Blog: When pathani suit became my symbol of protest

Delhi Jan 10, 2020, 08.15 PM(IST) Written By: Kartikeya Sharma

Demonstrators shout slogans outside the Delhi Police Headquarters to protest following alleged clashes between student groups at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi on January 5, 2020. Photograph:( AFP )

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We were neither labelled as ‘liberal’s nor accused as anti-Hindu when we protested in 1993 as students in St Stephen's

A video shared on Twitter of St Stephen's college triggered an old memory which I have not shared with many people. I saw students of the college participate in the current event of a protest. The students were sending a strong message that they remain committed to the values of the Constitution. It was a peaceful protest. Many people found the protest to be okay and peaceful but some politicians accused the college of inadequate response to larger political events in the past. It is in this context, I would like to recall a day’s protest which I staged my friend at St Stephen’s College. I did it with my childhood friend Archis Mohan in the first year of college in 1993. Obviously, we didn’t read the Constitution but did something which made us feel significant.

We both were pursuing History (Hons). We knew each other for a long time as both us were from Sardar Patel Vidyalaya. We decided to commemorate the first anniversary of Babri Masjid Demolition. We decided that we would wear a pathani suit and skull cap and would attend the classes with the attire. I managed to procure a pathano suit from my father’s wardrobe and a skull cap from a friend.

Archis also somehow managed to procure one skull cap but could not get his hands on a pathani suit. We created quite a scene at college. A lot of friends privately objected to our attire. We also faced a few sniggers but nothing serious to either upset our appetite or resolve. We even went around Kamala market with caps on.

I can proudly say that not a single person came to us and called names. Then there was no anti-national on the horizon so we felt pretty amused and proud at the same time. Not one person from the student community strongly objected and fought with us.

It was at the end of the first half that we were called by Dr Anil Wilson, the then principal of the college. He told both of us that we have made the point and its time we go back to the normal routine. He did not admonish us. He neither ridiculed us. He accepted our day’s protest but asked us to go back to the class. We did exactly what he said. We went back to our normal routine without getting stereotyped. The three years we spent in college not a single person called both of us a Muslim sympathiser. The cap did not stick with me. We were neither labelled as ‘liberal’s nor accused as anti-Hindu.

I must admit that I welcomed the decision to build a Ram Temple on the ground because the sentiment of Ram being born in Ayodhya is a reality today. But back then both I and Archis escaped social hounding which people can go through depending on the position they have taken on a political issue.

In the present context, if you ask me whether it was enough, I would say that it should be left to students and the institutions they go to. There exist a social contract between students and the institution they are part off. Every educational institution has a character and it needs to be respected. There has been a lot of name-calling on St Stephen’s and its political disconnect.

The college has produced brilliant minds who have contributed immensely to the world of politics, economy and business. The institution remains committed towards educational excellence. 

Even if the institution is not connected with electoral politics directly, it has allowed space for students to express strong disagreement with political developments in a peaceful without disrupting the educational cycle. 

It is not to say that what is happening in JNU is incorrect. JNU has its own tradition and needs to be respected while St Stephen’s has its own and needs to be respected too.

(Views expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)