Monday, Aug 08, 2022

Book Review: Memoirs Of Defending Democracy

The book would be a right read now in this right world. We can sense the totalitarian force hitting our doorsteps with the dissolution of democracy.

Anti- CAA/NRC Protests.
Anti- CAA/NRC Protests. Shutterstock

Nothing Will Be Forgotten 
By Nehal Ahmed
LeftWord Books
pp. 134, Rs 225

Being part of a central university with active politics always provided us with channels of expression. When the CAA-NRC protest gained momentum, I was off for fieldwork in a remote area where I felt terribly helpless and realised the importance of the university as a political space. I then observed universities as the chief agents of protest and felt a kind of power belonging to the student community. Nehal Ahmed's Nothing Will Be Forgotten: From Jamia To Shaheen Bagh, published in 2022, is an elaborate account of a student and citizen, who fuels hope for democracy with poetry. Each page of the book carries the essence of day to day struggle the people in and out of Jamia Millia Islamia university had gone through since the protests of CAA-NRC was staged in the country, till it was called off with the outbreak of Covid-19. Yes, each bit of injustice is marked in the book, which tragically generates the fear of going to a higher education institution.

How it is like to study in a higher education institution in a country where freedom to protest is repressed by the state itself, is portrayed. The legacy of JMI’s struggle for justice is highlighted and the micro-interactions accounted for during the 2019 protests are quite enlightening over the superficial media coverage which tends to paint in black and white. The book is a critical overview of the weakening of the secular fabric of India and how crucial a university is in carrying the idea of democracy through all forms of art. This must remain a template for all the political campuses across the world to uphold the progress it has gained over years and not to get lost in a pandemic, where the campuses purposefully remain closed. 


Nothing Will Be Forgotten
Nothing Will Be Forgotten

The book would be a right read now in this right world. We can sense the totalitarian force hitting our doorsteps with the dissolution of democracy. The drift between theory and praxis of democracy in India is widening over time, putting the citizens in a helpless pit. Apart from pointing out the content of the book, the range of concerns it projects need to be addressed in order to reach democracy. And that is on the people of India who have pledged to live in a secular, democratic country. 

The inclusion of Arivu’s Sanda Seivom in recording the various voices in the struggle against CAA-NRC gave the book an integrated nature extending the scope of the book beyond the campuses. An entire chapter is dedicated to Shaheen Bagh which was unique in its form and action adds to the latter. The women leadership of Shaheen Bagh and the perception of Muslim women's identity is elaborated by a political scientist. This is where University serves as a social institution which can have societal changes and impacts. The way the geography of Jamia Millia Islamia was described in the course of protest made it obvious where the local community is positioned and is an integral part of sustaining the university. 

The book switches from the narration of the incident to socio-political concerns to inspiring art pieces simultaneously. It is engaging with facts since it is a lived experience. The book chapters are curated in a way where the context under the book written is obvious.


Poster of Anti-CAA/NRC protest.
Poster of Anti-CAA/NRC protest. Shutterstock

The range of poetry at the beginning of each chapter fuels the understanding of divisive lies and reflects the willpower for peace. There is Faiz Ahmed Faiz's Hum Dekhenge (Yes, We Shall See), besides Paash, Muktibodh and many others in the book. It was like a blend of art and struggle, and for me, an introduction to profound poets, who own poems from reality. The passion for art in different forms was seen throughout and graffiti as a political art is emphasised.

How the incidents were communicated to the civil society by the mainstream media was criticised and still is a challenge in fair democratic practices. The change in the nature of reporting resulted in deregulation and trauma at the point of crisis. Social media networking played a crucial role in settling the student community apart from Whatsapp's misleading ‘news’. Hence, as far as social media is out of state surveillance, it checks and balances the other media. In short, this book overcomes the then insufficient media coverage and adds more clarity to what happened in Jamia in 2019. Reading the book is like playing the police attack videos on the campus, bleeding students, desperate attempts to find hope while haunted by the way State handles criticisms against it. This would be a more personal as well as encompassing political account which should be remembered and reread to show the light of a just society.  

Even though the book was focused particularly on events in JMI during the CAA-NRC protest, it has largely got a filter which extends to fighting against any form of discrimination anywhere. This is a subtle call for resistance against divisive politics. It urges us to connect the dots with the policies of the regime and the increasing polarisation in our society so that the secular spirit in the Constitution is saved.

In this era of globalisation, where philosophies are entangled, I wonder how the far-right claims something ‘pure’ and who is sovereign. The exclusionary regime leads to no end since once one is excluded, there would be next in the line forever. The Path to the Guru – The science of Self Realization (2014), according to the Bhagavad Gita by Scott Teitsworth, opens a path to the Hindutva leaders who are devoted to restoring Indian philosophy through peace. This book is a commentary on the Gita, which is to unify all polarizations, inwardly and outwardly.

Ahmed’s attempt in addressing the dynamics of orchestrated polarisation is an integral step in aiming for peace and quality of life in India.

(Vishnu Priya R.Y. is a research scholar at Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy (CSSEIP), Pondicherry University)