Trapped in a time warp, for the scholars of JNU, age-old scriptures still remain symbols of all that is wrong within Indian society. But the fact remains most of their ‘comrades’ had not even heard of most of these scriptures before entering campus. On Tuesday evening, three JNU students that included the vice-president of the JNU unit of the ABVP burnt selected excerpts of the Manusmriti to protest against the “oppressive and highly discriminatory content of the text”.
The oversimplification of some serious social issues only reminds one of the satirical depiction of JNU students in 2013 Hindi flick Raanjhanaa, where a group of JNU students — after discussing why the ‘hero’ becomes a thief — concludes that it is poverty that makes one a thief.
For burning Manusmriti, the reason as stated by Jatin Goraiya, the vice-president of the ABVP unit in JNU and one of three students who took part in the initiative was simple. “We essentially got printouts of around 40 verses from the text that we feel had extremely derogatory references against women and burnt them. Today (Tuesday) is International Women's Day we thought this was the day when we should burn this text that contains highly derogatory remarks against women,” said Goraiya.
When asked why he thinks that on a university campus, the burning of Manusmriti even holds symbolic value, Goraiya asserted, “When I came to JNU, I was also not aware of the Manusmriti but then I got to know about it. I realised that even today many social evils like child marriage mentioned in Manusmriti are prevalent in our society."
He added with an afterthought, “By burning Manusmriti, we are burning discrimination”
Pradeep Narwal, who resigned from ABVP following the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar and the protests that followed, said that they have been demanding the burning of the Manusmriti, but the ABVP did not listen to them. “We have problems with the 40 points of the text, copies of which we burnt as we felt that they were extremely derogatory towards women and Dalits”, says Narwal.
Many students Firstpost spoke to admitted to not have even heard of the text before coming to JNU, and still knowing little about it. “I came from Delhi University. Manuwadi and Manusmriti are words used here was as commonly as KNags (a reference to Kamla Nagar market in north campus of Delhi University) or dramsoc (dramatic societies in DU colleges). Initially, I thought it was a cultural society like the ones we used to have in DU,” said a student.
While delivering his lecture, part of teach-in series of lectures on nationalism taking place in JNU Makarand Paranjape, a professor of English at JNU's Centre for English Studies on 7 March was right in every respect when he said, “What I am going to do today is to emphasise the other performative — where we talk about ideas, we are objective, we are critical, we do not get carried away, we are open-minded, we interrogate and critique ourselves and not just mount attacks on people we disagree with”.
The objectivity and self-critique is what many think is missing with Left leaders at JNU. As many of the students pointed out. “Look, they have this tendency of justifying everything they feel is right. And they are very good at building rhetoric around it to defend their stance,” said a student of school of computational and integrative sciences.
“No one knows about Manusmriti before they come here. But then they are taught about it and then told to hate and oppose it. A perfect case of manufacturing dissent,” said another student of the School of Social Sciences.
A student with a left-leaning but a ‘rationalist’ perspective pointed at a recent post by JNUSU vice-president Shehla Rashid which speaks considerably about the problem with the Left in JNU. The post read:
Imagine Antarctica occupied by Argentina and Australia. Both calling it important strategic point. Without a single enemy bullet fired, soldiers would die due to harsh weather and repeated avalanche. What would you call it? I call it madness... Let's come closer home. Every month 2 Indian soldiers are dying in the barren land, called Siachen, where nothing grows, nobody lives. Not due to enemy bullets, but due to -50°C temperature. Stop sacrificing our soldiers. Time to #DemilitarizeSiachen. It would be truest tribute to Hanumanthappa and his comrades.
Replying to her post Saikat Dutta, former editor (national security) at Hindustan Times wrote, “Shehla, unfortunately, Siachen is not Antartica or Artic. Here, it serves a major strategic value for India, Pakistan and China. Giving up a major strategic asset would ensure that the Pakistanis and the Chinese get a major upper hand, which can threaten India's entire northern sector, right up to Himachal Pradesh”.
“The problem with the JNU Left is that they feel a monopoly over what is right, they confuse ideas with fact. How can you compare Antarctica with Siachen. They stress so much on rhetoric and facts that suit them and they care just about their worldview which is time-trapped”, said Pankaj Kumar, a research scholar.