‘JNU to bahana hai, Rohith ko dabana hai’: Scenes From The JNU Rally in Delhi
In the front of the procession, the sloganeering was lacklustre. A couple of people began to chant ‘JNU, JNU’, but broke off mid-chant. I made my way to the back, past them, past the float in which Yogendra Yadav was holding forth, past the people carrying party flags and the national flag, to where the students were.
Here the chanting was skilled, infused with rhythm. There were so many energetic groups of chanters that I often found myself in the position to respond to any number of different call-and-response slogans I could hear from all sides.
To my left, a group of young women had stopped and were leading each other in saying: Yeh desh hamare aap ka, nahi kisike baap ka. Another group passed us to the right, denouncing the trial by media being carried out by TV channels like Times Now and NewsX. There were all the usual calls for Halla Bol and Inquilab Zindabad, and yes, Azadi.
Then I heard it: ‘JNU to bahana hai, Rohith ko dabana hai.’ This most perceptive of chants succinctly explained what has happened: only a month ago, Rohith Vemula’s life was cut short, after a lifetime of casteist discrimination, and active political interference from the top echelons of the Indian government. Rohith’s death led to demonstrations all over India, many of them led by students. Now, only a month letter, due to the escalating situation in JNU, the focus has shifted. Many letters of solidarity and op-eds talking about JNU don’t mention caste.
But scores of students at the demonstration had made the connection. After all, wasn’t Rohith hounded with the exact same rhetoric with which Umar Khalid, the newest scapegoat, is being hunted? Both have been shoved into the all too convenient category of ‘anti-national’. These students cried out Rohith’s name in their chants, right alongside Kanhaiya and Umar’s. They carried posters denouncing casteism, chanted Jai Bhim, and carried pictures of Rohith’s and BR Ambedkar’s faces.
The march actively resisted the rhetoric of ‘anti-nationalism’, as well as the use of violence. Despite many fear-mongering messages circulating prior to the rally, and a lily-livered statement by JNU’s VC, the thousands-strong march was completely peaceful. In answer to the physical violence that has been visited upon journalists, teachers, lawyers, and students by marauding goons at the Patiala Court, the students brought flowers. There were flowers everywhere — tucked behind people’s ears, pasted on posters, propped on top of cameras, waved in the air, fastened onto their hair.
As they have done in Pondicherry, as they have done in FTII, as they have done at IIT Madras, as they continue to do at the University of Hyderabad and at DU and JU and JNU, the students led the way. If ever you feel despondent about India’s future, look to its revolutionary students.