The solidarity of Dalit, Bahujan, Muslim and other oppressed nationalities has a long history. There are many examples of multi-layered experiments and multiple histories of friendship with the idea of Dalit Bahujan Muslim solidarity in the last century alone. The politics of Periyarists in Tamil Nadu, the history of Ezhava memorials in Kerala, the history of Dalit Voice of VT Rajasheshkar, and the alliance between Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi of Prakash Ambedkar and Asaduddin Owaisi's AIMIM are few instances of such historical and organic political blocks from the past to the present. In the University of Hyderabad, Pondicherry University and Maharajas College of Kerala, there are further instances of Dalit Bahujan solidarities that our mainstream student movement historians do not want to hear or listen. There are multiple signifiers and memories that are arranged with all its complexities and heurisms in the idea of Dalit Bahujan solidarity in the form of BAPSA-Fraternity.
JNU has a tradition of 'political' writing and 'political' living. I don’t necessarily follow that language of politics being proposed by the Left in the JNU campus. Please don’t ask me to write in their language. I write in a language I belong to. I believe in a political spirituality that is very different, one that is signified by my Muslim/Arabic name Waseem itself. The political ontology that I belong to is different in the sense that it is based on an understanding of power, subjectivity and language from the post-essentialist perspective which is both post-secular (as something that complicates the religious/secular binary) and post-national in its orientations. It is a political horizon that I believe the newly emerged subaltern multitudes in the Indian campuses are articulating. It is filled with hope and at the same time, it is haunted by the burden of despair. My search for a new politics is despair, in the sense that I hear the silent cries of 1.9 million people from Assam while I am writing this note.
I always believe that there are multiple voices in me. There are voices in me that are clear and there are other voices in me that are not very clear even to me. I am writing this note from an individual/social subject position as a Muslim/minority/OBC/male/Malayali student from JNU. There are certain parts of me that I want to criticise. There are certain parts of me I want to celebrate. It is the politics of care from my Muslim spiritual tradition that I want to teach and articulate. My political trajectory derives itself from a tradition that sees my activism in the BAPSA-Fraternity Alliance as the will of God almighty.
Given the plurality of identities, some ask me why I am more worried about my ‘Muslim’ identity. It was not my choice. Sometimes I just want be one of the many faceless Waseems of the nation and hide in the corner of my house as a ‘familiar’ and ‘private’ Muslim figure of the secular narrative. But I have no choice as my ‘Muslimness’ sticks out.
Compared to many other cadres from different upper-caste Hindu positions, I am hailed as a Muslim and only a Muslim from the time I reached this campus. However, I eventually realised that they call me Muslim (with disdain and distrust) in order to erase my political right as a Muslim. At the same time, there is an ideological hailing to de-Muslimise my identity in order to serve the interest of the ruling regime of India. I believe that it is the right time that I stood up with those who are (especially believing/invisible) Muslims in order to fight back the ruling fascist regime of India. As long as there are attempts to deny my Muslim identity, there will be resistance, Inshallah.
Let me come back to the broader political aim of this note.
I believe that BAPSA-Fraternity alliance in the JNUSU elections 2019 is a historic episode in the JNU campus where both savarna Brahmanical Left and Right have had a monopoly for decades in terms of institutional and political access. Whatever the claimed ‘limitations’ of BAPSA-Fraternity alliance are, it nevertheless is a decisive shift in the history of the political language of the JNU campus. It is the return of the repressed in the history of the JNU campus.
It is an assault on the anti-Bahujan metaphysics of the so-called savarna — progressive left and right — student movements in the campus. In the coming years by following the examples of BAPSA and Fraternity, we hope that more oppressed nationalities and social-political movements will strengthen the idea of oppressed unity in the JNU campus. The Post-Mandal politics of Indian campuses is finally reviving its revolutionary spirit in the JNU campus.
For those in the Left and Right who are not happy with the BAPSA-Fraternity alliance, it is true that their worst fear has come true. It is clear that from now on they cannot speak 'class' as the only factor as AISA/SFI or the opportunistic Left alliance wants to portray, or, the mythic 'nation' as ABVP wants to aggressively impose. Instead, what we suggest is that there are matrices of power and oppression particular to the Indian context that we need to deal with. These are issues of power and oppression deeply entangled with the question of class/caste/gender/ and nation/region without any form of reduction. The intersectional and entangled critique of current Indian social order can only be strengthened through the coming together of the various oppressed nationalities from different social and political subject positions. The essentialism of one identity or the totalitarian construction of a class or nation does not help us to build a society based on the ethos of pluralism.
For instance, the criminalisation of Muslim minority discourse by instrumentally using the arguments against the criminalisation of sexual minority discourse to serve a 'class only' savarna Left front does not help the cause of the marginalised politics in the JNU campus. Having said that let me reiterate Fraternity's solidarity with the sexual minority movements in India. The solidarity between sexual minority movements and religious minority movements is a global reality as proclaimed by the intervention of Judith Butler and many others. And it is an urgent task to strengthen this solidarity in JNU campus and across India. The coming together of various castes, religions, sexualities, gender and region-based political subjectivities are not without problems or internal fissures. There are disagreements and lack of communication. There is ignorance and a lack of awareness.
There are serious political issues and disagreements among feminist movements and Muslim religious minority movements from the time of Shah Bano. It took many years for both these groups to learn each other and build a meaningful alliance based on what they agree or disagree. Solidarity is not a dinner party but a difficult process of coming together of various oppressed identities. However, the real question is whether we have the space of engagement between various minority discourses without the mediation of the patronising savarna Left and fascist Hindutva Right.
BAPSA-Fraternity alliance is formed to remind one that there is an eclectic arrival of the struggle for new politics in the campus of JNU. We hope that this alliance will strengthen the pluriversal coming together of various identities based on the intersection of caste, religion, class, sexuality and region, etc. The new solidarity politics in JNU campus actually strengthens meaningful dialogue between various social forces on equal terms without the mediation of the patronising political vanguards from Left and Right.
Along with the right-wing Hindutva, organised Left always feared the coming together of BAPSA-Fraternity like formation in various Indian campuses. The organised Left in the Indian campus — mostly composed of those who have a ‘caste Hindu’ background — always feared the coming together of Dalit Bahujan Muslim social and political movements. For instance, the coming together of various Ambedkar Students' Associations and various Muslim student movements in the University of Hyderabad Campus and Pondicherry University led SFI to start one of its worst and most perverse Islamophobic rhetoric in the name of ‘Islamism’. It is the newest avatar of Leftist Islamophobia that they configure from Soviet rhetoric. The fundamental Eurocentric anxiety about Muslims as people who can act and change the world was one of the ruling ideology of Soviet Marxism. It actually led to the downfall of Soviet Empire of Georgian nationalists.
The Islamophobic rhetoric of the Left unity is to hide their worst ideological and political crimes from the past to the present. The ghost of the Stalinist Gulags, Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia and the genocidal experiments of Enver Hoxha are carefully hidden in order to speak about the manipulated threat of Islamism in the Indian campus. Let me make a demand: Kerala SFI leaders should at least show the moral courage to answer about the murders and homicides they make in hundreds in the state of Kerala against their political opponents before they comment about any threat of minority Muslim student organisations in the Indian campus.
We also remind one that more than anything, Indian state agencies have made enough investigations so as to ban Muslim organisations the community belong to. It is only Muslim students' movements, fragile as they are, that could not be found objectionable to the Indian state. These days, Left student movements are trying to portray Muslim students' movements as extremists in the eye of the state in order to make them the enemy of the state and erase them from the political sphere. It is clear that Left's hatred towards Muslim political aspiration has no limits.
By using Islamism or Islamist — as if it only has one meaning as determined by the imperialists immediately after the cold war and 9/11 — Left students movement (especially few of the SFI supporters) have erased the various distinctions provided by serious academic scholarship on the varieties of Islamism or types of Islamist individuals, in order to make villains of Muslim politics in Indian campuses.
By creating a monolithic mythic figure of Islamism and making use of the demonology of Islamism or Islamist intellectual traditions in general, the Left has tried to instil the fear of Muslim political expression to those who are not really well versed in the history and the politics of Islamic politics in India.
Recent studies on Islamic movements show that as a unique global phenomenon, it has multiple tendencies from quietists, pieties and militants as any social–political-ideological tendency as studied by Ovamir Anjum, Salman Sayyid, and Qasim Zaman, and others prove.
I also believe that the study of Islamism in India is controlled by usual secular/communal framework which actually denies agency to the autonomous history of Islamism in India. Most of the studies on Muslim movements in the Indian context have actually come out as a response to the anxieties of the Brahmanical state towards its Muslim subjects. There are few studies beyond this anxiety but have never become a part of mainstream political imagination. For example, there are multiple experiments with democracy in various Islamist movements. Some of them focus to work along with the community, as we see the example of Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO). In a post-cold war global order, the denomination and vilification of Islamic movements became an established knowledge industry and it is clear that even the mainstream Indian Left is reproducing the same Islamophobic narrative of the US-led Empire.
In the past few years, demonising of Abul A’la Maududi, an Islamic revivalist, has become a fashion. Especially after the Bush regime, the Islamophobic industry has become so powerful in controlling the narratives around Muslims around the world. There are hundreds of essays on Maududi which actually complicate mainstream Left/secular Islamophobic narratives. Unfortunately, there are no discussions about such a historic figure except the mythification of Maududi as communal, terrorist and patriarch so as to thwart the aspiration of the Muslim student politics on Indian campuses.
By reducing everything that is related to Muslim students' politics to Maududi or by elevating the figure of Maududi as everything related to Muslim students' politics to India, they want to deny the agency of Muslims to read Maududi as an important political thinker to that of a reified monster. I don’t think that that is the way to engage with politics of Maududi or any other important Muslim political thinkers of the last century.
Islamic traditions are so diverse that one needs to really show some respect to the tradition of Muslim intellectual history to start a meaningful dialogue within the broader Muslim community. The vilification of Maududi is not a good starting point to start a critical conversation about the legacy of Islamic intellectual history in the postcolonial Indian subcontinent. The works of Ayesha Jalal, Irfan Ahmad and Humeira Iqtidar show an honest academic attempt to understand the study of the issues related to the politics of Maududi. These are the things that I find as deeply challenging in developing a different history of Indian Muslim politics. But many of the so-called secular leftists — in the name of politics — want to enjoy their exercise of demonisation as a weak and shallow expression of their disagreement.
I believe that a new student politics in India demands a new syllabus to learn about Muslims. I have a firm conviction that Muslim student movements from different locations are better placed to start this conversation about Muslims. It is true that Muslim student politics is a global reality. From Black Lives Matter to Rohit Vemula, Muslim student movements have built a meaningful alliance with other marginalised groups. If someone is serious about Muslim student politics, he/she should approach those who practice Muslim politics in Indian campuses. There are reading lists and intellectual communities to speak about Islam. There are some great individual examples and good intellectual groups on our campus. They represent the moments of solidarities and moments of pain and anger. One must admit that there are issues of oppression among us. There are serious fights amongst us in terms of class, gender, caste and religious interpretation. No position is the ‘end’, ‘unquestioned’ position in Islam. We believe that Islam is a plurality of conversation in search of the truth of this life. Islam in our life is a conversation for a better world for all of us by reading divinity and engaging in our own materiality.
Finally, it is clear that the rampant Islamophobia in the JNU campus has made possible the alliance of BAPSA-Fraternity as a way to fight back against the force of Islamophobia in different shades. The BAPSA-Fraternity alliance has exposed the forces of false division and forces of hatred on this campus. BAPSA-Fraternity alliance replaced the old leftist language of politics to a new vocabulary of political spirituality that resonates in the tradition of all the great saints of Bahujan history. This alliance is here to stay whether someone hates it or likes it. It is the future of the JNU campus.
The author is a PhD scholar at the Centre for Law and Governance, Jawaharlal University, Delhi
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Updated Date: Sep 01, 2019 20:37:32 IST