On 14 October, the Press release of Asian Human Rights Commission titled “INDIA: Raid of Forward Press office is attack on freedom of expression” condemned the police action against a “Dalit” magazine named Forward Press and the cancellation of the Mahishasura Martyrdom Day observation in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Similar stories appeared in several media outlets regarding the same. It is therefore, necessary to look into the issue to understand what actually transpired in JNU.
On 9 October, clashes erupted in JNU over the Mahishasura Martyrdom Day. The spark was the distribution of the October issue of Forward Press, a Christian evangelical Magazine, which depicted Goddess Durga in a derogatory manner. While Hindu bashing is nothing new in JNU, it has become worse in the last few years with the emergence of several ultra-left, Islamist and outright racist groups in the campus.
Interestingly, all involved in the scuffle were OBC students, whose cause AIBSF was supposedly championing.
Prominent among these groups are the Democratic Students Union (DSU), Concerned Students (CS), Campus Front of India (CFI), The New Materialists (TNM), and All India Backward Students Forum (AIBSF). Not a single Hindu festival passes without inflammatory posters/parchas denouncing them and calling for a ban on them. The perpetrators pose as champions of rationality and anti-superstition but it is to be noted that it’s only the Hindu festivals, which are attacked. The common theme running in such posters is the same: some Aryan Invasion occurred 4000 years ago and “Mulnivasis” were enslaved in a system of caste. And that Hinduism is nothing but an elaborate system of caste and oppression. All Hindu festivals are celebrations of defeat and genocide of “Mulnivasis” by Aryan heroes. They are therefore, barbaric, immoral acts, which legitimize and encourage the present day violence against the weaker sections. So all progressive sections must unite with Dalit-Bahujans to not only boycott but also to put an end to such festivals.
Leftist Hatred for Durga Puja
Durga Puja is especially hated by the liberal-secular formations in the campus. Perhaps because it is the biggest Hindu festival in JNU & can’t be passed off as a secular festival unlike Holi which is “rationalised” as a “peasant” festival. Moreover, Durga Puja brings together almost all sects of Hinduism and people from all castes and regions. The Left has been opposed to it since its inception in the year 2001.
Before this, such was the anti-Hindu terror unleashed on the campus that it was virtually unthinkable to publicly celebrate any Hindu festival in JNU. Even the Bengali students had to go out of the campus, to CR Park, to celebrate Pujo and they were always sure to wipe out any traces of worship before entering the campus. In 2001, the then Dean of Student, M.H. Quraishi, stood in the front of the Durga Puja Pandal and exhorted the leftists and Islamists to break the “Havan kund” and throw the “Murti” and pandal out of the campus. It almost led to a mini-riot in JNU. The efforts to stifle Durga Puja failed but the Left continues to boycott it and coerce the newcomers to stop them from attending it. Needless, Durga Puja continues to grow in strength and numbers with each passing year and is now among the biggest events in the JNU calendar.
The present controversy started in 2011, when the evangelist Christian magazine, Forward Press reprinted the “re-interpretation” of the Durga Puja story, which was first published in an obscure hate magazine named “Yadav-Shakti”.
Evangelical twist and abuse of Mahishasura story
The story asserts that Durga Puja has its origin in the Aryan Invasion of India. According to it, Mahishasura was a just and valiant defender of a buffalo rearing tribe, which is equated with the Yadavs of today. The Aryans failed to defeat him in open battle, so they hired a prostitute called Durga to seduce and kill him by treachery. Durga honeymooned with Mahishasura for several days and killed him on the ninth day. Thereafter, the Aryans committed a large-scale massacre on the tenth day, which is now celebrated as Vijayadashmi. While the original story was just a perversion of the sacred lore with wild speculations peppered with “maybe”, “there may have been”, it metamorphosed under the poisonous pen of Forward Press and was presented as an authentic historical account. In 2011, it was used a poster in JNU by AIBSF during Durga Puja. It was largely ignored as just another incident of Hinduphobia but led to a scuffle in one of the hostels. Interestingly, all involved in the scuffle were OBC students, whose cause AIBSF was supposedly championing.
Not a single JNU professor called the buff on this bogus, racist construct.
Following this, its potential to cause schisms in the campus and the larger society was immediately picked up by vested interests and demagogues and within days, the Mashishasura Martyrdom Day (sic) was organised in JNU. It was again organised in 2012, and in 2013, a National Convention was organised and hosted speakers like Kancha illaiah, Prof Tulsi Ram, Prof Chaman Lal, Waman Meshram etc. It was packaged as a challenge to Brahminical hegemony in myth-making and rewriting history to present the true version of Dalit-Bahujan history. It was also claimed by the organisers that Mahishasura Day is being observed in 74 districts across the country.
This event happened right next to the famous History department but not a single JNU professor called the buff on this bogus, racist construct. On the contrary, many actually patronised it in the name of the subaltern discourse. The Left parties, which never stop claiming to fight distortion of history and pretend academic depth, actively participated and facilitated the event. Branding dissenters as communal, Sanghi and casteists who don’t believe in a healthy dialogue on history stifled any voice of dissent. But many organisations and individuals contested the narrative since the beginning.
In 2013, India First JNU, an independent non-electoral forum, challenged the narrative by bringing out an elaborate response backed by solid evidence and gave a point-by-point rebuttal. It also involved a demanding task of making 30-40 huge collages with three to four chart papers each. Immediately all hell broke loose and the campus was flooded with a “response” from organizers and Left parties. Some of the gems are given below:
- India First is a casteist organization
- It is a patriarchal, Brahminical gang
- It is a Modi funded little fascist organization
- You bloody barbarian Hindus
- India First is run by perverts who are naturally unfit for any dialogue
- It is anti-women, anti-people and anti-Dalit
- Why is India First afraid of re-interpretation of history
- They are totalitarians who want to impose their fascist agenda
- We will not cede our democratic space in the campus
- We will defend free speech and debate culture in JNU
- They are killer (sic) of Muslims in Gujarat
- They want to impose Manu Smiriti in India
AISA-ruled JNUSU (which is supposed to speak for all students) brought out pamphlets condemning India First and warning the campus of creeping Hindu fascism. No response was given to the points raised by India First, which questioned the Mahishasura Day in a systematic and academic manner.
This year too, the same tactics were repeated. During Durga Puja, All India Students Federation (AISF), the newly-formed All India Bahujan Students Parliament (AIBSP), CS and TNM came up with a provocative open letter to the Vice-Chancellor asking him to consider how “deeply such symbols strike the psychosis of socially deprived section and terrorize them of their historic defeat” before attending these festivities of killing and humiliation of the indigenous people of India. What was striking this time was that AISF, the student wing of CPI, was one of the signatories.
In 2001, the then Dean of Student, M.H. Quraishi, stood in the front of the Durga Puja Pandal and exhorted the leftists and Islamists to break the “Havan kund” and throw the “Murti” and pandal out of the campus.
While it’s true that such theories and organizations perpetuating them thrive on the ecosystem built by the Left and that AIBSF, CS, TNM etc. are nothing but shadow arms of various left parties, never before has any mainstream Left party endorsed such narratives in such a blatant manner. It’s even more interesting given the fact that CPI had organized a three-day seminar on 26 January 2014 on Hindu philosophy and culture to “popularize ancient authors and their thoughts to the new generation” and woo the Hindu voters.
It claimed that ancient Hindu literature forms a wonderful part of India’s collective wealth. But in JNU, its student body was slamming Hinduism in a racist rhetoric! Once again, India First pointed out this dichotomy and asked AISF to come clean on its stand on the Aryan Invasion Theory, Hinduism and worship of Mother Goddess. Both the letter and the response can be read here: http://www.indiafacts.co.in/campus-wars-aisf-bullies-jnu-vice-chancellor-hindu-festival/#.VD5tHIuUfBc
Besides this, India First once again refuted the narrative of the Mahishasura Day. Needless to say, it got no response whatsoever. On 2 October, AIBSF put up the notice of the celebration of Mahishasura Martyrdom Day to be observed on 9 October. This time, the JNU Tribal Students Forum came out with a poster slamming the use of their name to justify such constructs and asked the organizers to respect their beliefs and deter from abusing their cherished Mother Goddess, Durga. See the full text: http://www.indiafacts.co.in/tribals-worship-goddess-durga/#.VD5tHouUfBc
All protests and efforts to discuss and debate the Mahishasura Day were once again ignored. On 9th October, AIBSF and Left activists distributed the October edition of Forward Press, which carried pictorial depiction of the story. The vulgar depiction of the Mother Goddess didn’t go well with a large number of students. Some students went to the police station to complain about the event and to file an FIR against Forward Press because they thought that all limits had been crossed even by JNU standard of Hindu-bashing.
It was on the basis of this FIR that police raided the Delhi Office of Forward Press and confiscated the copies of the magazine. The Editor is still absconding. Sensing trouble, both police and JNU administration issued orders to cancel the Mahishasura Day, which was to be celebrated at 09:30 PM in the mess hall of Kaveri hostel. But the organizers with the help of the cadre of Left parties went ahead with the talk. The General Secretary of the Student Federation of India (SFI), Pindiga Ambedkar who was also the presidential candidate of SFI this year, booked the mess hall. The booking was done by fraud under the name of “Cultural Re-Interpretation” which itself is an illegal act.
JNU Tribal students fight back
Around 09:30 PM, a spontaneous crowd of Hindu students gathered there to register their protest and to video record the event. Most of them were BA students and those with no political affiliations (JNU has a graduation programme in School of Languages). But they were not allowed to enter the hall as the Left cadre blocked the doors and allowed only those they wanted to go inside. By this time, some ABVP activists reached the venue and tried to negotiate with the organisers. Left cadres immediately resorted to the sloganeering of “Hindu fascism” and told Hindu students, “to hell with your Durga Ma, to hell with your sentiments”. It led to some heated arguments with BA students, following which the senior Left cadres assaulted and thrashed them. They tried to drag some of them inside the hall to beat them up and in the process some windowpanes of the doors were broken. SC/ST/OBC students among the protesters were especially targeted, threatened and abused. The situation was brought under control only when Hostel wardens and police reached the venue and stopped the event.
All limits had been crossed even by JNU standard of Hindu-bashing.
Although they are now presenting themselves as innocent crusaders of the marginalized, the organizers of the event violated several sections of the Indian Penal Code like Sections 145 and 151 knowingly by joining or continuing to remain in assembly of five or more persons even after the order to disperse was given. Here is the reading of the IPC Sections the Left cadre violated:
Sec 150: Hiring or conniving at hiring, of persons to join unlawful assembly
Sec 153: Wantonly giving provocation with the intent to cause riot-if riot be committed-if not committed,
Sec 295A: Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs
Sec 298: Uttering any words, etc, with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings of any person
Sec. 501: Printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory
Sec. 502: Sale of printed or engraved substance containing defamatory matter
Sec. 504: Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace
Sec. 505: Statements conducing to public mischief
Sec 153A: Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony
Sec 268: Creating public nuisance
Leftists paint Durga as a sex worker
It is clear from the whole event that the left parties and their shadow organizations refused to engage in any meaningful dialogue and discussion over the Mahishasura Day. They refused to debate the narrative of the Mahishasura Day from day one and instead resorted to demagoguery and intimidation to silence the dissenters.
The organizers of Mahishasura Day violated several sections of the Indian Penal Code like Sections 145 and 151 knowingly.
They are now claiming that they only wanted to “debate the issues” related to Mahishasura Day. But debate on what? Debate on whether Durga was a sex worker or not? Whether she killed Mashishasura after spending several nights with him or not? And debate with whom? Any other opinion is immediately branded as communal, fascist, casteist, anti-social justice…in short, illegitimate and unworthy of reply!
And it is a wrong assertion that the issue is limited to discussing and reinterpreting the myths. Such constructs are very much projected as authentic history and attempts are being made to integrate them into the political narrative of India. In fact, the Facebook page of Forward Press carried a link of a petition to the Prime Minster, President and UN to ban Durga Puja among other Hindu festivals–http://www.change.org/p/prime-minister-of-india-president-of-india-uno-general-secretary-ban-outdated-festivals-that-promote-superstition-casteism-racialism-corporatism-inhumanity-exploitation-in-the-name-of-religion
The page describes Durga Puja as “the most controversial racial festival where a fair skinned beautiful goddess Durga is depicted brutally killing a dark skinned native named Mahishasur. According to popular folklore, Mahishasur was a brave and self-respecting leader of Dravidians, who was tricked into marriage by Aryans after they failed to defeat him. They hired a sex worker called Durga, who enticed Mahishasur into marriage and killed him after nine nights of honeymooning during sleep. Every year thousands of pooja pandals are erected with idols of goddess Durga astride a lion, killing Mahishasur in the most gory and cruel manner.”
Whatever they speak in the media or outside JNU, the fact is that within JNU their posters and pamphlets call Hinduism and Hindu festivals barbaric and immoral and openly call for their destruction.
Even after the events of 9 October, Left parties continued to support the Mahishasura Day and tried to spin the whole issue as that of campus democracy and freedom of speech. All the Left parties tried to shift the blame on ABVP and raised the bogey of Hindutva assault on the progressive ethos of JNU. Two days later they also remembered that protesters were shouting slogans glorifying demolition of Babri Masjid and reminding them that Modi has come to power! The platform of AISA led JNUSU was used to spread the misinformation despite protests from 12 councillors. AISA even called a protest march on 13 October in defence of “Campus democracy and debate culture”. But the combined strength of all the Left parties could hardly muster 70-80 students in which about half were Muslim students, mainly Kashmiris.
In response, an individual call to protest was given by Arnab Chakravarty, a research scholar in SIS, under the banner of “United Hindus” on 13 October. This protest saw a 400-strong crowd. It saw the participation of students from all castes and regions be it Northeast, South India, North, East or West India. A large number of Left supporters especially girls joined it. The Left parties began to realize that by targeting Durga they had scored a self-goal. After all, the worship of Goddess is among the most ancient and sacred traditions of India. And even according to Aryan-Dravidian construct, worship of Shiva and Shakti is considered to be the indigenous tradition having its roots in tribal shamanic traditions.
The Aryans hired a sex worker called Durga, who enticed Mahishasur into marriage and killed him after nine nights of honeymooning during sleep
Meanwhile, another forum named JNU Dalit Community condemned the Mahishasura day in a pamphlet tilted “Not In Our Name”. It made it clear that “Dalits are not part of such bogus efforts, stop using our name. We don’t need a racist, foreign funded magazine run by shady people to champion our cause.” It asked JNUSU “You represent a top university of the country, why have you failed to call bluff on such racist, bogus and communal construct?” It was a stern statement against Left politics and Hinduphobia nurtured in the name of social justice and secularism.
And now, suddenly, the Left parties, which were defending Mahishasura Day till 13th, have started making a U-turn and are disassociating themselves from it. The largest Left party AISA has now publicly denounced Forward Press and its reinterpretation of Durga Puja. But will they ever explain why they supported it for the last three years and why have they now dumped it? After all, they claim to base their positions on thorough scientific and rational analysis!
Abhinav Prakash is a research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.