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Ancient Nalanda to Today’s JNU, Why the War on Indian Identity is Waged on its Campuses

The furore in JNU and the role of India’s urban, educated, privileged class is tied by an invisible umbilical cord with our history of being invaded and colonised.

Abhijit Majumder |

Updated:January 8, 2020, 4:25 PM IST
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Ancient Nalanda to Today’s JNU, Why the War on Indian Identity is Waged on its Campuses
Students stage a protest at main Gate of JNU over Sunday's violence, in New Delhi, Monday (PTI)

To understand what is happening at Jawaharlal Nehru University of 2020, it is important to briefly travel back in time to two pivotal years in India’s history: circa 1193 and 1835.

In 1193, Bakhtiyar Khilji and his army of tall, swarthy Turkic marauders descended on Bihar’s Nalanda University. Thousands of Buddhist monks were burned alive, Brahmins beheaded, and 9 million precious manuscripts set on fire.

“Smoke from the burning manuscripts hung for days like a dark pall over the low hills,” wrote Persian historian of the times Minaj-i-Siraj in his book Tabaqat-I Nasiri.

Exactly 642 years later, another massive invasion took place. The battlefield? Again, education.

The English Education Act 1835 was passed by the British Parliament. It made English the medium of instruction in higher education, and stopping promoting homegrown, ‘oriental’ institutions.

The man who shaped it, Thomas Babington Macaulay, emphasised the need to create “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect”. He declared in his memorandum on Indian education that “a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia”.

Education controls our lives, culture, worldview, destiny, often without us even realising. Which is why India's invaders and colonial masters demolished and reshaped our knowledge of ourselves time and again, so much so that long after they had left, they still incapacitate and control our minds.

The furore in JNU and the role of India’s urban, educated, privileged class is tied by an invisible umbilical cord with our history of being invaded and colonised, of the sacking and hijacking of our education many times over.

It is no surprise that the grimmest war between the old Nehruvian Establishment and the new nationalism under Modi is being fought on campuses.

From film personalities Anurag Kashyap and Swara Bhaskar to well-known news anchors to the general English-speaking intelligentsia, everyone is invigorated by the revolt of the youth against a regime they loathe.

This has made them overlook the hand in the backlash against CAA or a nationwide National Register of Citizens, the contours of which have not even been drawn up. This has made them shove under the carpet slogans like ‘La illaha illallah’ or wanton vandalising and arson from Bengal to Gujarat to UP by communalised mobs.

In Mumbai, a poster declaring ‘Free Kashmir’ came up, but this blatant separatist show met with silence from the Indian liberal.

Without even waiting for basic facts to emerge or an investigation, this ecosystem cheered on by eager Bollywood stars started blaming the RSS-backed student union, ABVP, for beating up JNU students.

Why is it that our liberal sides with separatists and infiltrators but is so vocal against nationalism or Hindu concerns? Why are educational institutions the chosen battlefields of a much larger war?

It is because when a civilisation is invaded, pillaged and colonised for centuries, the most brainwashed and biggest collaborators are the educated and privileged. Since Nehru chose a colonial continuity in education and national outlook, both education and privilege flow through colonised systems.

So, this urban, English-educated class is most deracinated. It does the bidding for its enemies, derides its own roots and way of life, is blind to one’s own traumatic history.

Long after they are gone, our colonisers control us through high-profile seats of education they had set up with sinister foresight. Their view is our view, their icons our icons, their ‘cool’ our cool, their revolt our revolt, and their enemy our enemy – which is essentially us.

This is why the Left, which has been almost wiped off India’s face electorally, is invested so heavily in its last potent bastion, a handful of educational campuses.

JNU, Jamia or Jadavpur university may get all the media attention and news space, but there exists a world of roughly 800 universities, 40,000 colleges and 300 million students in India. Those campuses are not burning. It won’t be a stretch to assume millions of students out there support the CAA, as indeed many in JNU itself. A slew of pro-CAA rallies have not got even a fraction of coverage.

A silent India is watching the theatrics and violence of the protesters, that rabid communalism is often being passed off as secular resistance. It is this unwashed, ‘vernac’ mass which propelled Narendra Modi to fight a civilisational war for them.

The candles and selfies and revolutionary campus slogans may sound great in Mumbai or Delhi drawing rooms, but it angers Middle India biased byte by byte, irresponsible post by post. Our colonisers’ education has failed to adequately program them.

(Author is a journalist. Views are personal)

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