The politicization of spaces portends danger


In a world that is increasingly defined by binary narratives of nationalism aka the George Bush variety of “you’re either with us or you’re with them”, India too has caught the bug. The binary in India revolves around the axis of sacralisation of territory articulated in the “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” slogan- a slogan that in the minds of the far right will prove loyalty of ‘Others’ forming the Indian firmament.  The ‘Others’ who need to prove their loyalty to India is Muslims in the Far Right’s schemata.  The implication here is stark: in the binary nationalism that is being cultivated and developed in India, territory and spaces- public, private, educational, etc- are sought to be politicized. This politicization might explain both the ugly saga that panned out at the JNU and now, albeit in a different avatar has denoued at the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar.

We will not go into detail(s) of what happened at the NIT, Srinagar nor will we indulge in a blame game. The forensic dissection of the ugly incident is better left to those who are better clued in about the situation. What, however, we will dwell upon are the consequences and other related aspects of the whole saga.

Politicization of an educational space is plain wrong. Whether this politicization occurs through a media generated charged atmosphere or spurring the emotional landscape of young people in transition, it is, to repeat wrong. This is our starting point and has more poignancy given the “media driven politics” of our age. The media generates such pressure that the political class is compelled to act in a certain way- which may turn to be detrimental for overall peace, amity  and security. These, admittedly,  are general observations. These, however, have a searing resonance on the NIT saga.

An ugly fracas ensues between locals and non locals – the kind which makes the incident elemental in the sense of arousing “basic instincts’ amongst students; the media swoops on this incident and covers it with a clear partisan approach in the process rendering into a binary conflict between nationalisms. The political class is caught on the back foot and reacts in a way that fuels the controversy and even conflict. The sequence of events after the ugly fracas may illustrate the point. The Jammu and Kashmir Police is called into to restore law and order at the NIT campus. There is confrontation and conflict at the campus between some students and the police. The state’s police is then shunted out and paramilitary forces are sought to ostensibly maintain peace on campus. The feelings this arouses in the state police is that while it is used at the forefront of counter insurgency operations but it is not trusted in what essentially amounts to a law and order situation. The broader implication is that Kashmiris are not really trusted. The crux is that the binaries in contention become operative. That is, given that there are non- local students studying and living on campus, locals who are Kashmiri Muslims cannot be really entrusted to protect the students. The whole saga then smacks of the ‘Us’ versus ‘Them” thing.

The larger problem is that all this is embedded in a larger context of strident nationalism of the far right forces and its ‘Othering’ connotations. A fracas between student groups has been bloated – so much so it becomes an issue that has more than local connotations. Given the media affect and how this effect focuses peoples’ minds on issues , there is a danger of this small, localized conflict getting escalated to  a level that would be insalubrious. The need of the hour then is to nip this conflict in the bud and accord  it treatment that is on consonance with its nature- a localized conflict between student groups that should be mediated away using an admixture of carrots and sticks- the kind that are available to the NIT administrators. A lot is at stake here.  Let sobriety and a sense of proportion and perspective rather than jingoism be employed to deal with the issue.  And let not the issue be allowed to slide and drift to a situation which becomes the bellwether for events in the future.


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