Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Rejecting AFSPA: Peace by any other name

I was a Visiting Fellow in Belfast in February and March 1997. It was
before the Peace Process was well in place, and tanks rolled through
the city everyday, cutting up transit points and streets and shopping
places with their basilisk and muted presence. The silence was
interminable, and I shall always remember Belfast for its great
beauty, the cherry trees in bloom and the intellectual atmosphere
heady with conversations and friendship which transcended the battle
lines between catholic and protestants. I wrote about it in a text
book which Oxford University Press has reprinted in paperback called
"Structure and Transformation."  Since we are comparitive Sociologists
we often use case histories from other societies to explain our own.
What does AFSPA mean for individuals in Kashmir and the North East?
The evidence is very vivid and for decades now, we have seen the
photographs and the reports. Is there a solution? Yes, give the people
an opportunity to express their views. Allow the intellectuals and the
artists to mediate on their behalf. Respect the commission which calls
for the withdrawal of the AFSPA. Ask why soldiers from the NE are
called in to quell the Maoists and why internecine tribal warfare is
used as an arm of the state. As a mature democracy, we have every
right to ask that the people should tell the State what it wants. If
Modi demands that his crime of protecting lumpen proletariat and
organised communalist should be seen in the light of the past, then
allow that Dostoevskian privilege of repentance and regret to others,
once justice has been served. The Supreme Court should not be
devalued, and the jurisdiction of citizen obligations should be
imposed upon the soldiers. This can only be done, if AFSPA is removed.
In 2004 I spoke at University of Warwick in a Conference on War. The
speaker with me was a woman who spoke on the rapes committed by
Russian soldiers on citizens of Poland, so many that the children born
of these violations were without a father when the army vacated their
country. Coincidentally, in a cherry grove, picking fruit, in the
company of visitors to a Benedictine Abbey, (for one of the nuns had
written a thesis on Advaita and The French Monastic experience,) a
student of Sociology from Paris told me she did not know who her
father was, because her mother had been raped by a Russian soldier.
How utterly traumatic and coincidental. She told me this because I
asked her about her family back home.
I have had many students who have come to us in JNU from Kashmir and
the North East. They believe that their education can make a
difference to their people. They have sometimes described the
conditions in which they live, sometimes in Phd thesis which have to
be cleared by the surveillance and ethics board of the university. I
know that Jamia Millia and Delhi University also have such an archive
of people who have lived under surveillance for decades. One of my
students from Arunachalpradesh told me that there are people who wake
up in that part of their house which has a boundary that runs through
their abode. So he wakes up in India, and has his breakfast in China.
I can only say that these valiant scholars bring to the class room the
wonderful sense of their jubiliation and their right to life and a
future. My happiest memories are of my visit to Kashmir,  when I was
seventeen,where I went to all the places tourist most wish to visit,
including Anantnag, Sonarmarg and Gulmarg and Srinagar, in the company
of my cousin and his family who were holidaying from Quwait, Syrian
Christians who lived and worked and studied in the Gulf, but saw
Kashmir as their ultimate idea of visiting Paradise.   That was 1974,
and I had accompanied them because none of spoke Hindustani, being Malayalis living abroad. Thatwas the first time I saw the saffron flower, delicate and violet,embroidered onto their firens and their shawls. How I longed to own afiren. Now, that the return to Kashmir for the Pandits is foregroundedby the acceptance of history as a time keeper, let the people be free,without reference to religion or race. Give us all a chance to visit
these so called zones of fear, without anguish. Let the young girls
sing without fear of baton,or mufti, for that is the only way we can
defend our country and the constitution.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

National Museum

My students and I went to the National Museum yesterday. It is one of my favourite places, and the Mohenjodara and Harappa section absolutely amazing, with its relics from India and Pakistan, providing a clue to our similarities. Now the exhibits for that civilisation extend to Rajasthan and Karnataka as well as Kutch and Punjab and Haryana. The beads and toys, the bowls and the figurines are exquisite, the weights and measures still communicating an aesthetic dimension, which five thousand years later appear as contemporary as any designer's workshop. In the coin and currency section, we saw the ancient coins of the Mauryas and the Guptas with their fine dramatic inscriptions and portraits, as well as the mohurs of the Southern kings and the Mughals and the East India Company. And in another gallery, we saw the Gandharva statues, with their Greek robes and finely curled hair.  Kanishka and the Kushans were less intimidating than the statues in the Mathura circular museum. One of the Mphil scholars asked me if Museums were a colonial construction, since he had been to Tribal Museums in the country as well.
The syncretism of our common past reasserts itself through trade and literature, and the mystics call to music and prayer across centuries. We had apple jam from Safal, and cheese slices from Amul to put on our white bread, which we ate on the lawns of India Gate, and on this, one of the students got out Oregano from her bag, in a small sealed pouch to sprinkle on our cheese...leftover perhaps from a pizza fast food counter, which had been saved for such a moment like this. Did the students of my"Historical Methods in Sociology" course know Afzal Guru had been hanged without an opportunity to say goodbye to his family? Probably not.