handwara

Our Time, Their Time: Witnessing the ‘Nation’, Calibrating ‘Freedom’

By Trina Nileena Banerjee

“We set our watch
by the evening army patrol
or load shedding schedule
Between the two
we couldn’t decide
which one
was more punctual”
~ Haripriya Soibam, 25th February 2016.

On the day that Haripriya Soibam, a Manipuri feminist poet/scholar and a dear friend, posted this brief poem on her Facebook wall, news from Jawaharlal Nehru University was still filtering in at a ferocious pace. Kanhaiya had still not been released and Umar had just surrendered. For the past several days, I had had time to think of little else but the appalling nature of the unfolding events at JNU, but this poem gave me pause. It made me remember the many quiet evenings I had spent in the dark as a fledgling researcher in the city of Imphal. In the years between 2009 and 2014, as a scholar of Manipuri theatre, my visits to Imphal were regular. In these years, I had witnessed, from my severely limited vantage as an outsider (and an Indian), what the Armed Forces Special Powers Act could mean for the everyday existence of a people that it held in its grip. I had learnt, in my own mediated and faltering way, what the AFSPA could do to the lives of families: their clocks, their schedules, their mealtimes, their entertainments, their loves, their voices and their bodies. The inevitable darkness of the power cuts that descended on homes every evening could successfully stifle the affective life of a community, struggling for a little dignity and some space to breathe freely. What kind of a nation could be imagined in that darkness? Did Imphal have a space to think the nation without the AFSPA? To Imphal, AFSPA was the nation. And for many in Manipur, India certainly wasn’t their nation. I, having come from India, could not claim to understand that reality. But I remained, nonetheless, something of an unworthy witness.

The city of Imphal lies in the middle of the Manipur valley, surrounded on all sides by hills. Besides the three or four major central streets which house the governmental/administrative buildings, most of the city is divided into small leikais or localities. Most long-standing residential buildings are constructed around small or big courtyards or shumangs, where communal festivals (both Sanamahi and Vaishnavite, like the lai haraoba or the rasleela) take place. The neighbourhoods themselves are often organised around tribe names, which are quite often the surnames of most people in that particular leikai. As I began to know Imphal, the place grew on me. It was a troubled city: caught under a web of uniforms and tanks. On my field visits, I found that power supply to most ordinary civilian areas was often not more than five to six hours a day. Water supply was erratic as well and more well-to-do families often bought water for daily consumption. This state of affairs continued on a quotidian basis. Many evenings, in the absence of a generator, were spent by the families indoors in the dark, people being, since the imposition of the AFSPA, increasingly wary of stepping outside of the house after sundown. There were many fallouts of this state of affairs. Proscenium theatre by urban groups, I was told, had all but died out since the 1980s, since it was impossible to hold performances after six pm. People would be afraid of returning home at late hours. An undeclared curfew fell on the city as the sun set. On many occasions over the years, I had seen from my hotel verandah, one of the busiest market roads in town – a proper bedlam of cars, rickshaws, carts, animals and pedestrians during the day – turn unidentifiable after dark. The only humans in sight on those occasions were a few army jawans, instantly recognizable, in spite of the poor illumination, by their uniforms and guns[1]. It was true, what Haripriya was saying in her poem. Everything rested on what we set our clocks by: the nine o’clock news, or the sirens that marked the beginning of curfew every evening. Our experiences of time defined the contours of our relationship to ideas of the ‘nation’, community and social belonging.

Manipur Widows Protest
Manipur Widows Protest

 

JNU, too, was a space I knew well in these years. It was a university at which I had taught for two years between 2011 and 2013, almost coterminous with my research in Manipur. This was a time when I was also struggling to finish my PhD thesis. I remember the winter months in JNU: the freezing cold, morning classes, the afternoons collapsing in fatigue, sifting through sources and footnotes all evening, writing sleeplessly all night. There were several nights when, in the middle of writing, I would feel the urge to take a walk or simply run down the Ring Road up to the Convention Centre, then walk back to the 24/7 Dhaba and get a chai. These midnight sojourns were always pleasurable, they were always without anxiety: being alone at two am on the campus was never a cause for worry. In the Dhaba, even at that late hour, there would always be straggling groups of students, sitting around in clusters, talking, quarelling or laughing loudly. In the many articles and reminiscences about JNU that have appeared in the last couple of months, this has been a consistent refrain: that it is and has been, a space of ‘bekhauf azaadi’ for women, and it has taken years of unmitigated and stubborn ideological/intellectual struggle to keep it that way. I can wholly corroborate these testimonials from my own experience as a young teacher on the campus and later as part of the angry protests that soared following the murder of Jyoti Singh in the winter of 2012. Indeed, JNU made me feel free in the heart of a city like Delhi, in a way that seemed incredible and almost, utopian.

In the midst of all this, came my field trips to Imphal. In Imphal, it was hard to just take a walk, at any time of the day and let alone at night. In Imphal, as an outsider who still did not speak the language too well, I was instantly noticeable. This put a definite curb on autonomous and aimless rambling on foot, which, I had learnt over the years, was the only way to really get to know a place. The army was everywhere. And it was constantly watching. “Indian Army, friend of the Manipuri people”, graffiti on the walls of houses claimed, seeming to be laughing in your face. There was one morning when I came out of a bookstore with a pile of books on a deserted street, only to find five or six jawans standing around at the entrance, looking at me. They had gathered there simply to have a look, simply because I looked like an outsider. I walked past them. I tried to look straight at their eyes. Yet it was hard to feel ‘free’ under their gaze. It was true that I remained effectively insulated from much of the daily harassment that my friends from Imphal faced on a regular basis: the army stopping autos randomly, to ask for bribes in exchange for allowing them to pass or a sudden stopping by a jawan for a conversation on the street, which may turn out to be an exercise in intimidation. My friends insisted on accompanying me everywhere. One of those years, I was driven by one of my friends from the hotel in M.G. Road to almost every interview and appointment that I set up, until one day I just absconded before he could arrive to pick me up. On that day, I took a rickshaw to Paona Bazaar. The driver, as he pedaled, had his face covered in a gamchha and his eyes were bloodshot. He kept repeating three sentences in English intermittently (not Manipuri, or broken Hindi, as was usually the case on the streets): “You have come from India? You are a student?” and “I am B.A. pass, in History.” I soon realised that he was under the influence of something other than the fatigue that showed in his muscles and in his eyes. It took a little longer than I had imagined to get where I had wanted to on that day. Soon, I began to see, having asked around, that many cycle rickshaw drivers kept their faces covered in similar ways. Many were graduates, even post-graduate degree holders, and had chosen to pull a rickshaw out of financial compulsions arising out of long unemployment. Their faces remained covered because they did not wish to be recognised while at work. Drugs were one of the common modes of releasing frustration amongst many such young people. It was not hard to imagine that time went a little slower, every day, for this man I met, so that he asked the same question several times over the course of a twenty minute ride. He needed me to know that he had been a student once and could converse with me in English.

Every time I returned to Delhi, for the first few days, a sense of dissonance would possess me. I felt consistently disorientated. Everything around me seemed a bit unreal, things seeming to go too fast and loud, people talking in tongues about realities that seemed somehow to be slipping through my fingers. It felt like jet lag. One particular summer I had returned from interviewing four of the twelve women who protested Thangjam Manorama’s death in front of the gates of Kangla. I had brought back a four hour interview with one of the imas who had protested at Kangla. She had described to me Manorama’s rape in Manipuri, the subsequent autopsy, their rage and nudity. As she had spoken, in Manipuri and broken English, tears had rolled down her eyes. I don’t think she knew she was crying. All of that summer I could not get her face out of my mind. During the days on the field, after I was done with the interviews for the day, I often cried when I returned to my hotel room. I made random, desperate calls to my friends in Delhi, who would panic, not quite understanding what was wrong. I would find myself unable to explain. That summer, after I returned to the university, on many mornings, getting ready for class, I would suddenly find myself in the mirror, weeping. It was not that I was consciously sad. My body was doing things I did not understand. I was far removed, for the moment, from the violence I had recorded and these moments, as far as I knew then, would never be public. They were nothing that I could record as political. But here they were: tears over the taste of toothpaste in the morning. Something had percolated without my knowledge, some wound, some infection of brutality, over insurgent warps in time. Did I have an option but to call myself an “Indian” in spite of this crushing knowledge of what my country did to those it could not subdue? Could I wash India off my skin with a cold shower? Could I take it off like the clothes I wore? It would seem that I could not. Consequently, my time was no longer my own, I was out of sync with the nine-o-clock news, my azaadi marred, no longer so fearless.

Early on in that foundational text of the theory of ‘nation’, Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson marks the newspaper (and by extension the advent of print capitalism) as the principal actor in the narrative that begins a kind of simultaneity that allows the modern nation to bring itself into being. The reading of the newspaper replaces morning prayer as that collective ritual which assures each person, in his anonymity, of the presence of a community of strangers who inhabit the same temporality, reading the same headlines, confident in the shared passage of time from one day to the next that makes possible the experience of the nation. We have come a long way from the time when this book was published, and perhaps many of Anderson’s observations require reappraisal today in the light of the evolution of our modern technologies, especially the internet. But it would not perhaps be hard to conjecture that in the Indian mainland today the function of this morning prayer (and its comforting/benumbing reassurance of simultaneity) is provided by what is call the mainstream ‘national’ television. This anxious desire for a fiction of simultaneity worth consuming is fed daily, in an increasingly fractured and brutal polity, by those who claim they know what the ‘nation wants to know’. What the nation wants to know is another name for that which benumbs it into soothing complicity with the completely flawed and pernicious, but supremely easy equation: “nation = state = government = ruling party”. A notion of citizenship, thence, begins to be bred where there is the simultaneous encouragement of a kind of vigilantism that requires you to function as the eyes and ears of the state (state as moral conscience), along with an equally consistent production of docility. Here, good citizenship becomes a matter of keeping one’s nose to the ground and not looking beyond one’s immediate duties or concerns of consumption/subsistence. At the same time, state-enjoined vigilance requires that you keep your radars alert for those other ‘bad citizens’ (easily translatable now into the term ‘anti-national’) who disrupt this sweet and obedient harmony. Hence, the state’s abdication of its role in welfare, social justice and in various other fields is matched with the most stringently authoritarian moves aimed at silencing even mild forms of dissent. The aspirational middle class is increasingly directed towards taking on an ‘active’ role in initiatives for mass cleanliness, gender equity, fitness and terror-control (“swachh bharat”, “selfies with daughters”, “yoga drives”, state-enjoined vigilance on roads and metros). More and more, activity for the good citizen begins to signify an active (as well as compulsory, though this is not always consciously realised) obedience. And active obedience requires concentrated silencing, the slow withering away of the desire to ask why, to give up on lateral associations and communities, to stop enquiring about the well-being of the distant other. The only relationship that seems to matter, within this modality of citizenship, is your relationship to the state, and via the state, to the market – as docile, yet (hyper)active consumers. When communities consolidate themselves in autonomous cultural, social or political formations, only those which match the current ruling party’s ideological imperatives are met with an active approval. All the rest are violently disenfranchised.

It is not that this modality is entirely new. Liberalization opened the road towards it way back in the 1990s. Yet the turn towards fascism nurtures carefully the slowly mounting divide between docile and ‘insurgent’ bodies, wishing to violently write the latter out of existence. It would of course be naïve to ignore the fact that the fascist state reserves its most exceptional violence for those who fall outside the periphery of citizenship altogether. The recent strategies of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the ongoing Assam elections are an appropriate case in point: the one point agenda by which to mobilise majority sentiments in the state seems to be the demonization of the ‘illegal’ Muslim immigrant from across the border in Bangladesh. Once again, a kind of vigilantism is demanded from the mainstream acquiescent (Hindu) citizen wherein an active social boycott of all those employing, sheltering or otherwise aiding the unwanted ‘infiltrators’ is instilled as the norm. And people, aspirants to full and glorious belonging within this ascendant conception of developmental citizenship, are, in fact, obeying. The nexus between the market-driven consumer citizenship and fascist brand of nationalism is now complete.

Nonetheless, obedience is not a luxury everyone can afford. If the first benches in that school are reserved for those who have won merit through an active cultivation of unthinking acquiescence, there is a whole minefield outside the classroom where to be obedient is mostly to be dead. There are places to which national time is incommensurate, spaces to which the loud voices from national(ist) television do not reach, places from which the ‘nation’ does not hear the sounds of bullets and bombings. Something in us must deal with these dissonances before we may speak of the nation. Something from us must acknowledge the jet lag that accumulates between political time zones that mark good, docile citizenship sharply from insurgent, violent and brutalized life-worlds. Partha Chatterjee has recently said in one of his lectures on nationalism that ‘the nation looks different from different regions in India’. Yes, indeed. And one may add to that: when you are looking from some directions, the nation looks exactly like the daily brutality of exceptional military law, and nothing further. In one of the early teach-in sessions on ‘nationalism’ organised at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, after the violent crackdown on its premises in February, Professor Menon had said on the question of “azaadi” and Kashmir: “A nation cannot possibly say that you want a territory but not its people. So, for example, you cannot say you want Kashmir but not the Kashmiris. […] If some do not wish to stay, it is the nation’s responsibility to talk to them and find out why. And if they still want to go, we must take responsibility for that. A nation is a daily plebiscite.” This is a part of her lecture that became widely quoted/shared over social media as an exemplary statement on the ‘azaadi’ issue, as also the part that contributed most extensively to the subsequent pillorying and witch-hunting that she had to undergo from saffron forces, along with legal accusations for fomenting ‘sedition’. This last sentence was, of course, something Menon was quoting from Ernest Renan’s “What is a Nation?” Renan[2] had written, in 1882: “A nation’s existence is, if you will pardon the metaphor, a daily plebiscite, just as an individual’s existence is a perpetual affirmation of life. […] According to the ideas that I am outlining to you, a nation has no more right than a king does to say to a province: “You belong to me, I am seizing you.” A province, as far as I am concerned, is its inhabitants; if anyone has the right to be consulted in such an affair, it is the inhabitant. A nation never has any real interest in annexing or holding on to a country against its will. The wish of nations is, all in all, the sole legitimate criterion, the one to which one must always return.”

Photo by Kashmiri journalist Javaidd Naikoo. Mary Scully writes: “This remarkable photo was taken yesterday at the funeral procession of Kashmiri activists Waseem Malla & Naseer Pandit attended by over 70,000 people. Those in the trees are trying to view the passing cortege/protest. The two young men were killed by Indian troops in a shootout 55 km/34 miles from Srinagar. The murders set off massive anti-occupation protests in the district where a police vehicle was torched & many protesters injured in clashes with Indian occupying forces. Businesses & shop owners observed a complete shutdown for the mourning.” 8th April, 2016.
Photo by Kashmiri journalist Javaidd Naikoo.
Mary Scully writes: “This remarkable photo was taken yesterday at the funeral procession of Kashmiri activists Waseem Malla & Naseer Pandit attended by over 70,000 people. Those in the trees are trying to view the passing cortege/protest. The two young men were killed by Indian troops in a shootout 55 km/34 miles from Srinagar. The murders set off massive anti-occupation protests in the district where a police vehicle was torched & many protesters injured in clashes with Indian occupying forces. Businesses & shop owners observed a complete shutdown for the mourning.” 8th April, 2016.

 

Anderson [4], in his theorization of the nation, had pointed readers towards the thought of another late 19th century scholar – the sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies. In his 1887 book titled Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (translated variously in common academic parlance as “Community and Association” or “Community and Society”), Tonnies[3] laid out a distinction between two kinds of human social groups, one of which he called ‘gemeinschaft’ (‘community’) and the other ‘gesellschaft’ (‘association’). The differences between the two, as elaborated extensively in the book, can nonetheless be apprehended, in substance, in one of Tonnies’ early introductory sentences: “In Gemeinschaft we are united from the moment of our birth with our own folk for better or for worse. We go out into Gesellschaft as if into a foreign land.” So, to put a complex idea in a nutshell, gemeinschaft is a social group that you are (or you imagine) you are born into, and one that you cannot choose to leave at will because you are a member of it ‘naturally’. The question of rational choice does not enter this equation between individual and community, as it appears to be familiar and somehow primordial. On the other hand, gesellschaften, according to Tonnies, were groups to which you belonged by consent, associations you chose to become members of by virtue of rational choice and intellectual/political/cultural preferences, and those that you could decide to leave at will. In contrast, the gemeinschaft, it appeared, was yours forever, for better or for worse. You could leave its borders, but, by virtue of your birth and ‘nature’, it would never leave you. Fitting examples of such (prison-like?) social groupings would be: family, place of birth or what was called the ‘heimat’ in German. The concept of ‘heimat’ could be translated roughly as ‘home’ or ‘homeland’. It was a unit of social belonging where you fitted by natural right, where, in fact, you could never be alienated and a place where your membership was always beyond question. A feeling of seamless togetherness, community and identity flowed in this case between the ‘heimat’ and the individual who was its legitimate inmate. It is no surprise perhaps then that the concept of ‘heimat’ became immensely popular, a few decades after the appearance of Tonnies’ book, in Nazi Germany. The notion of ‘heimat’ was especially important in the Nazi state’s official ideological discourse. In the Nazi worldview, the heimat began to mark not just a place of birth or the home village, but the entire German nation. And this conception was, of course, based on the idea of the innate superiority, from times immemorial, of the German race. The German nation was a gemeinschaft where a member of the German race belonged by natural right (interesting to note that the term ‘naturalised’ is still used in official parlance to denote someone who has transitioned to a legitimate state of domicile within national borders that were initially not his/her own). The nation was also (albeit less obviously) a desiring machine, whereby, citizen-subjects, true bearers of purity in blood and soil, aspired more and more to come into seamless unity with the state which was now also primordial community. Such was the sinister fiction of primeval belonging engendered by this modern monster – the Nazi nation-state.

In speaking of the ‘nation’ as often appearing like a ‘gemeinschaft’, Anderson had perhaps attempted to highlight the dangerous possibilities of the idea of ‘nationhood’ and national belonging when it appears to us as something that can neither be chosen nor left behind. Anderson writes: “Something of the nature of this political love can be deciphered from the ways in which languages describe its object: either in the vocabulary of kinship (motherland, Vaterland, patria) or that of home (heimat or tanah air [earth and water, the phrase for the Indonesians’ native archipelago]). Both idioms denote something to which one is naturally tied. As we have seen earlier, in everything ‘natural’ there is always something unchosen. In this way, nationness is assimilated to skin-colour, gender, parentage and birth-era – all those things one cannot help. And in these ‘natural ties’ one senses what one might call ‘the beauty of gemeinschaft’.” Indeed, this was the enchantment of the thought of the nation as absolute belonging: since the heimat could never leave you once you were born within its borders, it would always stick magically to your skin and bones. On the other hand, you could not, no matter what you did, ever become part of its communal being by choice. Some, naturally, would always be insiders no matter where they were. Others, incredibly, in spite of their social and physical proximity/insiderhood, would always remain outsiders. This was how the heimat marked its internal others: that terrible Schmittian distinction between ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’ which defined the contours of the ‘political’ within the Nazi imagination. Indeed, claims of absolute and seamless belonging require the production of absolute outsiders.

In contemporary corollaries of the idea of heimat that seems to be operational in India under the resurgent Hindu right, a strange situation seems to have come to pass. On the one hand, each person even mildly out of step with the ruling party’s ideology is enjoined to cross the border to go to Pakistan. Yet, the desire for secession, as always, remains a seditious crime. Of course, such paradoxes are not unique to the BJP ruled government. For years the government of India has invested everything it can in order to keep alive a woman on an indefinite hunger strike, in a state where the AFSPA ensures that any life, just about any life, can be taken away with impunity by the state whenever it so desires. When one thinks of a slogan like “Doodh mango kheer denge, Kashmir mango cheer denge”: one could ask what, indeed, is this Kashmir they speak of? Is it a territory without people? If so, why was a plebiscite promised, on what basis and on what political logic, to an empty piece of land so many decades ago? It seems clear that the second half of the couplet is taken far more seriously by the ones who scream this slogan than the first. Yes, they threat of indiscriminate butchering is real. No one doubts that anymore. As for the rest, there is very little that the Indian state can give to those it has marked as its internal enemies. The paradox is here: in the Northeast, in Kashmir, in Bastar. The nation systematically marks people within its borders as outsiders, disallows them from life, denies them dignity or even a basic freedom to escape from daily brutality. ‘You are not and will never be like us’, it tells them. “What you eat, the language you speak, what you wear, how you pray, how you look and everything else about you is wrong. We let you stay if you become more like us, if you learn obedience.” And who does not know that the most obedient and the most silent are the dead? Yet, if those internal others, may even fleetingly harbor the desire to deny this daily humiliation and brutality, to leave, to choose, to live elsewhere and by another name with dignity, to not be defined by a nation that systematically ousts and imprisons them: that desire is immediately punishable by laws of sedition and termed as insurgency. It is the nation claiming its perverse right to continue to brutalize those it imprisons, the right to hate them even as it denies them the right to leave. And let us not forget that this brutality is the other face of the developmental machine, which by manufacturing the desire to belong divides people most effectively amongst themselves. It is a machine into which, when you insert coins marked violence, other coins marked aspiration fall out.

To return to the subject of the university: it is no contentious fact any longer that public universities across the country are under attack by the ruling government. There is a concerted offensive on the part of the government to suppress student movements wherever they may arise, especially when these explicitly resist the Brahminical, neoliberal and fascist politics of the Hindu right wing in power. From FTII to JNU to HCU, this has been the reality in the last couple of years. The trouble appears to arise from the fact that public universities, as both ideas and institutions, still continue to gesture at a democratic distribution of knowledge, as many of the present student leaders have pointed out. This is not to claim that public institutions in the country have not heretofore been subject to structural hierarchies and injustices, and could boast of absolute and radical equality. Yet, within at least some such institutions, it was possible for students from the most underprivileged backgrounds to carry on with higher education, to speak of freedom, to practice political ideation and knowledge, with dignity and a certain degree of fearlessness. The campus made space for them to struggle for their own ideas of equality and freedom, fight against the existing inequities within and outside the campus. It is true that these spaces were insulated in significant ways from the violence/brutality of the world outside, but they could at least breed the capacity and the courage to question, and significant moves towards larger solidarities were often made. In direct conflict with this potential of the university as public institution, is the present government’s definitive neoliberal move towards the cutting down of public funds in education, along with a gradual privatization of institutions of higher learning. Obviously, in a country like India, such a move requires a certain active acquiescence, along with a definite abdication from politics and cultivation of docility from student/teacher bodies themselves.

The crucial thing, here, is to see this docility in a continuum of sorts rather than as a stark break from the past. Perhaps the time has come for us, who study or work within these institutions, to recognise that the privilege inherent in and the crux of the intellectual freedom we preach. That ancient Kantian adage that still drives our ‘enlightened’ lives: “Argue, but obey.” Obedience is the price that we have paid in return for the privilege to ideate and practice politics within sheltered spaces. One is, of course, at this moment in history, haunted by the ghost of that incredibly banal man – Adolf Eichmann, who in Hannah Arendt’s reading of his crimes, had accomplished tasks of tremendous brutality by only choosing to obey the regime in power while abdicating his potential and right to think. The road from the fatal deal struck between unfettered thought and political freedom at the historical moment of European Enlightenment, to Fascism seems long and winding, but it is a road nonetheless. The logic of obedience carried to its extreme eventually requires of us the abdication of the right to think, while preserving the most superficial illusion of a democratic procedure. We become vigilant and conscientious producers of our own slavery, while all the while believing ourselves modern and ‘free’. Hence, the indignant cries all around: “Why don’t the students do what they are supposed to do? Why won’t they study instead of doing politics?” As if studying were not already a kind of politics, and politics were not a study of life.

Let us then admit that the old bargain is no longer working out. It is now imperative, I argue, to actively cultivate a certain practice of disobedience so that we may continue to hold on to the ‘privilege’ of thinking. Let me put this more clearly: it is no longer possible to obey unquestioningly the state on the AFSPA, to not ask questions about the space of colonial military and sedition laws in a modern democracy, while demanding that our universities remain ‘free’. Let us recognise that to speak of our own freedom at such a juncture, while not addressing the freedom of others, is political and intellectual suicide. There is a reason why, even at a time of student rebellions, a song like “Hok Kolorob” can become the rallying cry for an entire movement, and yet a poem like “The Country without a Post office” remains embarrassed on the margins of another, to be explained away, apologized for, unacknowledged, lost in silence. Both poem had crossed borders. One stumbled and fell by the wayside. The other became a hash tag. And until we think why, there will be a lot that remains lost in the no-man’s land between freedom and capitulation, poetry and politics, activism and silence.

I end with a section from a statement by the Kashmir University Students Union (KUSU) that was read out and distributed at the “Convention of People’s Resistance (Rohith Vemula’s Murder and Questions thereafter: Through People’s Resistance towards Azaadi”) held on 2nd April, 2016 at Ambedkar Hall, Mumbai by the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice-Mumbai. The words ring loud around the dissonances (we, in the mainland, remain undeserving of the word ‘resonance’) that I had been trying to grapple with throughout this article. The KUSU wrote: “We stand in support to individuals, organizations, civil society members, intellectuals and all those who stand in support of our Right to Self Determination promised by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, in the heart of Srinagar, Lal Chowk, on whose name JNU was formed. In your struggle you have received immense support from people beyond territorial and cursed nation-state boundaries of India and we with our deepest condolences may be added to the same list. The same day frothing TV journalists were holding court martials against Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar, the news of Shaista’s and Danish’s cold blooded murders was quietly suppressed—part of a larger history of suppression, which makes a certain kind of “national conscience” possible in India. The two were not armed, but they were protesting the terror unleashed by troops in their villages, and they wanted to protect a fellow youth who among many now have yet again been forced to give their lives to end the occupation. They didn’t know JNU was ringing with slogans for Kashmiri rights the day they died, nor did JNU know that their protests against the silence on Kashmir had become more imperative than ever.”

Dissonant temporalities fill our worlds. Our reality swallows up another’s, till there is no question of travelling between worlds. This is political jet lag of the severest kind, a nightmare filled with intoxicated chants of ‘Bharat Maata ki Jai’. If we are to wake up anytime soon, we need to practice listening to Kashmir, to Bastar, to Manipur. There is, let us admit, no ‘national’ time that binds together these incommensurate worlds. If we are to navigate the cartographies of violence in the world today, we must urgently pay heed to what falls away between the brutal borders of so-called nation states into silence every day. The future of the human, if there is any, may not be the ‘nation’ at all. In Shahid’s words:

“I must force silence to be a mirror
to see his voice again for directions.”

(‘The Country without a Post Office’: Agha Shahid Ali)


[1] This part of the article draws on my forthcoming essay “Making the Sacred Public: Women, Performance and Protest in Contemporary Manipur”, in Rethinking the Secular: Performance, Religion, and the Public Sphere, Ed. Jisha Menon and Milija Yuhovic to be published by Palgrave, U.K. later this year.
[2] Ernest Renan, “What is a Nation?” [Lecture at Sorbonne, 11 March 1882 in Discours et Conferences, Paris, Caiman-Levy, 1887, pp.277-310; also in Geoff Eley and Ronald Grigor Suny , ed. 1996. Becoming National: A Reader.New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996: pp. 41-55.]
[3]  Ferdinand Tonnies, Community and Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
[4]  Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1983).

Trina Nileena Banerjee is a scholar interested in Performance Studies, Politics and Feminism. She works as an Assistant Professor in Cultural Studies at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta
Edited by Manisha 
Featured Image: Handwara, April 2016. Photo Courtesy: The Varmul Post

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