There had been rumors and whispering going around the campus that the Chief Guest for this year’s annual convocation in Jamia Millia Islamia will be Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India. Every time I came across such rumors, I was taken aback, I thought about the history of the University, which was established on the Nationalistic fervor against the Pakistan movement. Mr. Prime Minister, then chief minister of Gujarat, in a speech delivered in the statet in 2008 did not think twice of this history of the University before stating that a University in Delhi called Jamia Millia Islamia is breeding terrorists and its vice chancellor is providing legal aid to the students named in acts of terror. Every time I came across this murmur, I would console myself telling that rumor wouldn’t be a reality. The institute and its administrators wouldn’t stoop down to the level of inviting someone as chief guest who had actually categorized this educational space as one that breeds anti-national activities.
However, a call from a close friend confirmed that all that I was hearing so far was not rumors; there were elements of reality in them. Indeed it was true that Modi was invited to the University as a chief guest by Jamia vice Chancellor Talat Ahmad, which was confirmed by a report published in Times of India newspaper. The call from friend and this news article scandalized me completely. I was once again taken aback and this time there was no reason to console myself.
The days of Batla House encounter flashed fresh in my memory and the subsequent reaction of the right wing outfits including that of Modi himself. Since then, I have been feeling helpless and a feeling of remorse has taken over me. I cannot recall the incident of the year 2000 when Delhi police had raided the hostel in Jamia and had beaten up students ruthlessly. I wasn’t a student of the University then. I joined the University in the year 2004, but even that incident was a hot talk on the campus and there were many students who testified of being witness to that brutality. The government in power then too was BJP-led NDA. These tales kept on reverberating on the campus for a long time and never settled for good.
As a writer, all I could do was to be a reactionary and take down to writing. I have spent a good part of my life on the University campus, almost a decade and more. I have seen the campus closely and have witnessed students cheering for India in hostel common rooms during an India-Pakistan match. I have witnessed the plural ethos that the university believed in and practiced. I have seen cosmopolitan environment on the campus where students irrespective of their religion, caste or creed were treated equally. All this is precisely why I loved the space and not just because I have spent a good number of years here.
I have envisioned the times when Jamia was born as an outcome of Nationalist Movement during my days in the university and have proudly associated with the sense of belonging with such a place. But all my feel-good reason came to halt when the alleged encounter with ‘terrorists’ took place in the vicinity of the University in Sep 2008 when Congress-led UPA was in power both in Delhi and at the centre. For a moment then, we too were carried away by propaganda being run in the media that those killed were terrorists. But chilling revelations and fact finding reports coming from different independent agencies opened up our blinkers. And what we understood then was anti theatrical to mainstream narrative of the encounter. The then Vice Chancellor of Jamia took a courageous step and stood by the side of students of the university and refused to believe that those killed in the encounter were terrorists, involved in anti-national activities unless a high level probe was initiated into the matter. For this he came under attack from the government and also right wing outfits, Narendra Modi being at the front of it. But all our demands for a probe into the matter was diffused over a period of time and in public memory that encounter remained a genuine one.
Today, we are living in historical times; India is going through a period of transition which is not just economical but also social. Regressive diktats from right wing outfits are pushing back the country to years behind. It is beyond one’s understanding to comprehend that how can someone be killed merely because of his eating habits. And the Prime minister of the nation maintains a mute silence over that unless the President speaks up. On other occasion he chooses to be the first one to speak. It is beyond one’s imagination that when a country claims to have adopted the path of modernity, how can a person holding constitutional post say that India is only for Hindus and the Prime minister choses to ignore the statement. It is difficult to comprehend that who gives the fringe elements authority to ask dissenters to go to Pakistan in a democracy where dissent is an essential element.
Amidst this environment of hate and intolerance especially against the minorities, several writers and intellectuals have come out in open and not just criticized the government but also returned their rewards. Actors and artists have come out in open to question this. It includes popular faces like Aamir Khan and Shahrukh Khan, who had put their credibility on stake while questioning this intolerance and had face sever public backlash and outcry.
I being a mere journalist and former student of the University who holds no stake there can’t do much except writing a few lines condemning this invitation to the Prime Minister by the vice chancellor of Jamia. I have no awards at my side to return to the government but I can write in clear words that I being prospective degree receiver this year would not like to receive it from the hands of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has chosen to remain silent on growing intolerance in the society and has in fact given an open hand to fringe elements or what they called as troopers in Nazi Germany to carryout barbaric acts such as public lynching. I can only refuse to receive my degree from a man who had once questioned the patriotism and nationalistic fervor of my University. However, I have chosen my way of protest and left it on others to decide.
In the meanwhile I will also to try to contemplate on what could propel Mr. Talat Ahmed to invite Narendra Modi to the university. Are the nominal posts greater in gravity than a stirring human soul?
(Originally Written by Asad Ashraf and published on his blog and also published on IndiaTomorrow.net. Asad completed Masters in Conflict Resolution and Peace Building from Jamia Millia Islamia in 2014, and was to receive degree at convocation 2015.)