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Retaliatory Violence


This is in response to the editorial titled “Violence as Parenthesis” (EPW, 21 December 2019). In the editorial, Gopal Guru has rightly pointed out how violence has been injected into social relationships. The way the government has unleashed violence on the mostly peaceful students of Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) and in turn tried to tweak “brutal state suppression” as “retaliation to violence” makes it further complicated.

The allegation floated by the police officials that outsiders had set public property on fire did not clarify who these outsiders were. The next action of the police to arrest 10 people from Jamia Nagar with previous criminal records for spreading arson was testimony to their arbitrariness. Though it was rarely clear whether the arrested people actually were involved in the case of violence, the disassociation of the students from the “locals” was successfully done. Immediately, the alumni association of JMI came up with a statement claiming that no student was engaged in the act of violence, and it was the outsiders who conducted it.

Identifying the perpetrators of violence is a matter of investigation and must be left to an ethical and impartial police probe. What is significant here are two things: First, the disassociation of the students from the locals using “violence” as a means of separation, and second, the reduction of the perceptive intensity of violence by the police substituting it as “retaliatory action.”

As a resident of Jamia Nagar, I have personally witnessed how the local people wholeheartedly came out of their places and extended overwhelming support to the students of Jamia. They organised peaceful marches, joined hands with the students, and despite having several caste–class distinctions and other diversities among them, they came together as a “unit.” The connect between the local residents and their support to the students certainly disturbed the police. It must be pointed out that several students of the JMI stay in Jamia Nagar. They represented themselves in the movement with a multilayered identity—Jamia student, resident of a mohalla, Indian, and Muslim. It is not to say that Hindu students were not there, but to recall Hannah Ardent, we must remember “if one is attacked as a Jew, one must defend oneself as a Jew,” and it is the same for Muslims. The localities of Jamia Nagar and the university are spatially, culturally, religiously, politically and socially extremely connected and justifiably so. If a university does not have a connection with its locality, it loses its social significance. It becomes a reality far away from the lives of the people.

So, the effort of the police to disassociate the students from some “imaginary outsiders,” who were actually insiders and were peaceful, was strategic and an effort to reduce the intensity of the rage and voice. It was an effort to divide the community using “violence” as a tool of disassociation. The second implication that I have argued deals with the use of violence as “retaliation.” Specifically, in the case of JMI, the police brutality was unprecedented and was unheard of in the recent past. The students were merely treated as “othered bodies” that could be vilified and tortured. The arrest of Jamia Nagar locals had nothing to do with the violence on the first day; rather it was motivated to create a divide among the community and deflect from the original event of violence.

Lastly, we must remember that when the Jamia students had been forcefully asked to evacuate the hostels, they were being sheltered in Zakir Nagar Masjid. So, whatever it may be—a ghetto, enclave or mohalla, there lies a broader association with the localities where these marginal Muslim communities live. Using violence as a means of disassociating students from the locals will not work; it will further enhance the unity among the community.

Abhik Bhattacharya

New Delhi

Updated On : 3rd Jan, 2020


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