more violence in response. However, what can also be discussed is the counter slogan of ‘Jo Afzal ki baat karega/Wo Afzal ki maut marega’ (Those who talk of Afzal/ they will meet Afzal’s fate) and how can it be the yardstick of declaring someone as patriotic and someone else as anti-national? The second universally popular slogan on the other side is the one that promises kheer in lieu of milk. Since I have always liked kheer way too much, I want to save the remaining part of this slogan on every kheer lover’s behalf. I did not intend to use terms such as ‘other side’. But if there are already two sides and you have heard one, it is my duty to talk about the one that remains unheard. Kindly add to this that lakhs of people celebrate Afzal as a martyr in Kashmir. In its decision, the Indian Supreme Court accepted the lack of evidence of Afzal’s involvement in the conspiracy and stated that he must be hanged to ‘satisfy the collective conscience of the society’. What does this mean? Will anyone, who calls it a judicial murder, be declared an enemy of this nation? This is what the organisers of the event stated in their pamphlets. The event was called ‘The country without a post office’, after the title of Agha Shahid Ali’s collection of poetry that came out in 1997. In 1990, letters were not distributed for seven months in Kashmir. Doesn’t the rest of the nation have a right to know about their suffering and pain? You must have seen that clip where a journalist, who believes he is the voice of the entire nation, interrupted Umar Khalid by professing Hanumanthappa’s name. Not interrupted but removed his mic altogether. You feel that he did a great service to the nation by shutting Umar off? Lance Nayak Hanumanthappa sacrificed his life for the nation. If a person tries to lend voice to the sufferings of unheard people of this very nation, should he be considered a recipient of this heritage or a threat to it? Is his love for the oppressed of country anti-national? Think again. Are we lacking somewhere in the fundamental idea of our nationalism?

Look at this picture carefully. It’s the picture that enraged you. One of them is that of Kashmir’s half widows. Women who have no idea where their husbands are and are surviving on the mere hope that someday, they will come back. They are living on the survivor tales of somebody else’s son-father-husband’s return. The second picture is that of army, with whom, they have been sharing space for many years now. The third picture is of Afzal Guru, whom they hail as a symbol of injustice done to them. These pictures are not any prayers of destruction. They merely wish to bring your attention to what is being destroyed.

Let’s go back to slogans. What is the total duration of that ‘Barbaadi'(destruction) slogan? 20 seconds? 30 seconds? How could a nation, which has, for the last 15 years, turned a blind eye to its daughter’s plea, leap to alertness to hear a 30-second slogan? Let’s not even get into an argument of how the slogans could have been stopped in such chaos. Just understand that this nation is exhibiting great tolerance at present by conveniently ignoring the raging voices of dissent in that part of country. So much so, that the Centre agrees to sharing of state responsibilities with the same voices. In the whole country, JNU is the only university in humanities, social sciences and non-technical field that possesses a holistic Indian character. The entrance exam will soon be conducted from 16-19 May in 52 cities. This university is a microcosm of India. When the larger India is unable to lend an ear to the voices of fringes, this microcosm makes it possible for them to come together. A boy from Kerela and another from Bihar become roommates. In this microcosm, they learn everything from listening to compassion and fighting to disagreeing. This boosts the morale, lessens the gaps and the microcosm tries to reach out to the dream that the larger India will attain sooner or later.

The nine to ten kids whose pictures you have seen on TV are from different regions of country. Their coming together makes this country profound, not brittle. Profound in true sense of term. A harmony based on love and solidarity and not through any forced means. This innovation should, at least, take place in this microcosm. Someday, we will fulfill this dream in the larger India as well.

One last thing- the slogan of ‘Aazadi’ is a native of Kashmir. What if I tell you that it was first raised by the ones who fought for Kashmir’s independence? Now if I utter ‘Aazadi’, you will not term me as an anti-national, no? I love this nation and I love my alma mater. It has taught me to love the whole nation.

This is why I reason that “find those who raised the slogans!” is also not doing any good to JNU. You have painted a young man named Umar Khalid as a terrorist, without any evidence, and shown his picture to the whole country. Roads in Delhi are replete with posters carrying his picture. A cultural outfit named Bajrang Dal wants to perform their worship rites with his blood. If anything happens to him, not only will it curb all channels of communication within this microcosm, but also incriminate you with his blood stains. What will you do with that blood soaked shirt of yours, then? I admit that we couldn’t have stopped Akhlak’s killing but in Rohith’s case, we had the chronicle of a death foretold. His ouster, boycott and torture happened at a gradual pace. He too was declared as ‘anti-national.’ Fine, it did not happen before your eyes. But now, everything is happening under the glare. Kanhaiyya Kumar, Umar Khalid, Rama Naga, Shweta Raj, Ashutosh Kumar and Anant Prakash Narayan are not mere names. They are the litmus test of your conscience. We haven’t even repented for Rohith’s killing yet. How can we let another Rohith depart from us?