“This isn’t a feminist issue, stay in your lane!” – Everyone supporting the government’s position on JNU.
February 2016 has presented us with a tirade of contrasting opinions flying Left & Right. What constitutes nationalism? Is sloganeering against the nation-state to be tolerated? How many opposing opinions must one voice before being labelled an ‘anti-national terror sympathiser’? Are voices of dissent, by default, disrespectful of Army sacrifices?
The polarisation of political opinion over the JNU row has thrown up some extreme and absurd premises. Some of the logically fallacious arguments have ultimately led to the muddling up of a serious discussion.
One argument that stands out among the list of star-performers is that of silencing the opposition. Female professors within JNU as well as feminist voices of support from outside are being met with this unenlightened suggestion, “Shut up and focus on women’s rights“. It is almost as if logic and collective common-sense have been crucified, along with the students.
Jawaharlal Nehru University has been a bastion of Liberal-Leftist thinking since its inception. In adherence to its democratic principles, it has given space to opinions contrary to its own. A right-wing student body such as the ABVP – that draws its inspiration from the RSS – also finds a space on the JNU campus. The institution has a long history of producing luminaries in all levels of the public sphere – from governance to research and academia, from activism to social development. It is this rich legacy of plurality and a commitment to social justice that defines JNU culture.
Naturally, debates on prevailing social structures and systems of oppression hold a prominent place on campus. In this environment, class struggles, Dalit oppression, patriarchal structures, Adivasi rights, gender and sexual politics are routinely discussed and debated. Those 1020 acres of intellectual environment are a world within itself – teeming with academic opinion and student idealism.
Can feminism, then, be truly divorced from the ongoing movement at JNU?
Keep in mind that some of the leading faces of the struggle are women who identify as feminists. Shehla Rashid Shora, Nivedita Menon, Ayesha Kidwai and Kavita Krishnan are some of the prominent names that have become synonymous with the movement. Off-campus, the protests are joined by thousands of women against state repression. Online, a number of feminist blogs and websites have expressed solidarity with JNU.
All of this should be unsurprising to an observer who recognises the underlying intersectionality across social struggles of gender, class, caste, race and religion. In principle, JNU has fostered a feminist consciousness that has routinely criticised the patriarchal underpinnings of society. And when an overbearing State tries to subvert such an institution by outlawing dissent and seizing space, it is bound to face severe backlash.
This deliberate categorization of issues by people (often, privileged groups) into ‘relevant’ and ‘irrelevant’ is a disingenuous method to silence the opposition. “Do not concern yourself with this issue, you have nothing to do with it,” is reserved exclusively for those who don’t suit a particular dispensation. If feminists had, for example, supported the government’s actions in JNU – their opinion would be used to bolster the anti-JNU argument.
JNU signifies the coming together of peoples’ aspirations; those that do not find a voice in our nation’s routine affairs. The united voice of feminists has, therefore, been strongly in favour of JNU protestors – for the university signifies feminist debate and discussion in an increasingly misogynistic environment.
No amount of silencing will be able to divide the various voices that have come together and found a common ground in this movement. It is about time that people stopped trying to silence us.
Featured Image Credit: Hindustan Times