Meanings and Words: After the Death of Mudasir Kamran

Tonisha Guin

Tonisha is a Cultural Studies major of EFL University Hyderabad. Her obsessions include discourses of everyday life, gender, and modernity(ies) in India, in terms of both the burlesques and the barley water.

She can be contacted at [email protected]

Last Friday night Basheer Hostel (and shortly, the English and Foreign Languages University campus in Hyderabad) was abuzz with a scuffle—an altercation between one of its inmates and a professor. Many vouched for raised voices and uncensored language. Many more discussed the sudden appearance of the police.

On Saturday, at around the same time, the person was found dead, hanging in his room.

Some things have become common knowledge, for what common knowledge is worth:

-that he was becoming increasingly a reason for wariness because of an escalating violent disposition and a tendency to physically assault  others over trivia in general, and one of his friends in particular;

-that the others were compelled to report him for this for the past six months repeatedly, in the hopes of disciplinary action, also of counselling;

-that the last time this complaint was filed happened after he beat a friend  to pulp near the Heritage Well;

-that till then the University had taken no steps (despite the repeated notifications) to address the root of the problem—there hadn’t been a single, minuscule initiative to find out what bothered him, flustered him so to trigger him to possible vent-outs like the above at the cost of his closest friend(s), no less;

-that the University administration was finally triggered into action out of indignation (and fear?) when one of its members was accosted on Friday night, in reaction to his rebuke;

-that the first call the administration made right away was NOT catering to him: offering him counselling from a teacher he trusted, or a professional from the student-help organisations and/or medical institutions affiliated to the University, forming a disciplinary committee which would discuss complaints filed against him to provide a warning, a GD, a safe space to articulate himself, and the reasons behind his perturbed state. Rather, affronted at his retaliation and “apprehending violent, unstable action further in the night”, he was by force handed over to the police to ensure his safety, and that of others, or so was the justification.

-On grounds of the subsequent shocked questioning of the student body about the administration’s lackadaisical “tackling of the difficult situation” of dealing with a student who was clearly disturbed and volatile by handling him over to the police for a night in the lock up for mutual “safety”, also punishment, he was returned from the police station and guarded by members of the hostel and hostel security, on rota.

-Later that night it was discovered that despite all the watching over, his door was locked from within, and he was hanging from the ceiling in what can be (at least for now) called a suicide.

Some things are trying very hard to become common knowledge:

-that in the wake of the anti-death sentence protests that swept across the campus as in most parts of the country, his role could prove a decisive factor in the “disciplinary action” meted out to him;

-versions of the story from his home town, from numerous identity-centric political parties, from protesters in Kashmir and interest groups in both Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh, of torture marks on his body, of this being solely and absolutely a case of unjust persecution against a Kashmiri Muslim man, in the light of mainstream hate speech, the recent blasts, the backlash of the Afsal Guru sentence.

-Of this becoming integrated in what one report has called making him a “second Afsal Guru” in an increasingly heated “anti-India pro-freedom Kashmir” speech;

-Of the ambivalent rumours regarding the nature of complaints of assault filed against him—there were and continue to be whispers about whether they had sexual undertones or not, muttered everywhere constantly, and neatly sidestepped in favour of more clean-cut issues

Some things are being very staunchly refused to be known (read: what we’d like to know):

-Details of what has been happening from the part of the administration by way of “handling the situation”

-The events of Sunday night, what was said by and to the proctor,

-Most importantly, what happened during the detention in the police station, and afterwards.

When there are so many versions of truth bandied around, the least we can ask for is clarity and honesty in the form available to us: an efficient, impartial probe.

We are exhausted of the numerous representations and appropriations the above have garnered. While none of them is wrong, none of them can possibly be foolproof or absolute either. To say nothing of our exhaustion and deep, deep disappointment in the subsequent attitude(s) of the University’ administration and faculty, who can’t “promise” an impartial probe, a temporary suspension of the professor concerned, to say nothing of an acknowledgement of a possibility of (criminal) negligence in the least. If you don’t understand, and instead misrepresent, sidestep and distort questions beginning with “why”, you can never be sensitive to the “hows” and “whos”.

MudasirThis note is being written very self-consciously, as someone writing it from within this University campus’ space at this particular time, particularly from within the ladies hostels which are treated as bastions of feminine elitism; and though it looks like a search for one true, “standardised” version of “truth” amid a quagmire of possibilities, in effect it hopes to address some of the very gradations of knowledge that numerous apathetic , insulated spaces within the campus have already labelled ‘sensible’.

Multiple meanings abound, as do the multiple questions and demands around them (there is already a considerable gap between the reports and views published by national media and those circulated in the campus, just to name one). All remain, or, to be politically more correct, appear, relevant at varying degrees; none ought to be thus discredited, and as such any resolution—whatever this resolution might be—must be very much plural—as is desired—if it is to be in any way effective. The fact that Mudasir had violent outbursts for instance, doesn’t negate the fact that what was meted out by way of “handling” was insensitive to say the least. And both ‘facts’—both aspects of the plural truth—need to be remembered and articulated together, equivocally, so that one compromises neither honesty, nor the multifaceted nature of the case at hand.

Just as the quagmire can’t expect to be resolved by one single, all-effacing truth/version of reality/unilateral, all-satisfying statement of justice, so too it can’t possibly be used as the smokescreen that keeps the actual, deeply relevant question at the heart of the matters veiled: that somebody has passed away, and, though it appears a suicide, there are grounds to suspect foul play on the part of certain offices of authority. A clarity regarding the knowledge of their actions on those particular times and spaces—Sunday night at Basheer, in the police station—is what is called for (and that itself will open up more possible questions and meanings, as it is hoped for). Calling for clarity regarding one particular brand of meaning, to be privileged unanimously, in a distinct black and white classification is absurd at best, slapdash and coercive at its very minimum. Committing to a cause, if only because it raises valid doubts makes sense, committing to some abstract, unresolved “truth” or the hopes of one is a very gullible thought. There is never a single narrative.

Thus, if the framing of this note appears reductive in its classifications of “facts”/”truths”, it has been structured so primarily to emulate—as far as I could have surmised— the exact frame of articulation given to it by many who prefer to remain uninvolved. However, where the quagmire seems to be end game for many, in their immediate need to privilege/essentialise one meaning over the rest, or stay confused therefore apolitical, precisely because there are multiple meanings available; it felt necessary to list all the possible versions together, in their exact avowed grades, on the same page, and call all of them valid and none of them absolute.

II

This last week has been a time of grief and anger and failed attempts at communication and above all it has been a time of confusion. Certain things emerge from the quagmire of perceptions and opinions as largely unequivocal fact.

Mudasir Kamran was taken to the police-station on Friday. He died on Saturday. There was a candle-light march on Sunday. Classes were stopped on Monday. On Tuesday. On Wednesday. On Thursday we had an open forum in the presence of increased security and the apprehension of police action; in the evening the V.C finally deigned to speak to protesting students, and then ran away mid-negotiation escorted by security through the back-door. On Friday she announced that there would be a null semester from Monday, should classes not begin. We have never heard of this option before, though classes have been suspended earlier for longer periods and for other reasons; but it does neatly make the issue academic. To disrupt classes has never been the goal of this protest, and prior to the V.C’s Great Escape we had hoped to be in class ourselves from Friday; instead the protestors find themselves villainised.

Given the campus and how things have been (student deaths, the largely-defunct GSCASH receiving complaints and (not) handling them), Mudasir’s suicide is one of many indices that is available for us to root for, critique, and ask for investigation of things. How does one conclude about an incident, how does one learn to represent it? The student protests are reprisals only in terms of the questions asked. No crude sense of vengeance or counter harassment is being sought. We don’t know yet whether Mudasir’s suicide will become one of the first articulated cases of institutionalised gay discrimination in an Indian university spaces, or whether, in terms of the discussions garnering around it, will emerge as one of the watershed moments in the struggle against the quiet, covert discriminations meted out to Kashmiri Muslim scholars outside Kashmir. Perhaps it will be both, and more. We don’t know yet what will come out of it, but we do know whatever we may or may not know eventually will become facets of an essentially plural, intersectional grid of causes—all valid, none absolute—if this is to become an index of any situation at hand, one of administrative negligence, student agitations, or institutionalised discriminations of various stripes.

At its heart we are all trying to understand, engage with, open a dialogue about the fact that somebody some of us knew, some others are beginning to know, was pushed to the brinks of self-annihilation—in the most literal sense of the word—by the insensitivity of some people and spaces that were duty-bound to protect and help him but couldn’t be bothered, just as they, in the first place did not bother to know him—as a Kashmiri Muslim, as a member of the University, as  a PhD scholar with friends, with an account at the University store, with records of lost books in the library, in shared memories of classes and presentations, as a human being like any, all of us: perpetually, potentially fallible, and volatile, and magnificent.

III

On Monday classes will recommence. They will happen under the watchful eyes of policemen around classrooms, campus cafeteria, the Library. Some students had petitioned for classes to be resumed, so for at least a part of us this aberration will cease to exist. We have been told that we are sensationalising it into a Muslim issue, a Kashmiri issue. Mudasir was a Kashmiri Muslim, but apparently to bring out these things (along with numerous others) is an act of indiscipline and indecency. (We will not go into the homosexuality issue, and one hopes that the mental disorder issue does not need to be discussed.)

The member of faculty implicated in these things is to be investigated by a committee yet to be constituted; he has not been suspended, but since he is on leave our V.C opines that that need not happen. Proctorial duties have been (unofficially) handed on to another faculty member.

On Monday there will be class. Libraries will be open. The computer lab will be accessible. Everything will return to normal. Never mind deaths enmeshed with shady back door entries and exits of people of office, or peaceful protests entailing a crowd sitting under the Hyderabad sun day after day, in the hopes of a meeting, with earnest (if slightly toneless) poetry and music and aggression only in way of questions asked; or the fact that at least one student is still in an ICU for reasons that have very little to do with everything else, and something to do with the administration, or that from Monday again, as declared jubilantly, for every five students we’ll have one police man.

Never mind the only things asked for by the selfsame “violent protestors” were but constitutional.

Everything in EFL is normal again. The only aberration was after all, the small group of students sitting in front of the Administrative Block, asking questions. Dead men tell no tales.

On Monday there will be classes.

 

  • Sm

    This is a troubled and troubling piece of writing, in its willingness to vilifiy the young man on the basis of hearsay. For him to be a vocal Kashmiri Muslim in this context would be seen as “violent” behavior, though thankfully the author does not go so far as to justify the administration for calling in the police. It’s not clear on what basis she tells us about students beaten to pulp and still in the ICU, creating though innuendo a picture of irrational violence, while dismissing reports of marks of torture on Mudasir Kamran’s body. What are the “identity politics” the author refers to? Indian Muslims at long last coming to support Kashmiris? In its disjunction from feelings in Kashmir and events there as each day the repression gets worse with pepper spray, chili spray and “nonlethal” pellets claiming more and more victims, it is an appalling display of Indian arrogance. The issue here really isn’t classes on Monday or the author’s need to reflect or even the administration’s actions on what is clearly a highly authoritarian and bigoted campus. It is the unfolding of a carefully calibrated series of provocations by the Indian state against the Kashmiri people, with the full complicity of the Indian intelligentsia.

  • Sm

    From another source, the student in the ICU is a tribal/Adivasi student who attempted suicide. Mudasir Kamran’s death is the fourth on the campus since the University opened five years ago. Yet all the violence is attributed in this article to the young man hounded to death. Beyond sad.