The following is the full, unexpurgated text of the convocation address made by the Kannada literatteur Prof U.R. Anantha Murthy at the Jamia Milia Islamia on Thursday, 30 October 2008:
Dear Chancellor, Vice-chancellor, Deans of faculties, Teachers and Students,
When I say it is an honour for me to be the chief guest in this convocation of Jamia Milia Islamia, it is not a formal statement prefacing all such addresses. I mean it because in these difficult times for most of us, the vice-chancellor of this great University has shown the courage to act properly, and humanely that would have been the correct action by a head of an institution in normal times. But the hysterical attack on him by his critics prompts me to say that he has defended the ideals that our Constitution upholds and nothing more.
Nobody who is sane can defend the terrorists.
Let us not forget that Gandhiji was killed because he was perceived to be a friend of the Muslims, and an enemy of the Hindus while he strived against the violent actions of both Hindus and Muslims, and fasted to make his own disciples in power to give to Pakistan what was its due, legally.
The stridency with which some top political leaders speak now a days makes one feel that Nathuram Godse‘s way of thinking is yet alive and influential in our country. We want not only the terrorists to be punished for their inhumanity, but the political and cultural malaise that gives succour to terrorism to end.
I studied in the great Maharaja’s college of Mysore University which had a British principal. This living legend who was opposed to the Quit India movement, did not allow the police to raid the College without his permission. That was the story handed down by generations of students. In his eyes, the “erring” students were under his care. He was of the opinion that all students were under the care of the head of the University, and s/he must play the role of a parent.
I cannot make this point better than my friend and fellow writer Mukul Kesavan:
“I have a son who, in less than two years, will go to university. If, god forbid, he finds himself in police remand for whatever reason (murder, armed robbery, menacing the faculty, fraud), I’d want his University to behave as if it were acting in my place, in loco parentis. I would expect the proctor of the University to liaise with the station house officer to make sure that such rights of visitation as he might have in that ghastly circumstance were given him, to hire a lawyer to see if he could be released on bail, and if the nature of the alleged offence didn’t allow that, to try to have him transferred to judicial custody.
“Police remand is a dreadful form of imprisonment in India; unlike judicial custody where the procedural restraints of prison manuals apply, the police in their station-house lockups have a free hand in working suspects over. Any university that washes its hands of its students the moment they are arrested by the police because it doesn’t want to be associated with notoriety or (as in this case) the taint of terrorism is a cringing and wretched institution undeserving of a citizen’s respect or a parent’s trust.”
Prof. Mushirul Hasan, as vice-chancellor, has stood by the traditions of this great University. The founding fathers of this institution were inspired not only by the anti-colonial Islamic activism of Khilafat, but some of them belonged to the politically radical section of Western educated Indian Muslim intelligentsia.
It is important for me that both Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, who were skeptical of the European ideal of a strong, centralized nation-state, built on the notion of ‘one language, one religion, one race’, imagined India as a great civilization of multiple cultures and religions and yet united in an advaitic sense: they blessed this institution.
Let me quote again Mukul Kesavan to make clear what is at stake in our times now:
“When people, policemen and political parties buy into the narrative of a priori Muslim guilt, they run the risk of turning this remarkable republic into an ordinary, ugly, majoritarian State.”
I know how some of my Muslims friends have begun to feel these days. The media is largely responsible for this.
When any arrest is made for suspected terrorism, you invariably hear a Muslim name. Then you are told that the arrested have confessed.
Who will not confess under police torture?
I do not know if I would not confess to acts that I am not guilty of if I am subjected to physical and mental torture. This so-called “confession” is not valid evidence, however, in a court. By the time we learn that the arrested person is not guilty, the damage has been done.
It is an assault on our psyche to be informed everyday that a Muslim has been caught by the police or killed in an ‘encounter’. We never know whether the encounter could have been avoided. How can the dead speak of what really took place? There is a constitutional guarantee that every ‘encounter’ killing is homicide unless proved otherwise through an impartial and transparent enquiry.
Our nation-state does not seem to take this provision seriously for everything is okay if you can generate a mass hysteria.
In my state of Karnataka, I now hear everyday that the “master-mind” of the terror attacks has been caught. If we doubt the authenticity of the story we are considered unpatriotic and anti-national. This surely is the beginning of fascism.
As a citizen I want to ask this question: Why should the media give out names of all the arrested under suspicion before they are proved to be guilty? Some restraint is necessary in a civil society, for, even after they are cleared of their guilt, the damage is done. Many like me have begun to feel that we are living in a nightmarish Kafkaesque world.
The whole nation seems to be neurotic.
The rulers have to prove that they are efficient and therefore I have a suspicion that they randomly pick someone to create an illusion of safety among the citizens. (Any party in power or in opposition desiring to capture power has the next election in view.)
This feeling “safe and secure” is also a momentary illusion, for, tomorrow you hear again of some terrorist attack and of more Muslim names getting arrested. We are also shown on TV channels dangerous explosive material supposed to be in their possession for bomb making.
Do we believe in the much-hyped “Breaking News” of the TV channels? Yes and No. Feeling torn between belief and suspicion, even as one recognizes their need to sensationalize and closely compete for TRP ratings, is itself a mental harassment for common citizens like me.
Don’t we have children whom we want to return safely from school?
The harassed police are also under pressure from their nervous political bosses to find the guilty as quickly as they can. The inhuman terrorists, who abuse the word ‘Islam’, also know how poor the intelligence network in the country is; and the State seems to be serving their interest in arresting anybody who has a Muslim name, for, the terrorists hope to demoralize the rest of the Muslim community in the hope that they would join them, or at least sympathize with them. They carry such attacks in a Muslim country like Pakistan too. This is the story of powerful Bhasmasura, who tries to destroy his creator. This is true of the policy pursued by the USA for hegemony in the world; they have to now suffer for their karma.
The minorities are thus alienated from the mainstream of our nation.
If you are a Muslim you can hardly get a rented house in a decent middle-class locality in the IT city of Bangalore. On learning the name, they are politely told that the house has already been taken.
With the elections round the corner, Hindu rioters—a safe word for the Hindu communalists to mark their difference from Islamic fundamentalists—are attacking churches.
In a Kannada newspaper, one with the largest circulation and owned by a prominent Indian newspaper group, published a few days ago an irrational and abusive article on the evil designs of Christians to annihilate the Hindu religion, which had the full support of their leader Sonia Gandhi. The article was right in the front page, which continued in the inner pages. The excuse was that by publishing the article the issue of conversion had been opened for impartial debate. Some months ago, the same paper conducted an SMS campaign against me for criticizing a communally poisonous novel against Islam by this very author, who has now launched himself against the Christians.