I wish this wasn't the time India's students hid in sewers, dressed broken heads and braced for falling lathis. But it is

When I was a child I often wondered why fully-grown adults were praying to god to cancel exams. They weren't. In Malayalam, the Lord's Prayer implores our father who art in heaven to 'pareekshayil pettu poyidathe' which loosely implies 'please don't lead us into temptation.' Only when I understood that that the word 'pareeksha' meant another kind of test did it become comical.

The night of 15 December, 2019, when the police waged war inside Jamia Milia Islamia and then Aligarh Muslim University, will forever be marked in my mind as one of many, many pareekshas. What lies ahead is what is known in more modern-type schools as continuous assessment. How will we fare? Here are some tips from top students.

A weeping, tough-minded Jamia law student, who identified herself as Anugya spoke to journalists, as she prepared to flee to her hometown, "Education kya sirf machine chalane ke liye milti hai? Isliye bhi milti hai ke agar mere sath walo ke saath galat hoga toh khade rahoon uski saath." Anugya and others in public universities all over the country still understand, despite the best efforts of capitalism, that education is about learning, to think and practicing the skills and duties of adulthood. Despite half a decade of the 'students are villains and leeches' narrative and all-round anti-welfare propaganda, Anugya and others have been good students in understanding that we are connected to each other and what we owe each other.

I am fairly sure that Anugya and others would not have endorsed the other kind of silly story making the rounds, that of course members of this government being fairly infamous for having less formal education would wage war on students. To be thoughtful, kind, politically astute or compassionate does not take college degrees but it does take practice. Which is why when Akshay Kumar said he had accidentally liked a tweet mocking the suffering of Jamia students, it took a minute to understand that he did not, in fact, condone the violence. Hard to tell since he did not exactly condemn the violence either from his position.

 I wish this wasnt the time Indias students hid in sewers, dressed broken heads and braced for falling lathis. But it is

Anugya (in the image) and others in public universities all over the country still understand, despite the best efforts of capitalism, that education is about learning, to think and practicing the skills and duties of adulthood.

It is not surprising that public universities, where students are not completely buried in college loans or so benumbed by affluence, or public universities where students are not in a conveyor belt to leave the country, are the ones who have been able to swiftly respond to our current situation. It is not surprising that the young politician Chandrasekhar Azad and the Bhim Army, who in the last couple years have been working on everything from free schools to his recent plunge into electoral politics, was outside Delhi police headquarters at midnight as the city gathered to protest what had happened in Jamia.

Perched on top of a car with a copy of the Constitution and a marvelous blue turban, he said that 'this country is theirs (Muslims) and we will stand with them." He was otherwise reportedly a picture of solidarity, quiet except for occasionally telling journalists that he did need no education on nationalism from the Sangh Parivar — it was in his blood. All this stylish precision while everyone was wondering where members of our walking wounded of our Opposition was. No member of the government had anything to say but that was expected since they had decided they don't want a degree in democracy, a long time ago. But our Opposition, too, has no practice in doing anything but looking after their vast interests so unsurprising that they did not leave their warm central Delhi homes either.

Perhaps they were secretly feeling grateful to students for doing their job. Like the Karnataka governor I once saw thanking students at a Red Cross blood drive in 1999 thus: "I thank the vice-chancellors because university blood is the best blood."

Young Anugya told journalists who asked her what she thought about the protests, "Mein Muslim bhi nahin hoon, Uncle." A beautiful burn to a certain kind of leering person who wants to say is that she is 'motivated.' This particular fetish that right-wing supporters have, a sexual thrill in trying to shame minorities for trying to not die — as if to be alive as a Muslim is a sign of a vested interest. But it is not just the grinning right-wing person who feels that the existence of the Muslim, Dalit, Adivasi or Christian is itself some kind of cheating, like they permanently carry hidden kunji in their sleeves for life's examinations.

It is also a certain kind of liberal who has participated in this shaming for years and demanded that Muslims be less so. Like Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady singing why can't a woman be more like a man, this variety has longed for the Muslim who is more like a Hindu. This kind of wishy-washy, eye-lid-twitching-liberal-type is who Jamia student and woman of the hour Ladeeda Sakhaloon was responding to when she posted 'La ilaha illallah Muhammadu rasoolullah. This is our slogan. This will be our slogan.' Or when she quoted a friend 'Chek Oov' on Facebook: "During the protest gathering happened yesterday. Some liberals dictated us to refrain from chanting 'Insha Allah' and 'Allahu Akbar.' We have only submitted completely towards Almighty. We have abandoned your secular slogans long before. Those slogans will be raised loudly again and again. Those slogans are our spirit, our imagination and the one which refines our existence. You might be in a hurry to prove your secular loyalty, but we are not."

An hour before the police threw teargas shells into the Jamia library, I was at a huge anti-CAA protest at Town Hall in Bengaluru. The man sitting in front of me and I were united in our juvenile giggling as organisers tried to manage anti NRC-CAB protesters, anti-CAB-pro-NRC protesters, multiple languages as well as the challenges of just controlling a swelling crowd. At one point, an exasperated and befuddled person on the mike said: "If you love Hindustan, please sit down."

Students protesting against Delhi Police action on Jamia students on Sunday night. PTI

Students protesting against Delhi Police action on Jamia students on Sunday night. PTI

Guffawing we sat down. Though the issues were serious and intentions were earnest, it was comforting to be amidst a familiar bumbling of half-translated, half-misunderstood, political cross-purposes where everyone is mildly fed up with everyone else but patient. Less than an hour later our grins faded as we realised that in Delhi a practiced chaos had been brought to Jamia with burning buses to excuse teargas, live ammunition, assaults and sexual violence.

Many first rank observers were quick to trot out the high-marks answers such as: students should not participate in politics, violence means loss of moral high ground, damage to property is unstrategic and so on. A stupid, callous version of "if you love Hindustan, sit down." People running the front pages of newspapers were also ready for the easy questions with headlines using words such as 'clashes,' 'mobs' and the ever popular passive voice where 'violence springs' like a lotus in our passports.

If they had recently read even one chapter they would have remembered that 19-year-olds sitting in a library is not an enemy combatant. One son of a famous liberal was making eye-popping remarks in a private Twitter account about how the state should use disproportionate force in times like these.

More than one friend exclaimed at the bravery of the young women in the now famous video as they defended a male friend from the Delhi police armed to the teeth and some friend/patron of the police, an unknown man in a red shirt and a face-concealing helmet. I wish I didn't think that the young women in the video have had reasons and practice being brave before this. Other young men and women barely out of college themselves nimbly arrived at police stations and hospitals. They joined what is known as 'old hands' in trekking up and down cold footpaths in Delhi to bear witness, to count heads, to 'bring up the bodies' with habeas corpus petitions. I wished again that this was not a time when young people across the country would have to quickly learn to be old hands, to drive ambulances through uniformed mobs, hide in sewers and loos, to jump out of windows, to dress broken heads and hold close their broken dreams, organize marches in their own universities at midnight or to die at 17.

"I don't know whether I would face that kind of violence to save anyone," said more than one friend as the night progressed. But as in the case of all studies, practice makes perfect. We are all going to get many opportunities to be kind, honest and brave. Exams are coming.

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Updated Date: Dec 16, 2019 19:41:52 IST