Jai Bhim was never a slogan among the “progressives”, who are in fact regressive, of JNU until around mid 2015. It grew louder among them post Rohith Vemula’s institutional murder, considering the imminent threat of Dalit Bahujan Student assertion which started gaining a much powerful form across campuses in India. The anti-caste discourse in JNU actually manifested only through Dalit Bahujan student forums and the slogans of Jai Bhim, Jai Birsa, Jai Savitri and Jai Phule were earlier limited to these circles. These forums organized talks, conferences and various programmes that strongly reflect the anti-caste assertion and also challenged the narratives of Brahmanical supremacy. For example, organizing Mahisasur Diwas in campus, proposals for Beef festival inside campus etc. A major chunk of the Savarna hegemonized left academia (their excellencies) within the campus would sit silent and be a mute spectator to the narratives and spectacles that glorify the barbarity of Brahmanical supremacy over the Dalit Bahujans and there are also many renowned voices among them who have been strongly opposing provisions of reservations for SC, ST, OBC students as well as in faculty recruitment of these categories.
Many Dalit Bahujan students are still unaware of these narratives due to the historical hegemony of savarnas (both belonging to the so-called left and right wing) over knowledge production and distribution. And most “left regressive” savarnas, while being the beneficiaries and contributors to this knowledge production, never tried to question the sanctity of these Brahminical narratives and processes of historical writings that are very much a part of the academia. These developments further the challenge for Dalit Bahujan organizations and activists to facilitate mechanisms to disseminate the production of Dalit Bahujan writtings that is in sharp contrast to the brahminical narratives sheltered by “Left regressives” in academia.
Amidst all these parallel developments, due to the absence of an organizational political force within JNU campus, the Dalit Bahujan Ambedkarite activists had not been been able to challenge the “Left regressives” on the campus in terms of political actions. But then gradually emerged BAPSA (Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Organization) a Dalit Bahujan student organization with the intention of establishing Ambedkarite philosophy as a discourse in the campus politics. This emergence was due to years of continuous struggle and efforts by many Ambedkarite activists in campus from different parts of India. The challenge now was not only in terms of establishing Ambedkarite Philosophy in political imagination, in cultural resistance but also in political action.
This was a crucial point in JNU campus politics where most of the “Left regressives” gradually started to feel the Ambedkarite heat. This compelled them to resort to their usual strategies of appropriation, an appropriation of prominent Dalit Bahujan thinkers and leaders whom most of them never bothered to talk about. This appropriation is hand in glove with their strategy of gradual exclusion of an Ambedkarite political imagination. Slogans like “Ho Ho Hochiminh, Marx, Lenin ,Bhagat Singh” are now accomopanied by “Ho Ho Ho Hochiminh, Birsa, Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh”. Jai Bhim with Lal Salaam is a catch phrase in the speeches given by most of the “Left regressives”.
We need to ponder, as to what changed so drastically in the sociopolitical realm in university campuses that compelled them all of a sudden to start appropriating the Ambedkarite discourse and even the slogans? Was anti caste assertion not there before? Were caste attrocities not there before? Did Ambedkarite philosophy pop up all of a sudden out of no where? The answer to these questions is a big NO. This sudden leap to appropriate Ambedkarite philosophy was nothing but a veil to hide their years of enormous failures to address the question of savarna hegemony that is very much reflected even within their own organizational structures and leadership in the campus. Another important reason was the emergence of BAPSA in alliance with SIO (Students Islamic Organization) and YFDA (Youth for Discussion and welfare activities) as an electoral force that has started shaking their discourse in campus politics.
Just as how the cliche of “Illuminati Conspiracy” is brought up in almost all the significant events and accidents around the globe, likewise the Left regressives in campus blame the “Right Wing conspiracy ” in almost all the events happening across university spaces and outside. Coming from marginalized sections, we have immense experiential relevance of the ‘Hindutva onslaught’ but at the same time they continuously negate the gross inequality, caste discrimination and injustices perpetuated by them on the marginalized students especially in university spaces. And this is a manifestation of their intellectual arrogance and caste violence that emanates from a dominant caste mindset that treats every other discourse as just another ‘lower caste’ one that is graded below them in the caste ladder conceptualized by Manu (especially in reference to the recent violence by SFI on Dalit and Muslim students in campuses of Kerala is self explanatory of this Caste arrogance).
The recent example of UGC gazette notifications in JNU and institutional murder of a Dalit Research scholar Muthukrishnan from the Center for Historical Studies (CHS) in JNU is evidence and reflection of the above mentioned pattern of Institutional discrimination and Exclusion that they continuously deny. Instead of being self critical about their years of discriminating history in centers of JNU, they blame it all on the personal problems of Muthu. Likewise they are equally responsible on many grounds along with the Hindutva backed UGC and JNU VC to give rise to the current situation of massive seat cuts, 100 % viva voce, no to Nafey committee recommendations etc. For years, most of these left regressives in the faculty have opposed faculty recruitment in reserved categories through various cunning means leading to a large no. of vacancy in these seats. Despite numerous incidents of discrimination and exclusion of Dalit Bahujan students, quite vociferously they continue to deny that this happens exactly how many “Hindu intellectuals” would say caste discrimination doesn’t exist in India.
Amidst all of these challenges the Ambedkarite activists continue to assert and confront both the right wing Hindutva and also the left wing Regressives with an alternative thought despite facing odds of being first generation learners, despite suspension of students, FIRs and amidst the constant antagonizing and hostile ambience created for them. There are limitations and existing inequalities within our Ambedkarite student movements but those inequalities and limitations if dealt effectively would make our movements far more constructive. And to be able to do that, being self critical should be considered as an integral part of our political imagination and actions. And lastly I would say Ambedkarite philosophy envisions a transformative politics. A transformative politics that can never have caste as a constant, a constant that replicates itself in various “modern forms” in the present day Left regressive politics in campuses across the country. It is high time that the so called “Premier university” of the country seriously introspected about the premier question, i.e. Caste that continues to cross our path like a monster everywhere we go. Jai Bhim!
Sumit Turuk belongs to the Dom (dalit) community from Tentulipadar, a small village of Koraput in Odisha. He is currently pursuing his masters in Spanish Language in JNU and also works in BAPSA (Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students association)in JNU.