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Yes, I am an Anti-National

Yes, I am an Anti-National

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Gurram Seetaramulu

Nationalism is a hymn which is being chanted often by the modern societies. Especially in India, after the demolition of Babri Masjid such a notion has gained currency. At the same time, some groups have been trying to monopolise nationalism. In such a situation, nationalism has turned into an abstract thought called ‘Syndicate Nationalism’ which is making a mockery of the democracy we live in. Many countries laid the foundation for peoples’ mass struggles in the spirit of the nationalist movement during the anti-imperialist struggle. The nationalism being taught by the saffron groups in the country has its roots in the ideas propagated by Hitler. It is a destructive idea. Modi became the Prime Minister of the country at a juncture when we are still seeing the effects of saffronisation of education and culture taken up by the earlier NDA Govt. If anyone has an alternative and a different idea to the dominant idea of ‘development’, they are being termed as anti-national. The opposition to the State and the Govt. is being equated with opposition to the country and the nation. The aim of this paper is to unravel the conspiracy in trying to fit independent thinking higher educational institutions such as JNU, EFLU, HCU and OU who have been raising important questions and alternative discourses in the last four decades about questions of identity and existence, into the frame of anti-nationalism.

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At a time when the histories of the communities that are built on the ancient ruins are being tampered with to create new histories, the debate on nationalism attains special importance. Some social scientists argue that ‘nationalism’ is an idea borrowed from the 19th Century Europe when the consciousness which led to peoples movements and mass struggles culminated in the idea of a nation-state. Nationalism can be definied as an imaginary feeling common to a group of people who share the same kinds of habits, hopes and aspirations. Many a times during emotionally turbulent moments in history, the idea of a nation-state, its identity and existence kept on changing forms. This philosophical debate, to which Ambedkar, Phule, Anderson and Partha Chatterjee,  contributed through their ideas, is being sharpened everyday with the changing demographics of the social and political movements taking place across the world. Scholars and philosophers like Aloysius even went to the extent of arguing that the nationalism in this country is plain hollow and that many races which don’t have anything in common are being brought into a single nation whose philosophical foundation is the idea of Brahminical Hinduism.

Instead of discussing what are the ideas which influenced Gandhi during the first half of the twentieth century when the third world countries were fighting for national liberation or the ideas which Tilak propagated in the Vinayak pandals in the city of Bombay which aroused national feelings, it is relevant to ask today if different political formations, right from RSS to the Left wing intellectuals, have any standard definition of Nationalism. When the groups which believe in ethnic struggles are not interested to take part in the discussion on the question of nationalism happening in India today, it forces us to ask if these groups have any alternative idea to the majoritarian Hindu nationalism. Rohith’s suicide was one such moment which heightened emotions on the question of nationalism.

The death of Rohith Vemula, the Dalit research scholar who was murdered by the unruly political games in the University of Hyderabad, spread like wild fire across the country. In the uprising which followed later, many political leaders made careers out of the struggle. Instead of challenging the reasons behind the institutionalised legal murders, efforts were made to put the ball (movement) in the court of Congress. Rahul Gandhi, who never spoke on any issue right from Khairlanji to Lakshimpeta, from Muzaffarnagar to Rohith, suddenly remembered the Dalits. In an attempt to put these issues on the backburner, JNU’s Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya were targeted with sedition cases and were alleged to be threats to India’s internal security. The common people of this country did not understand how Rohith’s death which made rounds in Delhi and the Parliament suddenly was off the radar for many progressive sections after the Centre’s attack on JNU.

After Kanhaiya got released from jail, many people didn’t observe the change in his tone. By claiming that he wants Aazadi (freedom) from poverty and hunger, he inadvertently weakened the liberation struggles that are going on in the country. I don’t find any difference between the idea of ‘Akhand Bharat’ which germinated in the Vinayak Pandals in Bombay and the Aazadi (freedom) Kanhaiya is talking about. We need to understand the conspiracy behind framing these ideas and discussions in the context of nationalism.

Late Professor Nagappagari Sundarraju needs no introduction. He is known to the outside world as a poet and an author. He was a student leader and researcher in the University of Hyderabad, two decades ago. Those were the days when Mandal Commission report was out in the public domain. Those were the days when the slogan ‘March to the villages’ was written in ‘amber’ colourfully on the walls of the Universities. Those were the days when students and professors in the country’s higher education institutions were split vertically on the issue of reservations. This was also the time when the Dalit Bahujans in the villages were slowly entering the high walled universities in the cities with some level of caste consciousness. There was also a split amonsgt the Dalits about the internal quota of reservations for Dalits.

It is these troubled times that carved the diamond out of Nagappagari Sundarraju. After completing his MA and qualifying for the Central Govt. prestigious Junior Research Fellowship, Sundarraju went to the University of Hyderabad to give an interview for his PhD. The interview panel, which observed the focussed and dedicated convictions of Sundarraju, felt that he might turn out to be ‘dangerous’ for the University and denied him admission into the research programme by labelling him as an ‘anti-national’. Even then, he didn’t lose his discretionary powers and did not retaliate back. But then, he felt ashamed to be called as a ‘patriot’ in the university, whose handbook is Manusmriti and shot back by writing a long poem titled, ‘Yes, I am an anti-national’. ‘Turning the sweat of my mother into letters,’ he wrote, ‘As someone who is destined to polish shoes, I am singing poems now’, ‘Though I was given only two marks by the Brahmin, I didn’t say to myself that its my fate and competed with the UGC to get selected for the JRF.’ This is why I am an anti-national. Just for denying to greet Nannayya (medieval Telugu poet) with a Namaste, for differing with the policies of Viswanadhudu (or Viswanadha Satyanarayana, conservative Telugu Brahmin poet and scholar who was awarded the Jnanpith), for saying that Seshendra (Gunturu Seshendra Sarma, another Telugu poet who was honoured by the Sahitya Akademi) also has a thousand landscapes, for asking the question who does the village belong to when we were asked to stay ‘outside’ the village, for saying that the institutions of higher learning are a property of the Aryan race, for having the capabilities of rewriting the pervasive history of some dominant literary legends, a conspiracy has been hatched to confine Sundarraju to the ‘velivadas’ and ghettos. Because people are being vilified on such flimsy basis, Sundarraju, Rohith Vemula, Senthil Kumar, Pulyala Raju, Kanhaiya, Umar and Anirban have been branded as traitors and anti-nationals. Some of the students amongst them were not able to take the burden of life and have been forced to death. The others have been swimming against the wave with hope and have been walking on a tight rope while defining and redefining the ideas of nationalism, giving them a new meaning.

Rather than embarking upon a discussion where we analyse and understand different categories like race and nationalism, a more pertinent question to ask at this juncture is, why are only people from certain castes and religions forced to undergo the nationality test? Right from the times when the people who were involved in the national movement against the British were called ‘terrorists’ to the times when anyone who held an alternate political position were called ‘naxalites’, from the times in 1920s and 1930s when students of Osmania University were expelled for shouting ‘Vandemataram’ to the times in 1970s when student leader George Reddy was murdered inhumanly by Dhoolpet goons hired by the Sanghi brigade and when Arun Kumar was killed by slitting off his throat in Osmania Engineering hostel. Having a different and alternative opinion on the question of nationality is the prime reason behind all these incidents. All the above murders were punishments for holding onto the ideas they believe in. When alternative political positions are being repressed in the name of anti-nationalism in Osmania University, right from Santosh Reddy to Vivek, Vidyasagar and Shruthi kept alive the tradition of democrats who laid down their lives to protect campus democracy. In those times when democracy in Osmania University was being eroded because of right wing violence, the Dalit Bahujans had a breathing space when ABVP leader Chandra Reddy was killed. The changing political context brought various cultural and identity movements led by students of EFLU, HCU and JNU together which questioned the dominant ideas of nationalism. These resistances have been built over years and decades of hard work and commitment. These movements were held in the backdrop of Mandal Commission report and the Tsundur and Karamchedu violence on Dalits which offered a spirited resistance to upper caste hegemony in Central Universities. The idea of democratic representation is gaining ground slowly. The assertion and coordination by the Dalit Bahujans in universities is sending a shiver across the spine of upper caste students. The Dalit Bahujans are fighting for a better and an inclusive society in the spirit of democratic values by resisting violence in the name of food and by tearing apart the logic of religious texts which dehumanize lowered castes. The followers of Manu are hell bent on stifling this growing consciousness of Dalit Bahujans. It is in this context that we should look at the suicides of Senthil Kumar, Madari Venkatesh, Mudassir Khamran, Mohammad Moin and Rohith Vemula.

When Afzal Guru was hanged four years earlier, the Supreme Court of India justified its ruling by saying that Afzal should be hanged to ‘satisfy the collective consciousness of the society’. In the same vein, Rohith Vemula was branded as an anti-national when he took part in the India wide protests against the hanging of Mumbai blasts accused Yakub Memon. Everyone is busy in reasoning out the cause of Rohith’s death. Rohith’s dead body was not handed over to his mother and his friends who were waiting to see Rohith for one last time but was cremated in the Chaderghat drainage like the corpse of a destitute orphan and then his remains were thrown into the adjacent Musi river. Rohith, who was born in a ‘Velivada’ was insulted and discriminated against even after his death. His single mother is in a shock as she lost a grown up son who she thought would take care of her. This inhumane act of the police left everyone reeling with anger. The State got threatened even by his dead body. Rohith, who was born in Gurajala in Guntur district has been subjected to an unnatural death which is an institutional murder. He was thrown first into the ‘Velivada’ and then his body disappeared into the Chaderghat drainage.

But, answers are yet to be revealed for the questions which this death raises. Rohith’s death made a mockery of this country’s democracy and the lives of crores of Dalit Bahujans in this country. In all such cases when the country lost its patience, it justified the outburst in the name of collective consciousness of ‘Bharat Mata’. Today, a war is on between the people who are selling this country off to imperialists and those who are trying to protect the country from the same. Modi, who got elected on ‘strengthening the domestic economy’ plank is hardly spending any time in this land. He is spending the rest of his time visiting one country after another in chartered flights to sell off the huge mineral and forest resources to big industrialists and imperialist capital. When the Adivasis are resisting the land grab in the name of ‘development’, Modi has even ordered air-strikes on the Adivasis who are fighting the mighty Indian State putting their very lives at risk. In these turbulent times, Umar Khalid who is a self proclaimed atheist and a democrat, wants his lost Muslim identity back. Because, he wants to prove to the country that he can be a patriot even being a Muslim. At a time when people are being branded traitors and anti-nationals just because of they are born in a particular community, this becomes a radical move to challenge that notion of the State.

Rohith’s mother, who brought up a ‘shining star’ like Rohith in extreme poverty and crass discrimination, has chosen an alternate idea of nationalism. The State considers Rohith’s mother Radhika Vemula as an anti-national. Along with Arundhati Roy and Kancha Ilaiah, who have been branded as anti-nationals ages ago, Radhika Vemula was also added to the list of anti-nationals because they failed to pass the test of ‘nationalism’. Right from Govind Pansare and rationalist Narendra Dabholkar to literary scholar Kalburgi, this kind of elimination of people having an alternate political vision is instrumental. Now, Kancha Ilaiah has been the target of such a vicious hunt.

Kancha Ilaiah has an important role in the ideological foundation of all the cultural movements and resistances with Osamania University as the centre. Whether it is the Eddukura festival or the politicization of the death of Ravana, Narakasura and Mahishasura by strengthening the cultural resistance of Dalit Bahujans, Kancha Ilaiah has an important role to play and it is this hatred which led to many conspiracies being designed to eliminate him. Efforts have started to eliminate him because he has argued vociferously that vegetarianism is against the idea of nationalism and for theorising alternative ideas of nationalism which are completely different from the dominant ‘Bharat Mata’ nationalism. He got added to the list of anti-nationals because he gave the slogan ‘Jai Bhim’ rather than accepting to live in this country as its adopted children. If this goes on, it is not long before all of us get into that list of anti-nationals. It will be a grave crime if a new identity of nation is born from the philosophical ideas of Phule and Ambedkar.

We can come out of this grave danger only if we build wider mass movements across progressive sections. In this process, I don’t have any qualms in saying that I am an anti-national. Even if there exists a ‘Bharat Mata’, it is our historic necessity to unravel the anti-nationals who are ruining the idea of a ‘Bharat Mata’.



Gurram Seetaramulu is a poet, editor, writer and political analyst. He has finished his doctoral research, working on oral literary history of Dalit societies at the School of Interdisciplinary Studies in the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad. He is engaged in translation of Telugu Dalit literature into English and has presented papers at national and international conferences. His email: