Let’s just begin with- my family have always been Shiv Sena supporters who support BJP because of the alliance. Most members in my family are largely apolitical but would vote for the Right. Some have been more active in their politics. We live in central Mumbai, a few minutes walk from Shiv Sena Bhavan (Shiv Sena’s headquarters) and also Raj Thackeray’s residence. Growing up I was taught to be proud of a relative who had been arrested for his role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid. A letter he wrote while in jail is still preserved. Another member is an active member of the BJP in rural Maharashtra. I was taught to be proud of Bal Thackeray for protecting ‘Marathi interests’, training Marathi youth in English to prepare them for jobs (ironically after asking them to prefer Marathi over English), for protecting our jobs from South Indians and other migrants, for protecting us from Muslim onslaught. I was to be proud of Shivaji and his war on ‘Muslim invaders.’ These were approximately the first twenty years of my life.
Then I moved away from Mumbai for my education. This was around the time when the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena under Raj Thackeray’s leadership had launched an attack on ‘North Indian’ migrants for taking away our jobs. I had witnessed mobs at Sena Bhavan damaging public vehicles. I remember defending them for believing that the North Indians were not respecting ‘my’ Marathi culture.
Moving away from here showed me a completely different world. Slowly and gradually began the journey of unlearning that is stressed on many institutes of higher education. I made Bihari friends that weren’t anything like I was made to believe. I learnt of the Srikrishna commission report, the Gujarat riots that were never discussed, the idol of Ram that one night unearthed itself inside the Babri. I learnt of AFSPA, and the other side of the story, the life of Kashmiri Muslims, I questioned my idea of the armed forces which we only knew to be proud of for protecting us. (Just to be clear I have also heard of many narratives of Kashmiri pundits too). I also learnt of a political alternative in the Left which was absent in my part of the world. I learnt of Maoism as more than just the ‘biggest internal security threat in our country’.
I learnt of the caste based atrocities which till this point for me were only discussed in terms of ‘those lower castes and denying us seats and jobs, that they no longer need them, they have been uplifted…’ But then I met first generation learners in class, realised their struggles and my privilege. I realised that for the OBC me from the creamy layer, it wasn’t enough to only not make a caste certificate, or proudly claim not using my OBC status to get college admissions.
But I think the most important thing I learnt from all the experiences is how uncritically I had accepted the Right’s version of things. I see why even now a lot of my family and friends believe what they say. It showed me that there are many versions of the same incident and it never is black and white like a lot from the Right and Left might have us believe. It made me see things beyond Left and Right. I am still to take a firm stand on many issues in our country but the least I take from my education and my experiences is to listen to the alternatives, to think over them, to not dismiss them simply because they question my beliefs. My education has taught me to prioritise everyone’s human rights over Hindu and Marathi privileges (which the right leaning parties might want us to believe as our rights).
I stand with JNU and with Rohith and with Umar, not because I believe every gesture of the Left, or their ideology. I don’t think I support every word spoken at the 9th February program. I would rather not want ‘Bharat ke tukde hazaar’ but nor would I want people to be forced to toe in line or leave for Pakistan or be lynched by mobs. But because critical thinking has changed me for good and should be known to one and all. Because I believe we need to listen to alternatives. Because we need to question our beliefs. Because I believe labelling every dissent anti-national does the country as diverse as ours no good. Because it makes little sense to me to treat NRIs more ‘national’ than the people who bring to you the voice of tribals and Dalits just because they oppose your idea of development or your caste and class privileges. Because the government ministers and police should not barge into universities simply because they have no response to the questions raised by students. Because my relatives and friends who still believe JNU, Rohith and Umar to be anti-national need to listen to them without being judgemental. Because we need to question what Times Now, Zee News and News X, etc. for telling us what to believe. Because violence is not the solution.
About myself: Me and my family still walk to the Sena Bhavan bus stop to catch a bus for work and I am not keen on getting attacked on my way to and from the bus stop by the so called nationals. I also don’t have enough connections among the activists for reputed lawyers to fight for my release if I am arrested. Hence I do not want to disclose my identity here.