VAKRATUNDA, MAHAKAYA… OR WHAT CANNOT BE SUNG IN THE UNIVERSITY?

By MEERA  VISHVANATHAN                                                                

Apoorvanand’s article published online on Kafila had the courage to say in print things that I, as a student of JNU, had so far only said in private. Such acts of outspokenness are important for the conversations they set up. They allow me to believe that the space of democracy is available, at least intellectually, even as it retreats everywhere else.

I too stood among the crowd at the Parthasarathy Rocks in JNU on the night of 1st May as we waited to hear the Pakistani band Laal. Before Laal rose up to sing, we were introduced to a young singer, Tritha, who was to sing three compositions.  The first two were clearly classically inspired, but did not have a form that the audience could fit words to. As she began the third composition, singing Vakratunda, Mahakaya… in what was clearly a hymn to Ganapati, an uproar broke out among the crowd. Tritha, however, continued to sing with her eyes closed. I watched in horror as the President of the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) walked on stage, the image magnified by the huge screen set up for the audience, and asked Tritha to stop her song. The reasons for such an act were not discussed. One must assume that a hymn to Ganapati was considered ‘inappropriate’ for May Day Celebrations. On the big screen, I watched the singer’s face fall as Laal took the stage to much applause.

Vakratunda, Mahakaaya… I   cannot remember what the   rest of the hymn was because I     was not allowed to hear it. Somewhere, a few lines later,   the chant began Ganapati Ganapati… Based on my limited knowledge of  Sanskrit, Vakratunda, Mahakaaya translates as ‘of curved trunk, of great  body’. Just look at these epithets: can we imagine them being used for  any archetypal brahmanical God? Can they be used for Rama smiling  sweetly on Ramanand Sagar’s serial and presiding over the blood of  riots? As for   ‘Ganapati’ which provoked such an uproar: the term means  ‘lord of a gana’ where gana is usually translated as a political group, sometimes even a military one. The same etymology holds true for ‘Ganesha’. That is why, comrades on the left, even the General Secretary of the CPI(Maoist) can go by the name Ganapathy and no one has got up to ask him to change it.
Historians will tell you that in origin, Ganapati was a yaksha, a tribal or folk god of great powers. Over time, as brahmanical religion entered village and tribal societies, he was absorbed into the Hindu pantheon. This process was
not unique: it occurred for any number of local cults, images and themes across history. True, the figure of Ganapati himself tells us little about the people of the past. But we cannot always reach out to the ancient past with an ease that is possible for more recent events. And even if narratives of appropriation are complex, they need not take away from points of origin. To use a contemporary analogy: Does the fact that Bhagat Singh is appropriated by the Hindu-right detract from the fact that he was a Marxist? Does the mere image of Che Guevara occurring on vodka bottles or mass produced on t-shirts allow us to ignore his iconic status as a revolutionary? Cultural symbols are usually more complex than the ways in which they are packaged and made available to us.

What happened in JNU on the night of May 1st was an act of unbelieveable intolerance. It was marked by the peculiar combination of ignorance and populism that drives censorship. But worse still, is the fact that such intolerance is being justified in discussions subsequent to the event. Clearly, people did not come to the concert expecting to hear a hymn to Ganapati. But perhaps the situation could have been dealt with by allowing the singer to finish her song and then taking the mike to offer a critique? Surely we should be able to deal with ‘uncomfortable’ situations with some amount of political maturity and grace? Such an action goes beyond the unhappiness it causes an individual artist or member of the audience. It ties up to larger questions of how we view our histories and what worth we assign to freedom of expression.
Of course, we seem to have agreed that there are limits to the freedom of expression. But surely these limits are meant to be ‘reasonable’. Would singing a hymn to Ganapati on May Day have led to a carnage? Did it amount to hate-speech? If not, why shut it up instead of dealing with it in the terms of democratic debate? Small acts of silencing pave the way for larger ones. If JNUSU can use its position of privilege to act so summarily, then it erodes its moral authority to speak out against censorship. Next time you raise your voice in support of M.F. Husain or the struggling people of Kudankulam and Nonadanga, the chorus will be muted because you too have shown your ability to suppress something that isn’t ‘convenient’ for you. Next time you speak out against the moral policing of the ABVP, your voice will be muted because you too once abrogated to yourself the role of a ‘custodian of culture’. It is just one step away from the idiocy that says ‘he break my nation, I break his head.’
Stranger still was the fact that night we were able to accept disco versions of Pakistani poets we revere, but that tolerance died suddenly when faced with a Sanskrit hymn. True, certain languages are used by political and cultural elites to undertake acts of violence and bolster hierarchy. But they are also often used to articulate a politics of dissent. English, for instance, has been used to justify the worst possible racist and imperialist excesses. But does that mean that we will cease to read anything written in English? Most of the standardized bhasha languages of today’s India grew and spread at the cost of local and tribal languages. But does that mean we will exorcise them from our psyche? Nor is the knowledge of Sanskit opposed in any way to a left-democratic consciousness. D.D. Kosambi was one of the greatest Marxist minds of India, and yet he spent years of his life studying, editing and translating Sanskrit texts! To put it simply, it is not Sanskrit that must be opposed. Rather, it is the people who use Sanskrit (or any language, for that matter) to bolster caste hierarchies and brahmanical patriarchy.
And in the end, perhaps, what we need to reflect upon are the absences of our cultural politics. To the fact that we have reduced ourselves to canonizing certain texts and figures at the cost of others. To the fact that our involvement in cultural politics is often no more than a blur of slogan shouting. It shows not only an ignorance of history, but a hollowness to our political selves.
Of late, the university is a space where debates on censorship are becoming more potent. We have seen how difficult it is to even raise the debate on the removal of AFSPA or go through with a screening of Jashn-e-Azaadi. How the most terrible forms of discrimination are experienced by Dalit students, forcing them sometimes to commit suicide. How the legitimate demand to be allowed to eat beef or pork on campus is meant by sexist and casteist violence and abuse. But we of the left, progressive, democratic, feminist, anti-caste spectrum cannot replicate such forms of silencing, on however small or big a scale, because it takes away from our larger struggles and demeans them.
I too have been on occasion a member of the JNUSU Council so I know how difficult it can be to take decisions on the spur of the moment. But political decisions cannot and should not be based on the ‘mood’ of a crowd. They have to be handled in terms of democratic reasoning and civil debate. I would not expect a union that has known the inconvenience of speaking truth to power, that was forcibly shut down for three years in the name of the Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations to suddenly abrogate to itself the privilege of
deciding which voices can be heard and which cannot, which songs can be sung and which cannot.
But it is not JNUSU that is at fault so much as the larger university community. I do not expect such acts of silencing from a university, particularly not from JNU.

(Meera Visvanathan is a former member of JNU students’ Union and a student of the Ph.D programme at the Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University)

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39 thoughts on “VAKRATUNDA, MAHAKAYA… OR WHAT CANNOT BE SUNG IN THE UNIVERSITY?

  1. Pingback: VAKRATUNDA, MAHAKAYA… OR WHAT CANNOT BE SUNG IN THE UNIVERSITY? « Bargad… बरगद…

  2. ivan on said:

    thank you…im ivan also from JNU…though i did not attend the concert few of my friends who had gone told me about this incident and we were talking about it a few days back…im happy that you have highlighted this very aspect of ‘silencing’ and a censorship that is being given fuel to by ignorance and an intolerance that fails to distinguish between the institution of religion and faith itself…in JNU like several other institutions, the left has somehow come to a very sad and un-informed conclusion that they necessarily have to be secular ‘atheists'(and to a level that does not allow them to be tolerant of anybody who have might have an inkling of faith, a song or a ritual itself which beyond its political connotations may have personal meaning), whereby beyond context and democratic decency, a religious hymn or song is considered now necessarily violent…no one is denying the fact, of the very violent and oppressive sub-texts that scriptures may contain, however this particular incident of what i have understood till now, only embarassinlgy and ironically reveals religious intolerance at its worst…

  3. Anonymous ;) on said:

    aapki baat kuchh had tak sahi hai par mujhey lagta bhasha aur uski politics etc etc is sey zyada woh maamla tha ki audience rock concert sun-ney gaii aur achaanak lok-geet bajney lag gaye…ya phir yeh kahiye kisi ki shaadi ke sangeet mein krantikari geet bajaa diye kisi ney…audience expectation bhi toh kuchh cheez hoti hai na…ab agar woh concert bhartnatyam recital ya phir cultural night jaisa kuchh hota toh audience ko koi problem nahin hoti..aur jis tarah sey concert ki publicity huii thee jis tarah ki image logon ke beech concert ke pahley banaayi gayi thi..us sab sey audience ko ek khaas tarah ki expectation hona kaafi swabhaawik hai🙂

    ab nickelback, bon jovi ya phir metallica kitna bhi pop-ish gaaney gaayein toh bhi ab jab tak woh ekdumm hardcore metal type ke rock show mein nahin, they won’t be boo-ed na..unki image waisi hai. wahin agar achaanak altaaf raja ‘tum toh thehrey pardesi’ shuru kar dein us concert mein toh maamla kuchh ajeeb ho sakta hai…audience kahiye crowd kahiye ya mob..aisi sthiti mein in sab categories mein zyada farak nahin reh jata…haan altaf raja bhi chal saktey the ab agar kuchh beats change kar di jaayein..thoda woh hi geet rock beats ke saath hon etc etc..ab kya hai naa krantikaari geeton jaisa genre thoda persuasive type ka genre hai merey hisaab sey toh aisey mein shabdon ka bhaar aur badhh jata hai..aur dhyaan bhi uski taraf..jaisey sara meat gaaney ka uskey shabdon mein hai..jisey bahut sey log content bhi kahingey..mainey aaj tak kisi bhi krantrikaari geet ki is point pe aalochna nahin suni ki music bahut kharaab tha…as long as thoda josh bhara music hai aur lyrics aapko andar tak lag rahey hain…toh woh bahut badhhiya hai…it works like that for me, i don’t know about others..jab aisey geet sunti hun naa toh merey kaan ekdum khul jaatey hain like your head is trying to tune into every single word…wahin jab jazz sunti hun toh main shabd bhool jaati hun…toh mujhey lagtaa hai agar ‘vakratund mahakaay’ ke baad ek line kuchh ‘content’ waali hoti toh certain expectation liye audience ko shaayad itni nahin lagti..jaisey rock beats ke saath altaf raja rock concert mein do-teen gaaney kheench hi lengey…par agar woh apney originals gaaney aayein hain toh wahaan audience bhi apney rang dikhaaney lagegi..jaisa ki zyadatar aisey badhhey shows mein ho jata hai…main kisi ko defend karney ki koshish nahin kar rahi..par yeh kehney ki koshish kar rahi hun ki kya hum zabardasti thoda over intellectualise nahin kar rahey us ghatna ko…agar woh bhasha ka hi maamla hota toh chaliye ek hypothetical situation ki woh poora gana hi thoda ‘conrtent’ wala sanskrit mein hota toh kya hota?…..kya tab bhi audience aisey hi behave karti? pataa nahin…🙂

  4. Thanks. I really enjoyed reading your article. I was sorry that Tritha’s song offended part of the audience, as we came to JNU with no political agenda.

    You can watch the complete song here: http://youtu.be/9rYN86D16Cs

  5. Sho on said:

    Hi Meera, thanks for a great piece, I completely agree, and was absolutely shocked when the president of JNUSU got up on stage to stop someone after having invited her to sing. I really did not anticipate such a reaction from the crowd, much less the organizers. And of course, as student of early history, I absolutely agree with your arguments on the ways one must grapple with the use of certain notions and languages. Thanks again.

  6. Pratyay on said:

    Thank you Meera for such a well-written piece. You have articulated succinctly many of my own thoughts. Such acts of censorship on the part of the left, though unfortunate, are in fact rampant, and not very different from instances of right wing hooliganism in certain cases.

    In West Bengal, in the official discourses of the government, phrases like ‘shustho sanskriti’ (healthy culture), ‘shustho samaj’ (healthy society) were so regularly used by the 34-year long rule of the social democratic Left Front that these have been quite internalised by the society itself. These categories were successful fusions of the dominant norms and codes of the Hindu upper caste-dominated Bengali society and the rigid moral considerations of the increasingly all-pervasive democratic Left. By coining such terms, the Left Front bestowed on itself the prerogative to identify and silence political and cultural voices that would not abide by these categories as ‘a-shustho’ (unhealthy/diseased) without necessarily defining the reasons for such objections. Thus, under watchful eyes of left-moralism and its ally – the dominant codes of the society – things ranging from interpreting and performing the creations of Rabindranath Tagore in novel innovative ways to girls wearing revealing clothes would be branded ‘a-shustho’ and put a leash on as soon as possible. There have also been several instances of plays and books being banned by the Left Front in the name of these being the professors of ‘apo-sanskriti’ (in absence of an exact English translation, this interesting Bengali phrase, invented by the Left Front probably in the 1990s, can probably be best rendered as bad culture/mal-culture).

    As students of history, we know how censorship has unfortunately not only been a prime tool of control in the hands of social democrats, but also in the case of the radical Left across the world, wherever they have succeeded in forming the government. In the ways of implementing censorship and silencing the voices of dissent, it is difficult to see, even as a Left-minded person, how the various shades of the Left have differed from the Fascist forces of the right wing.

    The concerns regarding the overlapping freedoms of political and cultural expression have almost always been at loggerheads with the concerns of control and discipline of the ruling forces. In this light, the way in which JNUSU, the representative of the dominant political and cultural norms and codes of the campus, has behaved in the event in question is hardly surprising. I denounce such acts of authoritarian control and censorship, instead of engaging the acts in question in political dialogue, as in this case, as in others outside the campus, in the harshest terms.

  7. Ashish Kumar on said:

    Long long long time ago there were few people who created a language, some gods and some songs….. then for almost two thousands years this language, these gods and these songs were used to wield dominance and to silence thousands of those who perhaps were never in a position to understand what this language, what these songs and gods meant at all…. these all gods, language, and songs were remained well guarded and protected by the self proclaimed custodians….. Then happens a struggle.. blood thirsty struggle.. people died, people decided to break their chains and question those custodians why we are like this? we dont want your language, we dont want your gods and we dont want your songs…. in fact enough is enough we dont want you at all… If you have a right to have your own language, your own god and songs then i have a right not to worship your gods, not to listen your songs and not to understand your language… ! it all reminds me of you and your dominance… ! Then one day a program happens and the song, then god and the language is placed before me to consume! Should i consume it? I dont want to consume it because it reminds me of those custodians who had never let my ancestors to consume it.. this language, god and songs are the symbol of my enslavement…. ! do i have a right to say no to these gods, songs and language? then comes a friend and says dont be mad… why you want to say no? you have been educated? you believe in a red ideology, then why? why not to listen it first and then we will sit and discuss, we will debate. we will debate why you feel, why the hell you feel? and why you dont want to listen this language, this song and this god? what if it reminds you of your enslavement, what if it hurts you… you should listen it first and then debate and then accept their right to speak…. let them speak… ! Then i ask a simple question if I have a right to listen then dont i have a right not to listen???????

    • Hi Ashish. In any democratic assembly you have the right to listen, and the right not to listen. So do all the others who are around you. Therefore if you do not want to listen, you can go somewhere else, put on your iPod or pour wax in your ears, because interrupting the performance would violate the right to listen of the others around you!

      • Ashish Kumar on said:

        Hi Paul, if i would have known about the song i definitely had not come to attend the event. I was promised songs related to May Day and of Laal band but i was not at all informed about bhazans or sanskrit mantras. I feel i was not the only one who felt offended otherwise song would have not been stopped. I feel its always good to pre-informed the audience about the songs and contents as well as the singer so that they can make their decision whether to attend or skip the event….

  8. Sayontani on said:

    Meera’s piece is very good (sophisticated) but I don’t agree with her. Ashish’s rejoinder is not so strong but I agree with him.

  9. Thank you Meera, for stating it so clearly and convincingly. I was a little doubtful when i wrote along similar line (http://intimateilm.blogspot.in/2012/05/may-day-evening-in-jnu-laal-meat_02.html?spref=fb). Largely, due to my long association with AISA and my optimal loyalty to the left-sensibility.

    Besides, some of us capable of being self-critical (methodologically reflexive) must also place the whole phenomenon in larger context. As to why JNUSU has to repackage and perpetuate the intolerance of left-worldview; as to why ‘Laal band’ has to make so desperate attempt at foisting the left flag; as to how the narrative of ‘in-group left’ and ‘out-group rest’ has to be fraught with instances of grievances.

  10. Abdul on said:

    I did not to listen to Ganesh Vandana that day. I did not like it for sure. But yes i stand for freedom of expression and also to the freedom of not listening. But, I am surprised the defense came from Meera beside the fact that taking the opportunity Ganesh is also eulogized. Ganesh is a part of Brahminical tradition for which no progressive would dare to say a good word. Anyways, i hardly care what the merits and demerits of Ganesha are.

    If i am not wrong Meera was the member of the union which came just after a violent protest against the Prim minister’s meeting in JNU. It was proudly led by her own organisation. She, at least i do not remember, never denounced Aisa’s disruption of the meeting. Where was her concern of Freedom of Speech and so on. The point is it is very easy to lecture when you have noting to loose. She used the popular sentiment in favor of her organisation and got elected and never criticized what they did in that meeting. Now she is worried about freedom of speech. I hope people will see the opportunism involved.

    Freedom of Speech should be protected both from intolerance and opportunism.

    • Videsi Uvacha on said:

      “Ganesh is a part of Brahminical tradition for which no progressive would dare to say a good word”

      Abdul, are you saying that a Hindu cannot be a progressive? Is there a religion to which an individual can belong and still be thought of as “progressive” in your view? Or must we all be anti-religious atheists?

  11. abikal borah on said:

    Thank you Meera. This is a timely intervention. Let not the hegemony of any regime block the democratic space. Please give us some space to think and speak, irrespective of the differences in our languages.

  12. Meera, I genuinely appreciate your larger concern and a broad discomfort with what happened, how unexpected it was, and how it made many of us contemplate about a range of issues. There is much to contemplate over the absence of a debate culture in the much-circulated fact about a certain past of JNU when debates thrived. I do not know. In the past 4 years, I have not noticed much in the name of a ‘debate culture’. However, let us go back to the moment where your piece begins. I think yours is a fair reading of what happened but it might be helped with the consideration of a few additional points.

    There are many ways of reading audience behaviour. What does it mean for people to boo a singer singing a certain song? I cannot possibly tell you how the audience response came about but I would like you to consider that for many, like Hirawal, who thought it was Laal’s night, Tirtha’s entry may have been a nuisance to begin with. That she sang powerfully might have held them back, but then came a moment, the moment of ‘vakratunda mahakaay…’ when they collectively found a reason to boo. I am thinking of booing as an audience activity which is primarily about the projection of an identity. The audience produce themselves as publics through negation quite often because affirmation is often more disaggregated. When smaller pools of audience throw their voice into the public domain, they project a negation that gathers strength through a belief that may not have a solid foundation, but that is most likely to aggregate through a shared understanding of ‘what we do not stand for’. I am not arguing that the booing did not mean JNU’s dissaproval, but suggesting that the moment of a consolidated disapproval may have to be read in a more diffused context than a mere response to something specific; that its causality may be more dispersed and aggregated by a possible projection.

    Let me try to elaborate on why I think there may be some value in considering this mere possibility. Identities and politics in JNU, I sense, is thinning itself regularly and symbolising itself with alacrity in the process. There is a symbolic overtone to the manner in which positions and ideas are negotiated, which is primarily a matter of convenience. Symbols ease down politics and facilitate a simplistic imaginative framework in which to contest otherwise complex constructions. Ganesha, the construction that you and Apporvanand refer to, is thinned to a brahminical Hinduness that is an easy symbol to negate and project an avowedly leftist identity around. All I am pointing towards is that the refusal to freedom of expression may need to be read in a completely different way: one that makes space for a tentative negation that circulates rapidly and aggregates the publics because the structures of critical reflection are already dismantled by a symbolic warfare that has done serious damage. This damage undercuts even the solidity of a potential censorship that you are suggesting here. Quite possibly, therefore, the complexity of symbols such as Che and Bhagat has already been compromised by their rampant dialectic circulation and now, the second order negations do not even have the first order to refer back to.

    Finally, I am indeed more intrigued by the desperation of JNUSU to rollback what they were found unprepared for. Was it because people’s voice mattered more than the avoidable humiliation of an artist, or because they shared people’s mandate, or simply because they were too invested in what was to follow and needed popular support for the Laal evening? Or perhaps, in the warfare of symbols, nobody has the time or confidence to refer back to the material? One panic button switches another on. After all, the map has quite possibly become the territory for those who have no time to go back to it. The analysis too may be sharpened by acknowledging the distinction, I would think.

  13. The oppostion from the crowd was a result of the changed political situation in the- once upon a time – left dominated campus. If the programme were to happen in 1970s, iam sure everyone would have sat quitely and listened to it. Its not because the crowd then was more tolerant. It is because the crowd then never thought of such things. For them such forms of representations were were merely a form of art. One thing we should bear in our minds that its not the question of right to expression. It more serious and more complex a question. There are two things involved: Why was this Singer who is involved in times music/commercial music, in the first place, invited for the May day programme? Secondly, the reason behind the failure of the left to achieve desired success in this country is because it does not and did not strive for cultural change. That cultural change can be achieved only by questioning Brahmanism. Its symbols and its manifestations. Therefore, in this context, Ganesh Vandana is nothing but a manifestation of brahmanism – and its hierarchy. Why on earth we would want to listen to hyms that has spoled the generations and soceities, on the occassion of May day?
    The politics after 1990s (due to the Mandal agitation) changed the entire scenario. Dalits started asserting in the social and intellectual domain of JNU and it made the left immensely uncomfortable. From then onwards the left has not been able to cope up with the new situation. They want to be revolutionary, anti-caste, pro-Dalit etc etc. But simultaneously they don’t know what to do with this ‘BRAHMANISM” which is relativel a newer term to them. A noted Marathi intellectual-activist associated with the left has once said that the progressives have, tried, to certain extent, to erase caste prejudices from their consciousness which is a welcome development. But simultaneously, at a sub-conscious level they are still clinging to it. The support to Tritha for singing Ganesh Vandana could be taken as support from that sub-conscious level.

  14. Aditya_R on said:

    And all this leads me back to the point…. There is always this argument that with people like us (henceforth PLU) keep having within ‘ourselves’ and then there are other arguments that PLU have with other people (PnLU??)

    In fact, most of us identify with ‘PLU’s. PLU affiliations complicate the already complicated class affiliations that we have. As we go up the social ladder, our PLUs change and sometime become more eclectic, more exclusivist, old ones disintegrate giving rise to new one’s. The PLU syndrome, so to say, can be very identified by the defining character of having a discretely elite and exclusivist structure.

    The PLU syndrome is also prominent for e.g. in American Ivy League University (academic/ student-faculty?) circles, I am afraid some sections in JNU consistently fall pray to a fraction this syndrome and this is sad for its politics and as the author says for its understanding ‘politics of culture’.

    Keeping the above in context, I firmly believe:

    1. That it is in fact desirable and healthy for an institution (social or otherwise) to have a certain distinguishable character for itself, especially when it is progressive in nature. By progressive I would generally mean counter-hegemonic and liberal (in the post-positive sense).

    2. That this progressive liberalism (and here comes the morally persuasive part) should not be debilitating in a sense that it becomes less and less engaging and more and more exclusivist.

    These two aspects seem fit well context of JNU. Especially because,

    1. JNU boasts of possessing the first, i.e. a liberal progressive campus and political culture
    2. Because it has serious problems with the second, that is the PLU syndrome

    In my small understanding of things, the original (Meera’s) piece is part of a PLU debate (for those concerned with the tidings of the students- dissenting clan of leftist is some of our universities such as certain sections of JNU and a small section of DU), just like loads of Kafila’s articles that I would rather just ignore than engage with (because a lot of them are not even quarter as theoretically/ intellectually engaging, as they make themselves out to be; usually the discussions that follow these pieces, infact get more and more juvenile and infantile, full of ad hominem arguments and petty rhetoric, primarily because they are driven by a PLU thrust).

    And because of these reasons, I personally do not/ would not regard these ‘pieces’, profound as they may seem (mostly because of the credentials of people writing them), to be a actual gauge of issues related to the society at large.

    Therefore,

    1. We should first identify a ‘PLU debate’ when we see one, and

    2. We should, be constantly aware that we are not blindly falling into the trap of a self-engaging/ almost self-glorifying debate with PLU.

  15. Aditya_R on said:

    It is rather heartening to see people (including the author) wanting to make this debate wider and to make it more theoretical/ academic (intellectual?) by relating it to larger questions of politics and ‘politics of culture’, which is granted. My advice is not to stretch it too far and not to fight rhetorical ‘word wars’. Stay grounded in the context as much as possible and counters the arguments with ‘logos’ not just ‘egos’ and ‘pathos’.

    It is rather heartening to see people (including the author) wanting to make this debate wider and to make it more theoretical/ academic (intellectual?) by relating it to larger questions of politics and ‘politics of culture’, which is granted. My advice is not to stretch it too far and not to fight rhetorical ‘word wars’. Stay grounded in the context as much as possible and counters the arguments with ‘logos’ not just ‘egos’ and ‘pathos’.

    Finally coming to the current debate:

    My two cents:

    Assuming JNUs janta still is progressive they have a right to dissent if somebody starts chanting, when what they have come to hear is a ‘revolutionary’ Laal band. They should not be duped. They should feel irritated and express it in the way that is required in the situation.

    Secondly, I quite agree that it is rather not for the JNUSU president and her alone to intervene and stop the lady from singing🙂

  16. Aditya_R on said:

    *I see ‘prepositions’ missing from my sentences… I wonder where they are…hmmm

  17. shravan on said:

    meera, i agree with u if some one is singing classical song and making her stop abruptly . yes ,we should let her finish and place our critic that this song is not approriate for that situation. but i have a problem celebrating ganpathi as a tribal god.even ramayana and mahabharatha are also wriiten by tribal and shudras.so what? shall i celebrate that myths? . yes. i agree with u they say a lot about that perticular period. but still they are quoted in present day and force people to maintain the same culture. see our bombay high court judgement . yes some communist party leader have ganpathi .so what ? periyar all his life criticed rama and his name is ramaswamy. kosambi and othey schlors have done immsene research on sankrit texts . it doesn’t mean they have celebrated that language. they gave us critics of that perticular culture and language. the politics of language as far as my knowledge not only sankrit even persian and english languages are offical and elite languges of that pericular period and now hindi . people are forced and forcing to speak that languages . democractic space , moral policing and censorship. definitely, in the present day lines are drawn clearly that where we stand . and why we should fear students get muted on the issue of AFSPA or Kudankulam and Nonadanga? we students in student politics are only creating a space to inform and have debate on that perticular issues. Let me know one instance this student community have curtailed the democratic space ? Impossed moral policing on student community ?

  18. Manash Bhattacharjee on said:

    Ganesha’s status in cultural anthropology will have to take into account the dominant Sanskritised culture around him. Here too, distinctions can be made between Hussain’s paintings of Ganesha and other devotional modes of evoking the figure of Ganesha. The point still isn’t about being “against” Ganesha or Sanskrit: that attitude is obviously stupid. But it is equally true that an ancient language works within a certain politically disciplined discourse. So, nothing is “outside” that discourse. The distinction between a language and its regressive users is a simplistic distinction. But these are issues of serious debate which isn’t important in this context, including the mention of Kosambi.
    I am a huge fan of Drupad. I am also a huge fan of two classical vocalists who have right-wing sensibilities: Pandit Jasraj and Channulal Mishra. I hear them to enjoy the aesthetic brilliance of their craft, without sharing its political intonations. I might be also be disinterested in certain badly written revolutionary songs and poetry. Hearing music is a demanding and critical experience. I wouldn’t mind Tritha’s Ganapati invocation on some other occasion.
    Che being used by the capitalist industry or Bhagat Singh by the right wing doesn’t rob their revolutionary status or potential. They are merely being politically distorted and misused. Ganesha, in contrast, can be recreated in a critical art form only individually. His appropriation within a religious culture, despite being simplistic and populist, is not very out of place in terms of Ganesha being a mythological icon of worship. It is however a groundless exercise to use Ganesha’s example vis-a-vis Che’s or Singh’s.
    I will however admit – the problem of censorship still remains open, even with regard to this case. But the problem has to be posed and argued differently.
    To (be able to) sing or not to sing – that is still the question.

  19. Ashish Kumar on said:

    So many argument have been made and so many are yet to come, but i am finding most of the time people are making comment without contextualizing the event in its proper situation and declaring the act of stopping a singer from singing a sanskrit song in an even which at all was not meant for that song, undemocratic or left-intolerant. JNU left politics is declared as ‘oppressive’, ‘tyrannical’, ‘fascist’ and so forth. I have so far not heard any incident when JNUSU or any left party of JNU has ever attempted to discontinue the Durga Puja or Sarswati Puja which are organized every year inside JNU campus. In fact Holi if not Diwali is celebrated inside JNU by both right as well as left parties and people. No left party or person has so far attempted to discontinue these events because of their affiliations with hindu religion and brahmanical ideology. The same is true with festivals of other religions like Christmas, baisakhi, Pongal and so forth. so the question is: Does a single incident makes JNU left politics ‘intolerant’ and against of freedom of expression?

  20. Agyani on said:

    “What happened in JNU on the night of May 1st was an act of unbelieveable intolerance. It was marked by the peculiar combination of ignorance and populism that drives censorship. But worse still, is the fact that such intolerance is being justified in discussions subsequent to the event. Clearly, people did not come to the concert expecting to hear a hymn to Ganapati. But perhaps the situation could have been dealt with by allowing the singer to finish her song and then taking the mike to offer a critique?”

    Well said Madam. They are the same gentlemen who are always prompt to put blame on hindutva outfits for freedom of speech.Such an act committed by JNU’s leftist goons must be termed ‘Red Terrorism’.

  21. Anonymous on said:

    Thank you for this article Meera. I was once a student of JNU. When I heard that Laal was to perform there on May Day, I was quite sad that I could not attend it. But now it seems as though all I have missed was a vulgar display of power by the JNUSU President in imposing censorship just so that the “correct” version of freedom of expression can be maintained.

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  25. JG on said:

    All of you seem to be missing the point that the organisers have a right to decide what the nature of the programme should be. That is fundamental and the cerebral arguments come later. Obviously they erred in not asking the singer what she would be singing but when it did not match their agenda, they asked her to stop. Were they intolerant in not allowing her to continue ? That depends on one’s definition of ‘intolerant’.

  26. कला की स्वच्छंदता से प्यार करने वाले यह कैसे भुला दे सकते हैं कि उस का भी एक छंद होता है . स्वच्छंद माने स्व धन छंद.छंद टूटने पर प्रतिकूल प्रतिक्रिया स्वाभाविक है . अप्पूर्वानंद जी खुद ही कह रहे हैं कि तीर्था उस कार्यक्रम की योजना में शामिल नहीं थीं . बिन बुलाये आन पहुंचीं थीं. लेकिन उन्हें रोका नहीं गया . उन्होंने पहले पश्चिमी वाद्यों के साथ तीन चार शास्त्रीय टप्पे सुनाये , जिस पर उन्हें खूब तालियाँ मिलीं . हाँ , वक्रतुंड के लिए उस वक्त श्रोता मानसिक रूप से तैयार न थे , और फ्यूज़न में वह वैसे भी अजीब लग रहा था . इस पर श्रोता समुदाय से हाहा कर उठी तो समझदारी से तीर्था ने खुद को संयमित कर लिया . जे एन यू के यही श्रोता स्पिक मैके और दीगर आयोजनों में शास्त्रीय भजनों को रात भर मगन हो कर सुनते हैं .इस लिए इस घटना को ”कला के सामूहिक संहार” के रूप में चित्रित करना ज्यादती है . उधर कई रेडिकल हाशियावादी इसी बात पर सख्त नाराज़ हैं कि तीर्था को मंच पर आने ही क्यों दिया गया .

  27. I sincerely feel that both sides of the critique have missed a very crucial point while raising several justified concerns. Somewhere we are not touching the main stay of the debate. Are we looking for a archetypal brahmanical God OR a tribal folk God, who was appropriated by mainstream tradition? Is it a matter of historical cannonization, interpretation and nuancing of past Or a matter of freedom of expression and democratic way of listening and critiquing?

    Kindly imagine a situation were “Vishnu Vandana”(who certainly has no lineage of being a tribal god unlike Ganesha) would have been sung by the singer in the place of Ganpati vandana? Can one still defend the the deviation of the singer from the ambit of may day celebration in the pretext of freedom of expression! Are we concerned only about the freedom of expression of the artist not the freedom of expression of the audience?

    Are we clear about the nature of debate around that incident? That, it is not about the tribal tradition of the Ganesha or Vishnu but it is a matter of the uses of freedom of expression in every walk of life by the Individual and the Collective. Let focus the debate on the precise modelity of the incident.

    I feel that a different and decent way of expressing one’s difference could have been employed . Practically after the song, organizers would have made clear their difference with the song.

  28. muhammed shabeer on said:

    Actually.the first three compositions by that lady was comparatively tolerable…to what happened there afterwards . At any cost, is there any thing sensible in justifying a below average “rock” in the rocks by saying that the main vocalist had left the laal. why should the JNUites tolerate the poor showdown by them as they were here on that day not for a free show. Please ask any JNUSU office bearer about the expenditure.

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  31. Videsi Uvacha on said:

    “Ganesh is a part of Brahminical tradition for which no progressive would dare to say a good word”

    I can say a good word and I’m neither a Brahmin or an Indian. In large part due to Brahmins, people all around the world can avail themselves of the profound Upanishads and other shastras of ancient India.

    Brahmins had a hand in preserving many aspects of South Asia’s philosophical cultures and for that I and many others around the world are appreciative.

  32. prabhat dinkar on said:

    debete ko ek aur nazariye se dekhne ki bhi zaroorat hai.agar tritha ganesh vandana ki jagah “bismillah” gati to bhi JNUSU president ki yahi pratikriya hoti?jis tarah salman rusdy ko jaipur fest me na aane dene ke mudde per in logon ne chuppi saadh li thi usse to yahi lagta hai ki “bismillah” se shuru hone per ye log kuch na bolte.in logon ko dharm kewal tab afeem lagta hai jab wo hindu dharm ho.abhivyakti ki swatantrata bhi tabhi yaad aati hai jab koi M.F. hussain hindu devtaon k nange chitra banata hai.

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