Ok, Fine, Catalonia is NOT Spain. What is it instead?

I have been studying and teaching Spain, its languages and cultures since 2003. I have always loved Spain and found that some of the most fascinating parts of Spanish culture were related to Catalonia. Barcelona, Gaudi, Picasso, Joan Miro, the list goes on. Today, the 27th Oct of 2017, Catalonia has declared itself an Independent Republic from Spain. This feels like a personal loss. My current research and my future prospects might get effected. But since I have started studying the concepts of identity and nationalism I have begin to understand this: how people see themselves is up to them and not up to others to decide although we all tend to identify others as per our own convenience and understanding.

It doesn’t matter how much autonomy you give to a region, it doesn’t matter what the law and the constitution say, it doesn’t matter if a community is economically well off or not. The desire to be recognized for what you believe you are, in this case a nation, is something that cannot be understood, rationalized and therefore fought against. This goes for all identities, all races, ethnicities, sexualities. I get to choose how you (I)dentify me and not the other way around. My burka is a sign of my identity, you cannot decide it is a sign of my oppression.

This is a fight for identity. If a people want to be known as a nation-state, well they do. There is nothing that can be done about it.

Similarly if people in the hills of North Bengal think of themselves as a community that deserves to have its own state, well, we must listen to their demands (Gorkhaland). The same for Bodoland, the same for Kashmir,  the same for Nagaland, the same for Kurdistan, Palestine, Tibet, Taiwan, Scotland and so on and so forth. One doesn’t realize that in every continent and in almost every country there are groups who feel un/mis/under- represented. See this Wiki list to get an idea.

I am sure many learned people would be able to throw light upon how these are all different cases and cannot be compared. I am not denying that. I know it is very risky to suggest that all secessionist/separatist demands should be heard. We are used to accepting the status quo regarding nation-states, citizenship and borders. But isn’t it high time that we realize that back in the Eighteenth Century Monarchy was the status quo and in the Nineteenth Century Colonialism and Imperialism were the status quo. It sounded as ridiculous to think of an independent nation without a King to the Monarchists and the Colonial power as the Unilateral Declaration of Catalan Independence is sounding to the Spanish Constitutional Court and the Madrid based government.

Precisely because this is the 21st century and we know the history of bloody revolutions and their futility in some cases, the difficulty of governance of newly built nations and the conflicts with neighboring countries that arise afterwords that all Identity Based Demands deserve to be heard rather than ignored or repressed. How can the world even after 72 years  of founding the United Nations have not been able to develop a platform for these voices to be heard peacefully?

If demands for recognition of groups, ethnicities, races, linguistic communities are not heard we will end up with more chaos and disorder which surely will be unleashed in Catalonia in the coming days. It will be very unfortunate to see one of Europe’s most prosperous regions having some of the best universities and research centers going through a period of tension and chaos. But there is no question that it will happen. If the peaceful referendum itself could provoke violence and repression, we can only imagine what this truly rebellious act would invite.  Spanish government has already decided to trigger Article 155 for the first time since the constitution was adopted in 1978 which will dismantle the regional government and govern it directly.

If in spite of all this Catalonia succeeds in functioning as an independent country I would hope that it would remember its own struggle and therefore be unique in the European continent: a free, fair, inclusive and just society with open borders. Migrants which form 10% of the population of Barcelona alone should be given citizenship of this new country without having to renounce their Spanish/European citizenship. Otherwise there will be an exodus of migrants out of Catalonia towards Spain in order to secure mobility within Europe.

In decades to come Catalonia should become a champion of minority rights in Europe and across the world. It is because of it’s location within EUrope that they could take this historic step. In other parts of the world, brutal repression of such sentiments would be quickly done and brushed beneath the carpet. It is EUrope’s robust human rights values that protect Catalans even if the institutions of EU don’t at present. For centralizing political forces everywhere Catalonia would be seen as a dangerous example of what can happen when a region of minority status is given autonomy. Spain’s other regions might feel the brunt.

As a researcher of Nationalism I am still confused about what kind of nationalistic fervor is behind Catalonia’s Independence. It is up to Catalans to prove this in years to come. Is this the emancipatory and revolutionary nationalism of oppressed people fighting against an unfair power or is it the arrogant and narrow nationalism of Europe’s radical right wing.  The answer will depend on the kind of society they build once they truly gain control. I do wish them all the luck in  case it is the former.


Debate over Historical Memory in Spain

Notes for SLS 506 Spanish Literature of 20th Century, Doon University

  “Of course we could try to forget the past. Why not? Is it not natural for a human being to repress what causes him pain, what causes him shame? Like the body, memory protects its wounds. When day breaks after a sleepless night, one’s ghosts must withdraw; the dead are ordered back to their graves. But for the first time in history, we could not bury our dead. We bear their graves within ourselves.”

From the Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Weisel (a polish-American Jewish writer, activist and concentration camp survivor)

Cultures across the world believe that when the dead are not buried properly they remain in a state of restlessness and can come back as ghosts. The burial of a loved one, the grave of a deceased relative, the memories of that person gone are all very personal matters. But in Spain, the entire nation has had to confront with the question of death of an entire generation and their graves. Spaniards are still divided over how to remember the ones who are gone. Wiesel in the speech mentioned above says that “Remembering is a noble and necessary act”. That since the dawn of history mankind has been encouraged to remember. He mentions that even the bible insists on remembering. “It is incumbent upon us to remember the good we have received, and the evil we have suffered” as forgetting “would doom us to repeat past disasters, past wars.” We can see that he means that memory of what went wrong can help us avoid the same from happening again. In that case clearly injustice of the past should be remembered. However Wiesel also recognizes that “it is surely human to forget, even to want to forget”…forgetting is a “divine gift” which helps men to deal with the past. He says “Indeed if memory helps us to survive, forgetting allows us to go on living. How could we go on with our daily lives, if we remained constantly aware of the dangers and ghosts surrounding us? […] Without the ability to forget, man would live in a permanent, paralyzing fear of death.”

The same dichotomy between whether one should forget or remember the trauma, conflict and violence of the past emerges every now and then in Spain. The country had undergone a three year long civil war followed by an authoritarian fascist dictatorship for 36 years. It is the memory of this period that remains controversial to this day. It is an intriguing case of how a society or a nation constructs or deconstructs and reconstructs its understanding of its own past.

Those who know Spanish history are well aware of the causes that led to the Spanish Civil War and the nature of the Francoist regime that came to power after the war. See this for a quick recap. After Franco’s death in 1975 Spain smoothly transitioned to Democracy and continues to function as a modern European liberal democracy. The transition was based on el “pacto de olvido”, a set of collective decisions by the then political leaders to let bygones be bygones and move forward without holding any one or any group responsible for the Civil War and the violence committed under Francoist regime. In its enthusiasm to become modern and democratic, Spain chose to forget its traumatic past. Several generation could live in peace by forgetting the past. However over the next decades as Spain integrated into Europe and felt more and more at ease with its identity as a modern, liberal democracy a new generation came up who felt the need to know more about the past, about Civil War, and particularly about their relatives who they knew have been victims of the war and dictatorship. This is also known as the grandchildren of those who suffered during the war.

A desire to remember rather than forget can be seen to emerge in Spanish culture from 2000. Javier Cerca’s fantastic novel Soldados de Salamina followed by many other literary works have played a major role in this process. But more importantly an organization called Asociación de la Recuperación de Memoría Histórica (Association of Recuperation of Historical Memory) led by Emilio Silva. In October of 2000 the first exhumation of a mass grave took place that was used to bury about twelve persons in 1936 after they were executed by nationalist forces, in Priaranza del Bierzo (Léon). This was possible due to the investigation and struggle led by Emilio Silva, a journalist who happened to locate the mass grave of his own grandfather. This was the first time that a grave was exhumed and the remains identified using DNA testing. This incident led Emilio Silva to create the organization ARMH. This organization has helped many people find out more details and eventually the remains of their family members and relatives who died at the hands of nationalist forces. The work they started is rooted in the belief that recognizing the victims of war is a responsibility that gives dignity to those who sacrificed their life in defense of the Republican cause. Several legal battles have been fought in Spain over these exhumation. While the ARMH believes that recuperating the memory of the victims of war is a matter of justice and criticizes the fact that no government has taken a serious step towards recognizing the victims of the war, a section of Spanish society sees these activities as attempts to open old wounds.  The Amnesty Law of 1977 is seen by the ARMH as unjust which absolved the nationalist from their responsibility of having caused the tragic Civil War. The right wing political party PP has been very vocal about its opposition to the work carried out by ARMH. They have said that exhuming mass graves will not only open old wound but also bring anxiety and distrust amongst citizens of Spain now. Whatever happened should just be left the way they were. Those who feel the need to recuperate the memory question the well-guarded existence of a Basilica, known as the “Valley of the Fallen” where Franco’s grave has been kept and his death is commemorated each year with full honor (Buck, 2015). These debates often appear in national television and newspapers. In 2007 the Socialist Government led by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero passed a law named Law of Historical Memory which made it a duty of the Spanish government to recognize the victims of the Civil War. This also included providing citizenship to those who went into exile, thereby lost their nationality due to Civil War and Franco’s regime. This was the first law that accepted the Civil War as a tragic feature of Spain’s history. Under this law some budgets were sanctioned for exhuming of mass graves. But since 2011 the right wing PP party has slashed the budget to nil. When Spain went to elections last year the parties were still divided over this is issue, right wing parties hardly mentioned any proposal for Historical Memory while left wing parties continue to promise more benefits and efforts for recuperating Historical Memory (Ejerique, 2015). The Law of Historical Memory has several short comings and activists fighting for Recuperation of Historical Memory feel it is not enough. The fact that relatives have to fund the exhumation and DNA testing is seen as unfair.

The memory of civil war has also been repeatedly brought back by Spanish cultural industry, films, television, theater and literature. Every year several productions come out with Civil War as theme or background that has been termed as an “industry” of memory filled with sentimentalization of the Civil War and Franco years in Spain. A separate post will deal with this aspect in details. Students of Spanish must understand that this is an unresolved question in Spain that evolves everyday. The question of how to remember the Civil War and Francoist Spain has a direct relationship with the question of Spanish identity.  Just like an individual a country and a society derives their character from their memory, from how they remember their past. This is known as collective memory. It is not important what happened but what people believe happened. Memory is always subjective. It is based on experience and perspective. Therefore this remains a tricky terrain. Whose perspective and whose experience will be given importance and acceptance to? Individuals need to acknowledge the past no matter how painful it may be as running away from it or repressing painful memories mostly don’t help. Without a proper closure the past keeps coming haunting to us. Similarly Spain needs to resolve this issue in order to heal the cracks that still divide the citizens even after so many years.

Brief note on Spanish Civil War, Franco’s Spain and Transition to Democracy

Spain, a country situated in Southern Europe, with a close geographical proximity to North Africa been shaped by a fascinating and complex history that has often left Spain caught between various dichotomies: European or African? Islamic or Christian? Modern or Traditional? Liberal or Conservative? Spanish intellectuals have spoken about the concept of “las dos Españas” (Tr. two Spains) since the nineteenth century. Spain has always been a divided society and those divisions have entered into violent conflicts at various moments of history. But probably nothing could show the divisions between Spanish society as well as the Spanish Civil War fought between 1936 and 1939. The liberals and conservatives have been fighting each other through the nineteenth century to take control of politics in Spain. Spain became a Republic for the first time in 1873 but chaos subdued and Monarchy was restored within two years. After nearly fifty years of functioning as a parliamentary monarchy where the two main political parties (liberals and conservatives) alternated according to a mutual agreement Spain became a republic for the second time in 1931. The Republican government which was democratically elected ushered in a series of radical reforms inspired by their socialist ideology such as separation of the church and state, removing Church’s role in civil life, marriages, birth, education, land reforms, military reforms etc. The traditional ruling elites found these changes too radical and saw a direct threat to their privileges. While the working class population who ideally should have benefitted from these reforms did not see their lives improving immediately generally due to the lack of organization and structure that could put these reforms into practice in such a short span of time. Thus Spain went through a period of unprecedented turmoil and civil chaos. The divisions between factory owners and workers, priest and non-believers, landlords and farmers often broke out into violent conflicts. Socialists, Communists, Anarchists, and many other left wing activists and parties joined the ongoing turmoil and conflicts and exacerbated the matters as liberals became divided within while the traditional power holders, the Church, the Bourgeoisie (landowners and Capitalists) and the Army, all came together as a unified and thus very strong opposition. (Garrioch, 1993) The government won a second term through a close margin in 1936 after which a part of the Army rebelled which started a Civil War between nationalists and republicans. The Civil War was a war of ideals, fought by both sides in order to defend what they believed was the true idea of Spain.  In those early years of 20th century the Spanish Civil War also attracted lot of international attention and a major role was played by volunteers of foreign countries who came to Spain only to defend the cause of Republicanism, Socialism and Democracy such as the International Brigade[1]. After three years of violence and bloodshed in which friends, neighbors, brothers started fighting and killing each other over their ideology, the Republican government lost to the Nationalists led by General Francisco Franco. Franco established an iron fisted dictatorship banning all political parties and activities. Spanish citizens lost the right to form unions and protest. Franco devised several ways of repression such as censorship, executions, disappearance. Education and all aspects of civil life was controlled by the Church, the right hand of Franco’s regime. Women’s role was reduced to being housekeepers and child bearers. During the first decade Spain became an isolated country which slowly opened up. Franco was projected as someone chosen by God to save Spain from the evil: communism and liberalism. With the passage of time Franco’s regime became less repressive but he remained the most powerful man in Spain till his natural death in 1975. That makes him a more long lasting and powerful dictator than Hitler and Mussolini. Franco’s ideology known as falangismo is very similar to fascism. In spite of Franco’s well planned policies created to ensure that the structure of government created by him would continue after his death Spain transitioned to democracy within three years of Franco’s death.

Transition to Democracy

The transition to democracy of Spain is considered a great model for such a process because the transition took place within a short period of time without any conflict or violence or need for using force. The resulting government also enjoyed a great deal of stability and the constitution adopted by the transition government in 1978 is still in practice in Spain. The political leaders during that time were able to put aside their differences and work together towards democracy.

It is seen as a great success of the Spanish society because the transition was possible without immediate persecution of any section of the society nor by dismantling the structure of Franco’s government. Earlier members of the dictatorial regime themselves took steps towards democratization. This meant that Spain’s new government did not question the very legitimacy of 36 years of Franco’s rule over Spain. An Amnesty Law passed in 1977 ensured that no one would be charged with any crimes committed during the Civil War period or during Francoist regime. This of course relieved many people on both sides of the conflict. It is a known fact that during the Civil War forces on the republican side also caused violence on the opposite forces and vice versa. Perhaps letting bygone be bygones was the only option at that time if the country wanted to move forward. Talking about the Civil War as a trauma and holding any person or group responsible for it would have made the way ahead difficult. This collective decisions by the then political leaders have been termed “pacto del olvido”, i.e. a pact to forget. We can then say that a generation of Spanish people wished to forget the trauma of Civil War and its aftermath. In that context memory was not desirable and forgetting was the way to live in peace. However over the next decades as Spain integrated into Europe and felt more and more at ease with its identity as a modern, liberal democracy a new generation came up who felt the need to know more about the past, about Civil War, and particularly about their relatives who they knew have been victims of the war and dictatorship.

Works Cited

Garrioch, D. (1993). Historical Background. In A. Kenwood, The Spanish Civil War: a cultural and historical reader (pp. 3-36). London: Bloomsbury Academic.


[1] One may refer to Earnest Hemingway’s For whom the bell tolls (1940), a novel about an American of International Brigade in Spanish Civil War.

South Asian Diaspora in Spain and its representation in Spanish Cinema

Paper presented at Global Migration: Rethinking Skills, Knowledge and Culture organized by Global Research Forum on Diaspora and Transnationalism (GRFDT) held on 26 – 27 November, 2016 at India International Centre (IIC), New Delhi.


Spain, traditionally a migrant sending country, has received a great number of immigrants since early 2000s. Migrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have formed a small but important South Asian Diaspora in Spain that is often perceived as a homogenous group by the Spanish people. Although the number of migrants in this group is comparatively less than the African, Latin American or East European counterpart, their visibility is much higher in Spanish media (film, television and newspapers). This paper will first argue that the pre-existing interest among the Spanish people in Indian cultural aspects such as Yoga, Hinduism, Bollywood etc govern their interaction with the South Asian Diaspora. The paper will highlight the instances which prove that the migrants from South Asia are perceived as a common group by the Spanish people. Then the paper will focus on the representation of the South Asian Diaspora in films. Through the analysis of films the paper will argue that the interaction between the migrants and the autochthonous plays out in either a framework of multiculturalism or eurocentrism. The failure or success of the interaction and/or the possibility of integration depends on this: whether the Other is accepted with its differences (multiculturalism) or expected to adopt the culture of the host society (eurocentrism).

Keyword: Migration, Culture, Representation, South Asian Diaspora, Immigration Cinema


Reflections on the JNU Row in India

Originally posted as a Discussion at H-Net Nationalism Network on 13th Mar, 2016

Today we live in a world where the nation is the dominant way of organizing people. We have to identify ourselves and others as nationals of a country. From childhood one is taught the history and trivia related to his/her country even before children can perceive the geographical spread of a country or for that matter understand what a nation really means. Only a minority of intellectuals and academicians who study the history of nationalism can see that there is nothing natural about what we call our nation, that it is a construct, a product of certain historical circumstances. The formation of each nation comes about for different reasons. The average citizen of any country feels that love for and loyalty towards one’s nation is something obvious and natural. Patriotism and Nationalism are often understood as one and the same thing and both are seen as virtues. In India over the past few weeks these common assumptions have been questioned and debated as a response to a series of events related mainly to students’ political activism and the way the central government handles such activities. This blog post looks at this aspect of the so called “JNU row.”
Background to the JNU Incident
Debate over Nationalism is surging in India after the police arrested a young student political leader named Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the JNUSU (Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union), by charging him for sedition after an event was organized in JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) to discuss how the government of India handles the issues of Kashmir and capital punishment. A detailed report on these events can be read here atThe Hindu. It was alleged that the students who organized the event were shouting “anti-India slogans.” The video of these slogans were played by television news channels several times and launched a media trial of the student leaders in question. The Delhi police entered the university campus and arrested Kanhaiya Kumar, against the common practice in which a university proctorial board would decide the future course of action. Media played a huge role in the issue by over-simplifying or dumbing down complex ideas and concepts, which led to the formation of public opinion that questioned the patriotism and loyalty of students of JNU to the Indian nation. The term “anti-national” was used again and again to condemn them. Petitions were launched over social media to “Shut down JNU.” One of the student leaders, Umar Khalid, was quickly alleged to have connections with a Pakistani terrorist organization. The Home Minister also commented on the links between these students and Pakistani terrorists based on a twitter account that was later revealed to be fake. Little evidence was available and all this was done based on speculation.
JNU is one of the most prestigious and esteemed universities of India, among the very few which figures in international rankings. It provides a quality education at a highly subsidized rate. Most students pursuing research get some kind of financial assistance. It is characterized by a campus life where student politics play an important role. The walls are filled with posters that display the different political ideologies on campus. Many professors are known to have left leaning political ideologies and defend the values of socialism while criticizing Neoliberalism, Casteism, Brahmanism, and Patriarchy.
The event that sparked the controversy was to commemorate the execution of Afzal Guru, a man convicted for planning a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, whose hanging was controversial, especially in the region of Kashmir. This discussion frequently leads to claims about the right to self-determination for the Kashmiri people, and this event was attended by Kashmiri youth from outside JNU. Kashmir, the northern most part of India, has been a conflict area since the birth of India and Pakistan as nations after their independence from British rule in 1947. Life in Kashmir is precarious, caused on one side by the militants and on the other side by the Indian army. The militants claim to be fighting for the freedom of Kashmir but, as the press has documented, often act like terrorists. (One could draw parallels to ETA in Spain.) To control the activities of the militants, the Indian government deploys a huge army at all times. Given these circumstances a discussion on the execution may have invoked repressed sentiments in some and they may have raised certain slogans which can be termed anti-India. But using this incident to label the entire university as indulging in “anti-national activities” is an exaggerated reaction. Defenders of JNU and the liberal-left politics are seeing in this a massive attack on freedom of speech and an attempt to crush dissent.
Who is Anti-National?
The JNU incident led to the formation of a discourse on what is anti-national and as a corollary a discourse on nationalism. In our contemporary mediated societies, how these discourses are generated is quite complex, but I can fairly say that television news channels, print media, social media, and remarks made by members of the party in power all converge to create a discourse that seeps into the general public. After the JNU incident got media attention people were outraged at the slogans that allegedly demanded Azadi (Freedom). Some channels projected the matter in such a way that within no time people started to believe that JNU breeds “traitors” or agents of enemy states. It was perceived that they were demanding freedom (of Kashmir) from India. So, we can conclude that JNU students were perceived as anti-national because they were in some way sympathising with Kashmiri separatism.
A month before the JNU incident the word anti-national was used for a group of Dalit[1] students in the Hyderabad Central University. One of them, Rohit Vemula, committed suicide after facing several days of expulsion from his university hostel due to a minor scuffle with a student political activist of ABVP, the student wing of BJP. The scuffle took place when members of ABVP tried to stop the screening of Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai, a documentary that throws light upon the role of BJP in communal riots in Muzaffarnagar district in the state of Uttar Pradesh. A BJP Member of Parliament, Bandaru Dattatreya, sent several letters to the HRD minister (Human Resource Development, the ministry that governs higher education), Ms. Smriti Irani, branding Rohit and his friends as “anti-national.” Dattatreya and Irani’s intervention are seen as causes behind the expulsion of Vemula and his consequent death. His suicide note is a beautiful literary piece that shook the collective conscious of India.
After the JNU incident anybody showing any form of support to JNU students was also branded anti-national and attacked, including much respected journalists and authors. The word anti-national became so trivial that perhaps Umar Khalid is right when he says in India all you need to do to be branded as anti-national is to think.[2]
Two visions of the nation and what it means to be patriotic seem to have acquired the foreground in India. The idea of nationalism among those who are against the JNU students are arguably much closer to right wing ideologies such as ultra-nationalism and fascism. Theirs is a breed of nationalism that mostly thrives on hatred. The discourse on nationalism generated by them glorifies the idea of going on war and destroying the enemy, real or imagined. Some army veterans suggested that tanks be installed in the university premise to instil nationalism in students. For such nationalists, the soldiers who die at the frontier or in conflict zones are the greatest patriots and heroes. This is why a totally unrelated incident in which a soldier died after an avalanche in Kashmir was used to contrast the sacrifice of such men against the students of JNU. (One such view can be read here.) They, however, do not question why peace is not established through debates, discussions, and negotiations in the first place. They are constantly in a defensive mode and are suspicious towards westernisation, liberalism, communism, secularism, etc. They carry the Indian flag and chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai, [Victory Be to the Mother Goddess India], and they threaten to use violence against desh-drohis (traitors). There seems to have been a growth in these aggressive stances since the present Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, and BJP government came to power after the elections in 2014.Writers have been attacked, NGOs held back, unrest awakened over food habits of the minority communities, and there have been attacks on inter-faith marriages and relationships. Many of these ideas are one way or the other related to what has been termed Hindu Nationalism or Hindutva. A fair idea about it and how it originated could be made from this article. When Smriti Irani spoke on the JNU incident in the parliament, she provided several examples to prove the point that JNU really does harbour some anti-national activities. She even quoted Cicero to warn against the dangers posed by traitors to a nation.[3] One of her examples was a pamphlet that denounces a major Hindu religious festival. She was shocked to see the pamphlet’s reversed narrative of the festival provided by students of JNU and called the pamphlet a “depravity.” The Goddess here had become the villain and then the villain a victim.
There is another group with their own notion of nationalism. They are the ones who try to examine the problems of the nation and try to solve them through research and analysis. In this process they may criticize the government and its policies. Most of the teachers and students in JNU are perhaps part of this group. Their criticism of the nation is a reflection of their concern for the nation. It is not anti-national but against all that is problematic about the nation. One can find out what these thinkers have to say through a unique response that emerged in the form of a series ofTeach Ins on the theme “What the Nation really needs to know.” These are open lectures given in an open space on the campus of JNU, instead of a classroom. They can be attended by anyone from anywhere without any enrollment or fee. Some of the brightest minds in India are sharing with the general public their views and knowledge pertaining to Nation and Nationalism. To further expand the reach of these talks, they are being uploaded on Youtube (available here). Many of these speakers are from the Centre of Historical Studies of JNU and offer a nuanced version of India’s history. Some of these talks remind people that the highly revered poet, philosopher, and artist of India, Rabindranath Tagore (India’s only Nobel Laureate for Literature) was against an aggressive nationalism that puts the nation above the human or the right cause. Discussion has also taken place on Gandhi’s view of nationalism and how it rejected exclusionist and aggressive attitudes. These debates on Nationalism are necessary to open up the minds of people who have a narrow definition of nationalism and who in some cases know very little about India’s complex history. The language of these lectures is English, and academic English at that, which restricts their potential audience. Nevertheless, this is the first attempt of its kind to break the academic bubble and let one and all participate in a debate and form their own positions after hearing scholarly talks. Only someone from this school of thought would be able to highlight the fact that there really does exist a tribe of a few thousand who believe in the reversed narrative of the religious festival mentioned by Smriti Irani. By speaking in support of this minority tribe’s belief, students in JNU are attacking the Hindu caste system, which still prevails in India, and not the religion per se nor the integrity of the democratic nation. But by relating the two, those who oppose these voices are ending up portraying nationalism as the defence of the ethos of only the dominant groups.
The JNU situation has shown the cracks in India’s society at many levels. It was no doubt an attack on the autonomy of a university; an attack on the idea of a university being a free space, a hotbed of debates, a place where the youth can exchange ideas and form their own opinion and take political positions. It doesn’t matter if sympathy for a convicted terrorist is right or wrong. A university has to be a place where one can express views that may be totally against the official position of the State. Secondly it is an attack on free speech. It should not be a crime to support the aspirations of self-rule of any community in a democracy. The freedom of Kashmir is a concept supported by many in and outside Kashmir and India, and a mature democracy should not be so sensitive that any discussion on that front be seen as an attack on the integrity of the nation. Thirdly, it has highlighted the power of the media. It has shown how easily the media can form opinions and vilify someone or a group. The incident has polarized the society into two sections: on one hand we have those who are defenders of liberal values and the right to dissent in a democracy and on the other hand there are those who look at the nation as a holy entity, a Hindu Goddess-Mother, the Bharat Mata,[4] that needs to be worshipped, not questioned. India has enjoyed a stable democracy since its independence, perhaps because the majority were neither radical left or right but moderates. But the present government seems to fan the flames of radicalization on both sides. Deep polarization of the society has taken place and that is very harmful for a country like India that is known for its rich diversity in every sphere.
From the second week of February till a few days ago, I, (Swagata Basu, an alumnus of JNU and an assistant professor at a university which aspires to be like JNU) was extremely anxious. I was feeling like the world, my country as I knew it, was coming to an end. It was the first time that I could truly relate to the trauma people face under repressive authoritarian regimes, civil wars, revolutions; things that I teach to my student as part of my courses on Spanish and Latin American History and Culture. I was reminded of the Falangist ideology defended and promoted by General Francisco Franco during and after the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). What a tragic, fratricidal war it was. A war that killed millions, including a brilliant young poet like Federico Garcia Lorca. I could for the first time understand what it’s like to fight for a cause; how one can give up their comfortable life and plunge into a fight, to defend an idea that you want to see survive. I was also afraid all the time, waiting to hear the latest update on the JNU students’ condition. Some of them were jailed and others were questioned and still many more were protesting on the streets of Delhi. I was away in a different city and I suddenly felt my surrounding to be meaningless. My heart was with them, the ‘anti-nationals’ of JNU. I really felt threatened. I read about a Lucknow University professor being attacked for sharing an article in support of the JNU students and I felt that it could be me. I wondered what if they are being beaten and tortured in jail. What if they get killed? I wondered what will happen to all my professors if they closed the university.
On March 3rd, Kanhaiya Kumar was released on interim bail and the speech he gave upon his arrival on JNU has put my faith back in the constitution and given me some hope. Yet the future doesn’t look very bright. Fresh issues are coming up in Allahabad University, where the first female President of the student union is allegedly facing harassment for her activism. The PM has still not spoken on these issues. Ms. Smriti Irani has still not apologized for the death of Rohith Vemula and continues to campaign against anti-nationals. Perhaps Kanhaiya Kumar will be able to lead the youth to a culture of open and free academic discussion. Upon release he chanted his slogan for Azadi once again. He clarified this time that he is talking about freedom in India not from India. “Freedom from Hunger, from Sanghwad[5], from Feudalism, from Capitalism, from Brahminism, from Casteism.” And I do not see anything anti-national about that.


Links to Some Related Videos:

  1. Umar Khalid’s Speech at Admin Block, JNU on 22 Feb., 2016 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9K8ZM_6Tc4
  2. Kanhaiya Kumar’s Speech after returning to JNU  on bail https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yS9AX8rvYhg
  3. Kanhaiya Kumar’s slogan’s sample used to create a catchy track by Dub Sharma: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NJbxEgf3Uo
  4. One of the teach-in, the fourth lecture on the series: What the nation really needs to know by Prof. Ayesha Kidwai, President of JNU Teachers Association https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0M6LhkM5hTk
  5. Smriti Irani’s speech in the parliament on the JNU incident where she talks about the dangers posed by a traitor to a nation among other thingshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PlGs8NCMWE




[1] A term used in India to talk about people who come from oppressed background as members of a lower caste in the caste system, which is no longer legal but survives in practice.

[2] Umar Khalid, also a JNU student booked under Sedition charges, disappeared for a few days and resurfaced in JNU and gave a speech which became very popular on Youtube. He later surrendered to the Delhi police and is still in police custody.

[3]A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within…” Link to the speech given at the end of this essay.

[4] There are actually a few temples in India dedicated to the worship of this Goddess, known as Bharat Mata Mandir.

[5] Sanghwad in Hindi means Federalism, but in this context it is more likely to mean the ideology of RSS, also known as Sangh Parivar.

Why Feminists should support Migrants’ Rights

Like most left leaning ideologies and movements Feminism has a lot of internal divisions. Many strands of Feminism exist and they differ in their opinion about major issues. On one question all feminists agree upon: that they are denouncing unfair practices of traditional and/or patriarchal societies that harm men as well. I find it very interesting when Feminists say that when they are fighting for the rights of women they are automatically fighting for the rights of other marginalized sections of the society. In this sense Feminism can be seen as the front runner of a Marxist revolution where all the sections which have traditionally been marginalized begin to understand the politics that subjugate them and then rise to claim their rights. By that logic if you are a Feminist you cannot be casteist, racist, capitalist etc. When you start to recognize the need to treat all women at par with all men and thereby the need to treat everyone with equality, respect and dignity then you will automatically see the pointlessness of other distinctions that are often used to discriminate against some. Although it is quite logical then that any Feminist would also fight for other causes, in practice this doesn’t always happen. Some Feminists fall into the trap of looking at a problem from the Feminist perspective only and loose the larger picture.

In India, recently a lot of discussion has taken place on social media over the images of women in  advertisements. And feminists have rightly pointed out that women are held responsible for all the household chores and men are seldom expected to contribute in any way to domestic activities. What Feminists are then demanding is that men in reality as well as in media (representation of reality) should participate equally in the domestic sphere. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, feeding the pets, taking care of the children and the old should all be shared by both men and women in every household. This is only an ideal idea. It is not practical. The entire work that is required to run a household is simply too much. Too much to be handled by any person, be it of any gender if they also have to go out and work, i.e. if they are earning a livelihood by doing some job outside home. The real problem is that the household activities have no economic value in the capitalist system. The health of the family members, the happiness found at eating good food, the intelligence of children cannot be quantified financially. Of course they do have financial implications.

So in reality, this activity which is devalued is relegated to a more vulnerable section of the society. Earlier it was the lady of the house, but now, since she is empowered, ready to go out and work, the majority of the household chores are neither handled by men nor the women of the family. The real figure doing all that, is a maid, and that maid in most societies is a migrant worker.

Europe’s ageing population cannot do without the migrant domestic help. US’s busy life cannot function without the Latina maids and nannies. In India, working women of the cities need the Bangladeshi or Nepali domestic worker. Feminist must recognize that large part of their empowerment is owed to the cheap migrant labour who work as domestic workers. Why is the domestic worker mostly a migrant? Because migrants are ready to accept jobs at a wage lower than what a native expects. And that is so because migration originates in places where people have zero opportunities. But women and men often do not value the domestic worker. They fail to see that the amount paid to them is not at par with the true contribution they make in the lives of these households. They should calculate the amount of time away from work they would have to spend if they had to do it all without a maid. And the financial losses which that time away from work would incur should be seen as the real value of the services provided by domestic workers.

No matter how much we, women, progress, develop  and in that path reject the traditional patriarchal life, we should remind ourselves that we are progressing at the cost of another woman’s exploitation. The day the migrant domestic worker become empowered and understand the true value of their labour and start demanding equal pay as a wage labourer, say the wage given to a bricklayer, we would simply not be able to afford it. Then we can expect men to chip in as they would then understand that the job done at home is not valueless. But Marx spoke more than 100 years ago but a Marxist society has never been created in this world. So such a scenario is also not likely to occur where domestic workers would not work for us and demand a hefty salary. However Feminists should support the causes of migrants, domestic or international, as for our own freedom and empowerment, we depend on them. This is why I think Feminists should support Migrants’ rights.

Learn Spanish at Doon University

Doon University, a state university located in the beautiful city of Dehradun is slowly expanding and striding along its road to become a center for excellence. A wide variety of courses at undergraduate, post graduate and research levels are offered but the School of Languages is turning out to be the most successful endeavor. In the department of Spanish we teach Spanish Language, Literature, History and Culture of Spain and Latin America. Our Spanish language graduates have already been placed in top companies such as Convergys and Oracle. Many have found placements as teachers in Global and International Schools. And some are pursuing higher studies in JNU and other such universities. So whether you are interested in quickly getting a job, or just studying literature for the love of it or learning a language and literature to make a career in teaching or research Spanish is the language for you. You must have heard of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Miguel de Cervantes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Isabel Allende, Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Ramon Jimenez, Pablo Neruda!!! They are all Spanish speakers. Have you heard of Amadeus? You must have loved a Zara dress or shoes? That’s Spanish too. It is the leading IT Provider for the global travel and tourism industry and is Spanish. Have your recently read about growing India Latin America relations? Spanish will be required for this. Spanish is also the most important language for the entire US economy because of the Hispanic population in US which is its largest minority and is projected to soon become a majority.

So if you want to pursue a B.A Hons in Spanish you have the opportunity to do that in Doon Unniversity. If you already know Spanish and want to earn a MA degree you can take admission in MA Spanish directly as well. First round of admissions have taken place but some seats are left so hurry. Contact me at basu.swagata@gmail.com if you are interested.