State oppression condemned; right of unfettered expression affirmed
Cambridge MA – Frigid temperatures and snow failed to deter participants on Monday, February 15 evening, from attending a solidarity event with Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). The event took place in Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA. Students and professionals from various Boston-area universities, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University, Northeastern University and University of Massachusetts (Boston) and several concerned citizens turned up to condemn the continued repression in Indian universities.
The event was set in motion by a recap of the recent attempts to silence freedom of expression and squelch indications of Dalit resistance, especially as they played out at the University of Hyderabad. One could not ignore the fact that the current turn of events at JNU seem orchestrated to take the media and spotlight off of the studentsâ€™ movement against caste-based discrimination in educational institutions that was instigated by the martyrdom of Rohith Vemula and is gathering momentum all over the country. Against such a backdrop, the solidarity with JNU was felt to be vital to keep alive the growing struggle against caste ignited by Rohith Vemula.
A labor organizer with the labor union Unite Here and an employee at Harvard University noted the importance of the alliance between the working class and students. He expressed grave concern that the students were being attacked to weaken the alliance and then go after the working class, in keeping with the designs of the political-capitalist class to further weaken labor.
A recent graduate of Harvard University recounted his time in Delhi and how he ended up visiting JNU frequently because that was the most “politically vibrant space.” He mentioned how students at JNU organized a solidarity event with the Black Lives Matter struggle in the United States – and why an act of solidarity with JNU now in the hour of crisis was crucial.
Other participants spoke of the right to question the legitimacy of the state and the fairness of trials, even after adjudication by the court system – such questioning and debate was the right of conscience and could not be suppressed. They also reminded everyone of the ongoing nexus of the state with corporations and the attempt to silence all dissent.
A graduate of Northeastern University pointed to the current hysteria over nationalism and patriotism and how that seemed almost jingoistic in its insistence and shrillness, especially in a nation riddled with the evil of caste apartheid and sectarian divisions.
Another participant, a professor at the University of Massachusetts (Boston) pointed to the absurdity of the sedition law put in place in the late 19th century by Indiaâ€™s colonial masters. He spoke about the culture of fear that the state wished to instill within campuses like UoH and JNU. He read out a poem by a former JNU student, Gorakh Pandey, called â€œUnka Darâ€ (â€œTheir fearâ€) –
Ve darte hain
kis cheez se darte hain ve
tamam dhan daulat
gola-barood police-fauj ke baavjood?
ve darte hain
ki ek din
nihathe aur gareeb log
band kar denge
[They are afraid
Of what are they afraid
despite all the wealth,
bombs, ammunition and the police force?
they are afraid
that one day
unarmed and poor people
A graduate student at Harvard University brought along signs with verses penned by Sanchia DSouza, one of them reading:
Iâ€™d write some more verses
With critique sharp and rational
But itâ€™s too late – you laughed
Now weâ€™re both anti-national
It was pointed out that the fact that JNU had German pastor Martin Neimollerâ€™s â€‹famous â€‹poem written on one of its buildings –
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak outâ€”
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak outâ€”
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for meâ€”and there was no one left to speak for me.
– â€‹that â€‹could serve as a sharp call to action to stand with JNU and not let the voices of dissent and justice be silenced