Janaki Nair: Echoes from Karnataka and Kerala

Not all the responses from other parts of the country to the momentous events that have unfolded in JNU over the past two and a half months have been hostile. Not one, but two compilations of talks/writings/poems/cartoons have been produced in Kannada recently. The first, JNU Mele Daali: Bharatada Mele Daali (An Attack on JNU is an Attack On India) edited by Neela K with able translations by Ashok KR, Srinivas Karkala and Vedaraj NK, and published by Kriya Pustaka contains articles by Kanhaiya Kumar, G Sampath, P Sainath, Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib and Sandipan Sharma, as well as original writings in Kannada by Neela K, Purushotham Bilimale (currently holding the Kannada Chair at JNU) Natraj Huliyar, Sugatha Srinivasaraju and other well known writers in Kannada. Prof. Bilimale has been reporting on JNU issues since the struggle broke out in the leading Karnataka paper Prajavani.

JNU Mele Daali not only contains a diary of events and a document to the overwhelming support from institutions within and beyond India, it also includes photographs (though not of very high quality) and cartoons (of very high quality). The strength of Kannada cartooning is on full display: a poor peasant asking a well fed politician about when ACCHE DIN will arrive, and being told his “love of country” is deficient! A policeman gives an interview before the Patiala house court, explaining to the press that the lawyer beating up the unsuspecting man is showing “love of country” which the victim is an enemy of the nation! The pyrrhic conquest of Mount JNU, and several other Indian cartoons are included as well.

A surprising aspect of the first volume is the silence on how the JNU story connected to the HCU events, and to the tragic death of Rohith Vemula. This exceptionalisation of JNU is avoided in the other Kannada volume, Desha Andare…Manushyaru (the nation is …made of its people) published by the well know Lankesh Prakashan (named after the famous writer P Lankesh, who had for years brought out the leading journal Lankesh Patrike, now in its new avatar Gauri Lankesh). The volume is edited by Harshkumar Kudve, and is a more comprehensive, set of articles which have been picked from the wide range of writings on student politics since the fateful year 2016 began. In addition to the tragic eloquence of Rohith in his suicide note, Kanhaiya Kumar’s first speech, there are articles on Umar Khalid, Rama Naga’s life story, Shehla Rashid’s speech: the 45 article volume ends appropriately with Kanhiaya Kumar’s electrifying speech on March 3, 2016 following his release.

The events that have swept the Indian campuses in 2016 no doubt mark a watershed, a new level of attacks on university autonomy. It is fortunate that it has in equal measure generated a huge amount of concern, sympathy, hostility, anger and wariness about the student movement in India generally. This volume is testimony to the wide range of issues that have been openly voiced, that have gone well beyond the immediate crisis, to include reflection on the relationship between the Left and the Ambedkarites surely, but also between established left politics and the crucial categories of caste, sexuality, and ideas of nationalism. Also included is the open letter to Smriti Irani after her dramatic performance in the Rajya Sabha from a fearful and bewildered student. Among the other interesting inclusions, apart from poems in Kannada, is the letter from a teacher at HCU and member of the sexual minorities cell of Telengana.

We are at a time of great uncertainty about the future of the public university, and about the prospects of sustaining and nurturing the huge and inclusive spaces they have become. These volumes will serve to spread the concerns and anxieties as well as the triumphs and creativity well beyond the four walls of the University. It is therefore even more gratifying to note also that Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, (whose degrees are awarded via JNU) is continuing the series of nationalism lectures in its campus.

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