Nivedita, My Teacher

The writer is a former student of Professor Nivedita Menon, JNU.

Unlike many, I do not have an authority to issue any sort of certificate to anyone, but like many I too have an ability to judge my former teachers to an extent. A few of the best social scientists taught me in the Department of Political Science, Delhi University, but Nivedita Menon was different. Even after twelve years, I remember some of her classroom talks. There were instances, though a few, when I could not understand a large portion of her previous day‘s lecture, yet her way of teaching impelled me to never bunk my gender and politics class. Despite being a Marxist herself, she never imposed any of her views on students but she always encouraged us to come out from mental silos, express dissent and raise questions, the three essentials of an academic exercise.

niviAt present, she is being targeted by a few television anchors for her views to which most of her students and readers are familiar with. A question is being raised on her lecture on nationalism in alternative classroom in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). The ‘nationalist’ gang declared her ‘anti-nationalist’ and she has been vilified by some anchors like Sudhir Chowdhury from ZEE News. For the anchor’s knowledge, unlike Europe, in India nationalism came first and then a civic nation was tried to be formed by granting equal political rights to members of all groups living in India.

Post-independent India practices constitutional nationalism to integrate different nations, inhabiting in the country. What is happening now is that a dominant group is trying to forge all different identities, and thrust their behavioural traits and values over others. Their vision of territorial nation is guided by V.D. Savarkar’s view who at 21st session of the Akhil Bhartiya Hindu Mahasabha held at Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1939 said “Every person is a Hindu who regards and owns this Bharat Bhoomi, this land from Indus to the Seas, as his Fatherland as well as his holy land; i.e. the land of the origin of his religion, the cradle of his faith”. In his book Hindu Rashtra Darshan: A Collection of the Presidential Speeches delivered from the Hindu Mahasabha Platform, there are lectures where Savarkar excluded the Muslims and Christians from his scheme of nation because India is not their holy land. He had set up certain conditions for them, if they wanted to be a part of Hindudom, which Savarkar wanted to establish. Also, his whole argument on nationalism was built against the then on-going national movement under the leadership of the Indian National Congress.
The second issue for which she is being targeted is a peck to her male colleague, friend and co-panelist, while delivering a post-dinner lecture in JNU. The ruckus is primarily because in a patriarchal society this is not an ‘accepted’ behaviour from a woman while all forms of rape are considered as a sign of valour, so permissible. In such societies, women’s sexuality is subjugated to male. The domination is such that even female’s dietary, speech, clothes and orgasm is being controlled by a patriarch. Any rebellion to these ‘norms’ attracts a tag of randi (sex worker). During that lecture, she said that Hinduism is violent towards women.

All religions of the world are patriarchal and, more or less, sanction use of violence towards their projected others. Hinduism is based on inequality and is the most stratified religion. Individuals falling into upper strata or caste derive legitimacy from many texts and rituals to use violence against people belonging to lower castes. Likewise, males from all castes have been sanctioned a socio-religious authority over females. Don’t you remember lines from Goswami Tulsidas, whose Ramacharita Manas is revered and recited during religious gatherings, ‘dhol, ganwar, shudra, pashu, nari yeh sab taran ke adhikari’. Then there is Manusmriti– a text promoting inequality .

It would be good for the journalists, instead of targeting Nivedita Menon, if they spend their energy in researching over the issues she raised during her lectures. A few people are of view that they should be allowed to attend some of her classes. I am against it because as her student, I know she expects hard work from her students, and insists them to read original literature. Both requirements would not suit the sadist journalists who are experts in maligning others by disseminating wrong information through doctored video clips.