Note | Mohammad Aftab Alam

Disappearance of An Identity: Personal Memories and Public Events

At the very level of its essence and existence, JNU has been an embodiment of academic excellence, vibrant secular public space and constant debate & dissent. The idea of JNU was conceived to represent the very idea of India contained in its civilizational - constitutional idioms and ethos. In its geographical landscape with hostels named after rivers from different parts of the country, JNU is a miniaturized version of larger India cocooned in the Aravalli hills in its capital city.

My first encounter with this legendary institution was as a casual visitor from Aligarh in 1991 where I was pursuing my under graduation. Some of my classmates had joined the language course in JNU opting for Persian language in the wake of Amir Subhani topping the civil services examination in 1987-1988 having Persian as one of the two optional papers. That inspired a lot of Muslim students to follow the same path including my classmates. The purpose was to meet and catch up with those friends.

At the very first glance, JNU campus mesmerized me. It was refreshing to see its library, hostels, dhabas and a politically vibrant public sphere. It was a cosmopolitan feeling as compared to the small town setting of my beloved Alma mater AMU. Moreover, I was delighted to watch so many aeroplanes flying over my head. In my whole life, I had not seen so many aeroplanes as I saw in just a span of few hours. More than this, a very liberal campus environment and co-educational pattern – which my friends who had recently joined liked to flaunt -  compared to the restrictive, conservative and obscurantist nature of AMU campus was the main point of attraction.

At that point while meeting my friends and their friends, I felt that now they belonged to a different destiny much higher and intellectually superior than ours at backward AMU as they had greater chances of having girlfriends and cracking the civil services examination – which JNU students were known to excel at. Our poor academic and intellectual existence was looked down upon, pitied and derided. A sense of inferiority complex engulfed my psyche but at the same time, it engineered a new passion in me to come back to JNU not as a casual visitor but as a student. I finally succeeded in 1993, after joining the masters course in the prestigious Centre for Political Studies (CPS) of School of Social Sciences (SSS) after a tough all India test. These tags of CPS and SSS were like gold medals compared to the bronze of certain non-European languages known as HUPA- Hindi, Urdu, Persian and Arabic.

Joining JNU was a great way to escape from the closed environment and municipal existence at Aligarh. It was like moving from the periphery to the centre. I felt as if I had moved from a cage to freedom. I also thought that in JNU, I will easily escape and overcome any kind of ascribed identity .The radical political activism and secular academic environment have the potential to obliterate conventional social inequalities and identity differences. But in due course of time, it became clear that under this facade, in fact, those inequalities and conventional social hierarchies were reinforced and accentuated.

Back then, Kamandal and Mandal politics was at its peak. Ayodhya has just been orphaned one year before and Mandal commission recommendations were on their way to implementation after Supreme Court's nod in Indira Sawhney case. Between these two poles, JNU opted for a radical political space. But, here also beneath all the ultra-left and official left ideologies and politics, electoral-political engineering revolved around caste and religious mobilization.
Within this fake and pretentious radical secular existence, it was impossible to escape from being labelled as a Muslim. At the very outset, in the final result list pasted on a notice board at the Administrative Block, the names of all the selected Muslim candidates were suffixed with the term katuwa, denoting their severed private organ. It was a mischievous act done by probably some fun loving newly emergent cadres of the rightist party. But, this sense of hate, derision, labelling and distancing continued and manifested in myriad forms during cricket matches on TVs in common rooms of hostels, election results, atomic tests, 9/11, and other terrorist acts by Muslims.

In the current scenario, the disappearance of a Muslim student Najeeb from the JNU campus is the fall out of that long tradition of hate and phobia against Islam, now more firmly accentuated at a global scale and under the current national political dispensation, being presided over by a narcissist, loner and hate monger.

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