Student Protests: Rewriting Justice by Turning Fiction Into Fact

A recent tweet by Kapil Mishra, who has been a Lok Sabha contestant from the Bharatiya Janata Party, on the arrest of Jamia Millia Islamia student Safoora Zargar, read: “Ab jab aatanki pakde ja rahe hain to unko student, activist, maasum aurat bataya ja raha hai (Now when terrorists are being caught, they are being called students, activists or innocent women).”

This tweet is a small example of the way truth becomes fiction and vice-versa in the many political games played by the ruling party. Fact is looked upon as propaganda and propaganda as fact.

Safoora is a student enrolled in Jamia and the charges against her have not been proven nor has she been tried in a court.

Yet she is openly being called a terrorist.

These two parallel narratives leave justice far from a game of fair play. It is a tendency of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP to make the public sphere a theatre where the script is penned by them, executed by media agencies and the artwork is done by the IT cell – all to build a narrative of events to capture public attention and warp reality.

Governmental action following the violence in Delhi has been directed exclusively and entirely against the Muslim community, students and activists. Young Muslim boys have been picked up for not much reason, students of Jamia have been arrested and activists are continuously being harassed in the name of an investigation.

It has become clear that there is no attempt to ensure justice or there is no effort to rehabilitate those who have been affected. Why else would the government not suspend the police officers who were caught on camera bullying a group of severely injured Muslim boys into singing the national anthem instead of taking them to the hospital?

Why else would people like Kapil Mishra and others. who openly gave calls for violence, be free of a police investigation and continue to live a normal life?

Why else would culprits be “invented” in the form of student activists?

As the saying goes, when you cannot find the culprit, you choose one. When you are yourself the culprit, you criminalise your enemies to hide your failures and intentions.

The power of student protests

The relationship between fascism, totalitarianism and autocracy on one side, and students, teachers, universities on the other is an old one. History is replete with examples of students shedding blood and making sacrifices for truth, justice and for a better society; be it the 1968 occupy France student movement, the Russian Revolution, the French Revolution, the Arab Spring, or even the 1975-77 anti-Emergency movement right here in India.

Universities are not – and are not supposed to be – conveyor belts that train students into becoming a mechanical workforce for the nation. Universities are spaces that acquaint a student with the realities of the world, its history, and pushes them towards envisioning a future bereft of all that has been wrong hitherto.

History will be a guide in remembering that what the students of Jamia sacrificed and suffered is not fiction but fact. When attacked inside the library, the books bore the blood of students – this is not fiction. The streets where they defended the constitution, and fought the divisive anti-poor and anti-minority CAA-NRC-NPR, have ingrained ideas of a world that they believed in through art, music, slogans, paintings and sketches.

Be the blood of Shadab Farooq, who was shot by a hatemonger. Be it the pain and agony of protesters fighting for Rohith Vemula who had to face police lathis and tear gas. Or our interminable search for justice for Najeeb Ahmed, who disappeared from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in 2016. Our struggle over the years hasn’t tired us.

The Komal Sharmas are left free but someone like Safoora, who fought for democracy and love, is behind bars, charged under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Carrying the future on her shoulders and her baby in her womb, Safoora hasn’t given up on truth and justice. She is fighting with resilience, determination and grit, just like Meeran Haider, just like so many students in jail charged under UAPA, sedition and what not.

Maybe more laws will be created, more sections will be added to the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, so as to slap them on students. Books and libraries have been made out of the FIRs filed against students – books the government can’t erase and libraries which they can’t burn down.

A pattern emerges

Yet there is a pattern to this madness. When the Narendra Modi government decided to go on this spree of targeting and witch-hunting students from 2015 onwards till date, there was a reason.

The reason was simply to harass, intimidate and victimise students so that they don’t speak against anti-people policies, so they don’t oppose the destruction of the economy and democracy, and so that they don’t defend the constitution – which now is being rewritten with hate, fake news and communal venom. The pattern toward this goal is clear to see via state repression wrought through the police, university administration and the media.

Also read: ‘Trauma for Life’: Jamia’s Night of Horrors Continues to Haunt Students

The Modi government, in order to minimise its political loss, manufactures propaganda, doctored videos, fake news, lies, hate and fiction through social media and the ‘godi media’ very effortlessly diverts public attention from real pressing issues towards events that didn’t even occur.

They don’t give up, but what they forget is that students aren’t giving up in the fight against injustice and exploitation either. Students across the country stood with Safoora, united against the slander she faced – like they came out after the police brutality in Jamia, and like they spoke out after the masked terror attack by ABVP goons on JNU.

Because to be a student is to keep fighting injustice within oneself and the society. It is a process. This is why Modi and his fascist regime fears students.

Students from JNU had fought the narrative of JNU students being freeloaders sucking up taxpayer money with facts on how they are true taxpayers and their demand for quality, accessible and affordable education for all is indispensable for society to progress. Modi and his regime know here that they can’t fight students. Hence, a new event is created. New anti-nationals are manufactured. The IT cell prepares volumes of fake news to turn people into mobs, to turn difference into lynching and replace fact with fiction just to add fuel to the fire.

This government and its cohorts think we have given up on Rohith, Najeeb and the others.

No, we haven’t. Every day of our life is to fight for justice for them and numerous others. We don’t leave anyone behind. We fight for the most vulnerable among us. If the name of the most vulnerable was Rohith, we fought. When it was Najeeb, we did. Today, it’s Safoora and several others. We will not give up because we never did.

Money can’t buy us, hence Amit Shah uses the Delhi police on us. Jumlas don’t work on us, hence Modi unleashes fiction from IT cells and trolls he follows. What they don’t understand is that the students have sold their souls to a future that is just and equal; for a society where injustice is fought and justice is ensured.

The RSS-BJP combine knows that they can’t win a battle of ideas because their ideology of Hindutva is cruel, racist, filled with bigotry and inspired from Hitler and Mussolini. It breeds upon injustice. This is why our ideas are not contested by theirs, but the people propagating them are targeted, criminalised and hence rendering the very ideas as impure in public opinion.

What Parvesh Varma, Anurag Thakur, Kapil Mishra, the Jamia shooter and the others did was execute the script. Just like they did in Bhima Koregaon, the JNU violence case and many others, the plan now is to turn everyone who fought the divisive CAA-NRC-NPR into culprits behind the violence.

Also read: After JNU Violence, Jamia Fears Another Round of Attacks

To bring their fiction to light, the RSS, through a group of intellectuals and academicians headed by Monika Arora, submitted their script filled with fiction to the home ministry. AISA, Pinjra Tod, students from Delhi University, Jamia, JNU and others who defended the constitution were branded as culprits. The drama to turn facts into fiction and vice versa was further legitimised by the ‘godi media’.

The Delhi police did what it does best – act on fiction and sideline the facts – by arresting students, slapped them with the UAPA and seizing the phones of students like AISA Delhi president Kawalpreet Kaur. All this happened during a pandemic and a lockdown.

A colonial past comes alive

Who could have thought the colonial police structure we inherited would still pander to the colonial policies of standing by the ruler and not the constitution? Who could have thought that the police would view young Indians reading the constitution and standing by it as a crime?

Who could have believed that our constitution – a living entity of our ideals and values which we fought and won from the colonial powers – would be turned into something anti-national so much so as to invite a UAPA charge for defending it? The RSS wanted the ‘Manusmriti’ as governing law in 1949 and claimed our constitution isn’t indigenous.

The police might punish and hang students like the British did to Bhagat Singh and other freedom fighters. However, history has proved that fighting for truth and justice isn’t anti-national; it’s true patriotism.

The role of students in fighting for the truth might have been ignored in the past, declared as anti-national in the present, but the fact is that we resisted rewriting the past, the destruction of the present and are fighting for a better future.

Questioning, opposing injustice and demanding equality are hence inalienable to the process of being educated in a true sense. How then will governments that breed upon unchallenged authority, fear, and denial of basic human rights be at peace with such a loud and assertive student voice in the country?

That’s why they criminalise students.

N. Sai Balaji is the national president of All India Students’ Association (AISA) and a former president of JNUSU.

Featured imaged credit: Pariplab Chakraborty