As a student of Miranda House in the early seventies, Madhu Kishwar held the president’s post of the Delhi University Students’ Union. More than four decades on, she has no political affiliations – and has never had – yet she is ubiquitous in most socio-political debates.
A lot changed for Kishwar in these years – she founded Manushi, a journal about women, for which she’s best known. And she shifted from what was seemingly a reformist Left-leaning ideology to a reactionary Rightist position.
The timing of the shift is hard to pinpoint, but her writings from even less than 10 years ago are good reference points to establish that Kishwar’s position has done a complete 180°. Let us decode, starting with one of India’s favourite talking points: Pakistan.
There’s a marked U-turn of Kishwar’s ideas around Pakistan – almost making her opinions seem schizophrenic.
Take the example of what is currently in vogue – ‘azadi’. Kishwar was quick to showcase her hypersensitivity to ‘azadi’ slogans at Ramjas College recently. She posted a video of students raising ‘azadi’ slogans of the “JNU variety”, claiming that the video was proof enough to show that it wasn’t “just a seminar”.
A couple of days later, she took up ‘azadi’ again on Twitter with a sense of paranoia.
Now, if you were to look for an argument against her tweets, look no further than her analysis of the word in 2010. In an article in Manushi, Kishwar enlightened her readers about the beauty of "azadi" – and said we have been “conditioned to believe” that ‘azadi’ slogans are backed by Pakistani agents.
It is a great irony that azadi – a word with so many positive associations, including India’s freedom struggle – should evoke such fearful images among our political establishment and a large section of the intelligentsia in India when uttered by Kashmiris. It was Lokmanya Tilak who gave us the slogan: “Freedom is my birthright”. (azadi mera janmasiddh adhikar hai). Gandhi went a step further and defined “Swaraj” or self-rule, as opposed to mere ousting of the British, as the raison d’etre of our anti-colonial movement. Most of us have been conditioned to believe that when Kashmiris come on streets demanding azadi, they do so only at the behest of Pakistani agents.
Kishwar On Gurmehar – and Women’s Agency
Kishwar followed the Ramjas protest intently, and everything that came out of it – and so when 20-year-old Lady Shri Ram College student Gurmehar Kaur’s campaign for a peace process between India and Pakistan got popular, she was quick to comment (ignoring, of course, Kaur’s recent online campaign against the ABVP).
She called Kaur’s contention that war killed her father, not Pakistan, a “stunt” to garner popularity through his sacrifice.
Displaying utter disdain of a young girl’s agency in formulating her own opinions, Kishwar called Kaur a “flimsy woman hero”. Let’s reiterate at this point that Kishwar is the founder-editor of a pro-women (if not "feminist") journal – Manushi.
Kaur a Traitor, But Not Kishwar?
What’s equally ironic is the fact that Kishwar – like Kaur – had once upon a time, distanced herself from the jargon of hate-mongering nationalistic pride.
In her neutral voice in 2009, Kishwar pinned the blame on both the Congress and the Hindutva militancy for preventing a reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims in an article titled, “Yes to Peace with Pakistan, No to the Ideology of Pakistan”.
The tragic form that Hindu-Muslim relations have assumed in recent decades (as the Gujarat massacre in 2002 and similar events in the 1980s and 1990s demonstrate) is largely due to the gap between the pious platitudes mouthed by the post-Independence Congress leadership and the cynical political games it actually played. This has created a fertile ground for the growth of militant Hindutva – many of whose votaries believe that India should either do to Muslims what Pakistan did to the Hindu minority or make them live in India on terms decided by the Hindu majority.Madhu Kishwar
Kishwar’s opinions resonate with Kaur’s plea for peace over politics, yet the young Delhi University student was rewarded with a traitor’s title – “Mir Jafar”.
A Case of Frenzied Jingoism
The fact that frenzied jingoism is not patriotism, is also another idea that Kishwar has written on, albeit in a different context, not far from the Ramjas College protest over holding a seminar on ‘Cultures of Protest’.
When the hardline leader Syed Geelani of Hurriyat called for a seminar with Sikh separatists and pro-secession advocates in 2015, the government cancelled the event after Arnab Goswami, who then headed Times Now, ran the news. Calling Goswami’s “obsessive” reportage a “menace” to the Kashmir peace process, she wrote in her blog:
Here is an example of how delirious coverage of select events in Kashmir on prime time TV is causing serious damage to India and to the peace process in Kashmir. Cutting across the political spectrum, Kashmiris complain how the hysteria unleashed by Arnab Goswami and his many clones on TV is derailing calm decision-making by both the central government as well as the state.
Yet, when ABVP students had cancelled the Ramjas College seminar by force, although she didn’t laud the effort, she agreed that local students have “every right to stop misuse of their campus”.
Here it is apt to revisit a quote given to Kishwar by Geelani’s colleague, Altaf Fantosh.
After all, we were not going to wage war against India, it was meant to be a mere discussion.Madhu Kishwar, in her blog titled, ‘Frenzied Jingoism is Not Patriotism : Appeal for Sanity to TV Channels’
The Quint has reached out to Madhu Kishwar for her comment on the inconsistency of her views. This story will be updated as and when she responds.