I joined JNU as an M.A. student of Sociology in the year 2008. I didn’t have any idea about ‘caste’, ‘class’, ‘gender’ ‘social change’, ‘revolution’, ‘Ambekarism’, ‘Marxism’, ‘Maoism’ or any other ‘ISM’ for that matter, except Gandhism and Hinduism (as if in India, one has a birthright to know these two isms). I had come to JNU with a baggage of norms and values, ingrained in my mind and heart through the socialization process available in my surroundings. That was imposed on me with a particular standardized colour and flavour. During those times, I was proud of being a Hindu to malign ‘others’, especially the religious minorities. I was proud of doing it, precisely because, I had guts to do that. After all, I could defeat my ‘enemies’ with the endless weapons of my 36 crores deities. I was only and only a proud Hindu. After I came to JNU, I was desperately searching for a shelter here, which could conform to my norms and values and also could be protected and perpetuated. ‘Fortunately’, with the help of my best friend Sandeep Kumar Rao, I found a shelter under the umbrella of ABVP. I was very happy for getting it to share my aspirations of becoming a ‘true nationalist’.
‘Luckily’, with ‘God’s grace’ I was able to stay in Periyar in my friend’s room and was introduced to many persons of my thought (I was allotted to stay in Narmada Hostel, but most of the time I would stay in Periyar). I was feeling excited for the kind of ‘acceptance’ I got from my seniors, namely Sameer Bhai (a born Muslim but Hindu practitioner), Manoj Kumar, Sakti Prasad Srichandan and many others. It was like a sense of pride, especially in the time of Durga puja, to be part of an organisation like ABVP. I was feeling more enthusiastic and ‘inclusive’ on the assignments being given by my seniors to be fulfilled, to make programs like Durga puja a huge success. After all, a strong Hindu devotee at heart and mind. We had a close peer group for fulfilling all these ‘patriotic’ activities. I used to maintain the Vivekanand version of brotherhood and reverence in front of my seniors. I used to feel a strong bondage of brotherhood along with other members. Some of my fellow brothers, who were also part of that same fraternity, include Pyarimohan Maharana, Chinmaya Maharana (now also they are close to my heart) and many others. I used to feel proud of collecting money (Durga puja Chanda) from door to door (I, along with my friend Sandeep Kumar Rao, was assigned to take care of Periyar hostel), arranging flowers and fruits to offer ‘Devi Durga’, and so on. Oh, how can I forget not being considered as ‘pure’ to sit nearby the ‘Devi Durga’ unless I took a bath. Therefore, I used to take bath everyday twice, once in the morning and again in the evening, to prove myself ‘pure’ like a ‘Brahmin’. To prove myself more ‘pure’ even than a Brahmin, I was keeping ‘half day fast’ for whole six days during Durga puja. I was a ‘complete’ person, a true nationalist, both in theory (RSS) and practice (looking at Muslims as an enemy). I was immensely happy to get fraternal support from the organisation (ABVP) to actualize my notion of nationalism.
I was very angry and therefore disinterested to attend any public talk organised by Phule-Ambedkarite organisations like UDSF and AIBSF, as they always would hold talks on caste, and it was humiliating for me. Being a Dalit, it was difficult for me to come out of the identity crisis during those times. I was equally disturbed by Marxist organisations like AISA, SFI, AISF, as they always talk of persisting economic inequalities in society and it was thought to be undesirable for me. I was very upset and angry, precisely because these organisations were polluting our ‘nation’; such ‘anti-nationals’ were destructive to my ‘Hindu society’. Sometimes, I was thinking of giving them a lesson, but unfortunately these organisations were not in a mood to show muscle power, rather they would always invite you for debate and discussion, where I was unable to fit myself. So, there was a dilemma of daring to beat them up but simultaneously afraid of their debates and discussions, caught in a Hindu paradox. It went on for the next three semesters of my M.A. program. Academically, I didn’t care for my grades and used to escape from the books and articles relevant to my course, and kept myself away from the thinkers introduced by my teachers at the department. Very few thinkers like Gandhi, Aurobindo, Tagore, Nehru would fascinate me, those were taught by Prof. Avijit Pathak. These aforementioned thinkers were very interesting to be taught as they were, by and large, compatible with my lines of thought.
Once, I was, along with some of my other friends, told by my seniors in ABVP to attend a public talk on caste atrocities in Khairlanji, Maharashtra at Mahi Mandvi hostel, organised by UDSF. The intention of my seniors was to just gather the information from the talk and disseminate to them. That talk didn’t bother me at all. As usual, that was useless for me. Only thing I started thinking of was whether the atrocity, the topic of the day, was merely manufactured by UDSF or did it really happen. I came straight to my room and tried to sleep and waited for the next morning to visit the cyber library and to check out the incident. I found it to be true but that was not sufficient to convince me. Again, I went for a talk in Godavari hostel on tribal displacement and the POSCO Project in Odisha. This time I was not instructed by anyone, but had to attend the talk for two different reasons- firstly, Prof. Anand Kumar had given me an assignment to be done on tribal displacement and lest the talk could be helpful for me; secondly, to have a glimpse of ‘beautiful girls’ at Godavari hostel. However, this talk introduced me to the philosophies of both Karl Marx and Mao Zedong. Though these two were not convincing at all, but that talk forced me to develop a curiosity to know them better.
And, the journey began to understand the two different ideologies on the campus- Ambedkarism and Marxism. I started attending public lectures on various issues and slowly felt that I was losing my ‘self’ in my initial ‘shelter’ provided by ABVP. I began to discover new peer groups, who would always debate and discuss on various issues ranging from class, caste, religion, culture to gender, language and ethnicity. During my first semester of M.Phil, room number-42, Periyar hostel used to be the venue of discussion (at this moment, room-42 can be levelled as an anti-national space). There, I could find my new friends like Lakshmi Prasad, Bibekananda Suna, Dinesh Kumar, Chandrasen Kumar, Pindiga Ambedkar, Chinmaya Mahanand, Ravi Nagar, and others. Usually, I used to be a spectator with few comments in the middle of the discussions, and would eagerly listen to various perspectives on the issues. The group would broadly polarize into two camps- Phule(s), Ambedkar and Buddha on the one side and Marx, Mao, Lenin on the other side in the debate. Simultaneously, I started participating in the academic seminars and would listen to various perspectives being put forward by renowned social scientists. These academic seminars led me to talk to my teachers like Prof. Anand Kumar, Prof. Vivek Kumar, Dr. Srinivas Gurram and other teachers (Nilika Mehrotra, Tanweer Fazal, Surinder S. Jodhka) to seek their (have been seeking) help in understanding sociological theories in real/practical sense. With the help of my new friends and my teachers, I always had an opportunity to discover myself and tried to make sense of the society I live in.
And now, in 2016, what do I mean by ‘I’? Who am I now? What is my notion of nationalism? What do I mean by society, religion, gender, caste, class, etc? There is a huge change in my understanding. Now, I am not claiming to be knowing everything, but, at the moment, I can dare to claim that this long process has evolved me, shaped my thoughts, and taught me to be patient in listening to others. The democratic ethos of the university has educated me on the values of equality, liberty, fraternity, undoubtedly encouraging a first-generation higher education learner like me to articulate thoughts and ideas in public space without a feeling of pressure. My teachers, my friends, dhaba discussions, parcha posters (irrespective of political affiliations) have been enlightening me. Therefore, I am proud of being a student in JNU. My loving ‘MINI INDIA’, JNU long live.
I am Kshirod Bihari Bharat Nag, pursuing PHD in Sociology in JNU, New Delhi. My research area includes Dalits, Public sphere and Indian Democracy. I am associated with UDSF on the campus. I am basically from Kalahandi district of Odisha.