Opinion

Opinion: Hindutva groups’ assault on AMU was never about Jinnah. It had a more sinister motive

It was intended to demonise a particular community and interfere in educational institutions that support free speech and liberal values.

It is not about Jinnah. It was never about Jinnah.

Khud aankh se humne dekhi hai
Baatil ki shikast e faash yahan

“I have seen with my own eyes
The clear rout of falsehood.”

I have always enjoyed singing the Aligarh Muslim University’s tarana, or anthem, and these lines never fail to give me goose pimples. Today, these lines help fuel my resolve to stand with the AMU as a proud third-generation alumna in a fight for right.

If it was about Muhammad Ali Jinnah then why did they not see out Bharatiya Janata Party MP Satish Gautam’s 48-hour ultimatum to the AMU Students Union to remove the founder of Pakistan’s portrait from the Union Hall, where it had been hanging forgotten since 1938? Is a bye-election happening in Kairana?

If it was about Jinnah why did the goons of the Hindu Yuva Vahini and other Hindutva groups who had come with weapons and the police not march towards the Union Hall? Why did they come shouting provocative slogans, branding the students traitors and calling for causing harm to them? How did this group of armed goons come within 100 meters of where Hamid Ansari, with whom the right-wing has always had a problem, was staying? Ironically, the former Indian vice president had come to deliver a speech on the subject “India has failed to establish a pluralistic society”.

It is not about Jinnah. It was never about Jinnah.

It is about demonising a particular community. It is about interfering in educational institutions that support free speech and liberal values.

It is irrelevant whether Vinayak Savarkar promoted the “two nation theory” first or whether Jinnah defended Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bhagat Singh passionately. Those asking these questions want to back AMU’s students and staff and its supporters into a corner, where they have to defend or abuse Jinnah. But Jinnah is irrelevant for Indian Muslims today.

As many of the banners held by the students during protests against the May 2 assault on the campus pointed out, “Jinnah itihas hai, aastha nahi.” Jinnah is history, not an article of faith.

But by then the media, especially some TV news channels, had gone to town portraying the AMU in a very negative light. It was as if they were just waiting for something like this to happen so they could issue certificates of patriotism and treachery as per their blinkered right-wing sensibility.

Dividing us

Some TV channels aired videos of the students protesting near Bab-e-Syed, alleging they were demanding “Azadi from Bharat”. But as the fact-checking news website AltNews pointed out, the slogan was “Bharat mein lenge Azadi and not “Bharat se lenge Azadi”. That is, the students were demanding freedom in India, not freedom from India.

TV channels ran numerous programmes on Jinnah the Villian even as the students were putting up posters declaring that they were protesting against the attack on the campus and not over Jinnah’s portrait. Moreover, as Mashkoor Ahmad Usmani, the president of the AMU Students Union, pointed out, students at the university “come from India, their grandparents chose India over Pakistan” and opposed Jinnah.

The AMU Teachers Association, alumni from across the world as well as others who stand for what is right and not the right-wing reiterated as much.

Indeed, this attempt to divide our society into us versus them, Hindu versus Muslims is being resisted by all those who do not believe in the right-wing agenda of divisiveness.

The protesting students are demanding a judicial inquiry and the arrest of the right-wing goons who entered the AMU campus on May 2 and fired pistols near the guesthouse. They are asking why the police released the six men caught in the act and why no FIR was filed. Two of the attackers, Amit Goswami and Yogesh Varshney, former city president of Hindu Yuva Vahini, have reportedly been arrested now and sent to jail.

It is not about Jinnah. It was never about Jinnah.

A portrait of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, hanging alongside pictures of Mahatma Gandhi, Babasaheb Ambedkar and Lal Bahadur Shastri in a Public Works Department guesthouse at Khair in Aligarh district, was removed last week and replaced by a portrait of Narendra Modi. Why could the prime minister’s picture not be put up, if it had to be, without taking down Khan’s?

The AMU has always stood for pluralistic values and secularism. When Khan sought donations to set up the university many non-Muslims gifted money and land. Their names are displayed at the Sir Syed House. A portrait of Raja Mahindra Pratap, a land donor, is displayed in Maulana Azad Central Library.

The students union leaders have said they would remove Jinnah’s portrait if the government orders them to do so in writing.

But it is not about Jinnah. It was never about Jinnah.

Rana Safvi is a historian, author and blogger.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.