By Amit kumar
This small piece should not be seen as a response to what Meera wrote about ‘that night’ of first May, 2012 when ‘Laal Band from Pakistan’ performed in JNU. Though I must admit that if Apoorvanand’s piece gave Meera the courage to write what she felt, Meera’s own piece gives me the strength to write what I feel. All in the name of ‘Individual/intellectual Freedom’! Like Meera and Apoorvanand I also joined the ‘crowd’ to witness a historical night which as Taimur the vocalist from Laal Band said is going to remain with us for a long time. It was May Day, a celebration of workers struggles and resistance which they have been waging since the day the fight for eight hour work a day was initiated in Australia and finally sealed by Haymarket affair on 1st May, 1886. May Day for many of us is not only a day of celebration of working class victories but a day when we further our vows of our struggle for an egalitarian society. It’s a day of singing ‘revolution’ in poetry and slogans when fresh oxygen is pumped in the blood of all those working in the factories of Tata’s, Jindal’s and Mittal’s and other big corporate giants. To tell them that,‘we have nothing to lose but our chains’. This background is very important to put things into their proper context. Otherwise things will slide down to questions of ‘shrinking democratic space’, ‘individual freedom’ etc etc.
The JNUSU poster for the event which I hope all of us saw had this narrative very clearly engraved in it. ‘Utho Meri Duniya’ the full line of the song is Utho Meri duniya ke Gariboon ko jaga do. So given the history of May Day and the way it was projected by the organizers I must say that the whole night had already been conceived in a certain way by the organizers/JNUSU. JNUSU of 2012 is lead by a radical left organization and they like any other political group also have their own politics. The politics of this particular JNUSU like many other earlier JNUSU’s is to replace the exclusionary symbols of hindu right with those symbols which are more inclusive and democratic. May Day was one more attempt in that direction!
Hirawal a political musical group from Patna started the night of ‘Revolutionary songs’ which all of us thought would be followed up by the Laal. But suddenly Tritha the classical singer was introduced by Taimur and she was supposed to sing three songs. It’s important to make certain things clear. Tritha is not a part of Laal band and she joined Laal during this tour in India. She had never performed before with Laal as Taimur clearly mentioned it. She probably had a small role wherever Laal performed in Delhi. But in JNU she decided to sing solo songs, the content of which was not mentioned to anyone, at least not to the organizers/JNUSU. She was a guest of Laal and Laal was guest of JNU so she was welcomed as a ‘guest of our guests’. Her first two songs were received well by ‘public’ and she at times got huge applause, despite her not adhering to the theme of the night. But once she touched what all of us try to keep away from the campus and wherever else we can i.e. a hymn in praise of Lord Ganesha it was received with hoots and shouting. JNUSU president and office bearers sensing the situation well asked her to stop which she eventually did. Meera saw in this act of JNUSU president as ‘unbelievable intolerance’ but what I saw here was a clear message ‘we don’t except whatever divides us, be it your Gods or your religion’. After this background I will simply put my arguments in a few points:
(a). Instead of saying that JNUSU curbed Tirtha’s space, I must say that she took the space which JNUSU had consciously created for workers struggles to gift it over to one more ‘Brahminical God’. So then, do we only sing ‘revolutionary songs’ on May Day? Of course not! The workers in Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) the trade union of BJP will never sing Gorakh, Faiz or Jalib, they night not even shout Inquilab Zindabad, and they will probably do Sarswati Puja or sing Ganesha Aarti. More than anything else it is also a ‘war of positions’. JNUSU tried to have inclusive Symbols, Bhagat Singh, Faiz and Jalib!
(b). History is not only in our text books or in what is taught in our classrooms, in everyday life History with capital ‘H’ is shaped in the way people understand it and it fits in the hegemonic discourse. I never knew till Meera wrote that Ganesha was a tribal God and was later appropriated by Brahmanism. Ganesha a tribal God unfortunately has remained in the books only, and the popular perception puts him at the top list of Brahmanical Gods. My whole family before worshipping Shiva, Rama, or any other local deity worships him first. So for me and for many of us who were there on that night and in the popular perception, Ganesha is nothing more than a symbol of Brahmanism despite his actual ‘historical’ position of being a ‘tribal god’. The attempts of appropriation of Che and Bhagat Singh by right wing forces might be the same like Ganesha’s but there remains a difference and if we ignore that, then the comparison seems a bit superficial. No one can tell a child if asked that Che was the one who founded Ford or any other brand which sells him today. You will have to say that Che was a communist Guerilla who fought for the liberation of Cuba and humanity as a whole. Myths and History have different ways of appropriation. One can appropriate the rock star face of Che not his ideas! JNUSU tried to be inclusive by bringing/highlighting the category ‘WORKERS’.
(c). No one has a problem with Sanskrit or any such language. But every politics has a language and every language has a politics. The Hidden Transcripts! Like Ganesha, Sanskrit has always been language of few. I might offend people by saying that it has been a language of elites always away from lower castes in India. For them this language served only one purpose i.e. codify laws of keeping them what they have been ‘the untouchables’, ‘mlechhas’, ‘the wretched of this earth’. Suddenly one fine morning if we tell all these people that listen this is a just language and nothing more than that. They will surely laugh at us. Sanskrit language, the sacred thread, manusmriti might be a language, a thread and a one more source of history writing for us. But for those who have been at the receiving end of Brahmanism, these all symbols are instruments of exclusion and exploitation. Codify, Disciple and Punish! How much we try to secularize them they will not be purged of their inherent tendency of exclusion so easily. JNUSU tried to be inclusive by speaking the language of hind-sind in Hindustani/Urdu.
(d). After these three points in mind I don’t think JNUSU will be stopped by anyone when in near future they are going to talk or stand in solidarity with the struggling masses of Nondanga, Kudankulam, Kashmir, Bastar, Egypt, Palestine!
Amit Kumar is a research scholar at Dept. of History, Delhi University.