In the name of Najeeb : Left and exclusion of Muslims in JNU

By Waseem R S for

On October 30, 2016, a solidarity meeting was organised by Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Student Union demanding justice for Najeeb Ahmed, a student missing from the campus for the last 23 days. From my social location as a Muslim/ OBC/ male student, I support the protest movement for Najeeb Ahmed in JNU and believe strongly in building alliance with various democratic forces in the campus and outside as well. However, there is a serious violation of democratic representation when the protest movement for Najeeb Ahmed became another sphere of exclusion of Muslims and other marginalised voices. The argument is that there is a resonance between the physical disappearance of Najeeb Ahmed and the symbolic disappearance of Muslim voice – along with other marginalised- from the solidarity movement for Najeeb Ahmed.

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What happened in the public meeting conducted by JNUSU? The meeting was completely devoid of any representative from the Muslim organisations and by and large excluded leaders from the Dalit-Bahujan communities, except the token representation of few academic personalities from those communities. The meeting was completely controlled by savarna nationalist and leftist leaders coming from AAP, CPI(M), CPI(ML), and Congress. Moreover, leaders like Arvind Kejriwal, Shashi Tharoor and Kavita Krishnan who are notorious for their anti- Bahujan hatred came to JNU and there was no acknowledgement about their problematic social position as Savarna high caste Hindus while speaking on behalf of a Muslim/OBC student. They spoke and returned from JNU as free individuals without the problem of social structures and subject positions. It seems that they are part of a mysterious pre-linguistic identity that is formed prior to the discourse.

JNUSU public meeting was a public exhibition of social exclusion. Even though the Muslim League, AIMIM , AIUDF and BSP have members of Parliament , none of them were invited to the program. Also, there is a deliberate boycott of Muslim non-parliamentary organisations who are quite active in the justice for Najeeb movement in various parts of India. Apart from this, there was a complete erasure of various Muslim student movements working inside the JNU campus, such as SIO (Students Islamic Organisation of India) , YFDA (Youth for Discussion and Welfare Activities), and Campus Front of India (CFI). No one can deny their active presence in the ongoing movement for Najeeb Ahmed. Also there was no representation to other students/activists/ movement from Dalits, Tribal communities, Tamil student movements, Sikh minorities, Christian minorities and student movement from marginalised regions especially north east regions of India. Moreover, there was a sinister effort to include a Savarna oriented feminist collective from Delhi University in the JNUSU public meeting by completely sidestepping the very existence of a Dalit Bahujan feminist movement , Flames of Resistance (FOR) in JNU.

The denial of public spaces for the Muslim community and other marginalized sections reveal the hegemonic Brahmanic landscapes of power in JNU where marginalized sections only get space to listen, and not to speak. This is not a new phenomenon. It was visible during the #StandwithJNU movement, when the JNUTA organised a public lecture series on nationalism beginning of this year. Though the different engagements on nationalism varied from feminist understanding to Marxist position, out of the 25 lectures given there was not even a single lecture to discuss about the many dimensions and verities of Muslims engagements on nationalism. This exclusion of Muslim life world is the major feature of the progressive politics of JNU.

The reluctance of JNUSU in inviting Muslim organisations in specific and representatives of the marginalised movements in common can be seen as an extension of its denial of political agency to Muslims in particular and marginalised in general. It is to be understood that this rejection is an extension of the dominant discourse on communalism that is typical to the nationalist and leftist political imaginary. In the nationalist/left/liberal discourse on communalism, a Muslim who is part of any social/political organisation formed by the Muslim community is framed as ‘communal’ . These Muslim organizations are always represented in the left vocabulary as not ‘civilised’ or not ‘secularised’ or not ‘nationalised’ enough and thus branded as ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘communal’. The liberal/left/nationalist discourse on communalism is framed in particular way to make sure that the victims of the Brahmanic violence will not speak and they don’t organize themselves.

The critics of the Muslim politics in JNU, however, does not have any problem with individual Muslims. Why is it that the so called ‘secular public meetings’ are afraid of organisationally-inclined Muslims and prefer few individual Muslims? One is heartily welcome to their program if he/she is an individual from the Muslim community. But the same Muslim individual is not welcome when s/he is part of a Muslim organisation. This is the logic of the exclusion perpetuated by JNUSU and the so called progressive forces of JNU. Precisely for the same reason, JNUSU is ready to invite few individuals from Muslims and other marginalised to their public meeting and this will later serve as a pretext to boycott social movements from the marginalised communities.

The symbolic exclusion and silencing of Muslims in JNU is happening in a context where Muslims are harassed, targeted and killed by Hindutva Brahminic forces and its ideological apparatus on a day-to-day basis in various parts of the country. Here, adding insult to injury, Muslims are denied the public spaces to speak on their experience as victims, on their own terms, in a solidarity meeting in JNU. The elite high-caste Hindu saviours from the left and nationalist brigade took over the space of the marginalised and monopolised the voice of the victims. The systemic and organised censorship of Muslims’ right to speak about their victimhood and colonisation of the right determine their political struggle is the worst form of Islamophobia in JNU. It is in this context that one is forced to question the claims of inclusiveness of the public spaces of JNU, which completely denies politically active Muslim presence in the public spaces of JNU. In short, the struggle for justice for Najeeb Ahmed is also a struggle for the visibility of Muslims in JNU.

The author is currently pursuing his Phd in Centre for Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) New Delhi