In February 2016, the Delhi police arrested Kanhaiya Kumar, a PhD student at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi and then the president of its student union. The police had arrested Kumar for allegedly organising an event on campus to observe the death anniversary of Afzal Guru, a pharmaceutical equipment trader who was convicted for conspiring to attack the Indian parliament in 2001 and executed on 9 February 2013. Kumar, along with five other students from JNU, was charged with sedition for allegedly raising “anti-India” slogans during the event. He was taken to Tihar Jail, where he was kept in custody until being released on bail on 4 March. Kumar’s arrest spurred on a nationwide debate that was ongoing at the time—regarding issues such as government crackdown on public institutions, nationalism and dissent. Kumar recently wrote a book about his life until the arrest and how political developments, both within JNU and outside, shaped his experience. The book, titled From Bihar to Tihar, published by Juggernaut Books, was released in paperback on 7 November.
On 27 October, Sagar, a web reporter with Vantage, The Caravan, met Kumar. They discussed how the idea for the book evolved, Kumar’s views on government funding for institutes such as JNU, the effect of movements such as Occupy UGC on public discourse, and the relationship between the student politics at JNU and the Central University of Hyderabad.
Sagar: Don’t you think you’re too young to write an autobiography? What was the purpose you had in mind while writing this book?
Kanhaiya Kumar: See, there is only one strong reason for writing this book—the second one is a little weaker than the first. Why am I well-known? Because I am infamous. If I had not been charged with sedition, I would have neither written a book, nor would we be chatting. Does this mean I am a traitor? What is my concept of a nation? How I came from Bihar to JNU and reached JNU—there are many popular narratives to explain that. But they don’t know the facts. One version of this should go from me—of being a culprit, and of being a victim.
S: When did you decide that you should tell your own story? Did it occur to you when you were in jail or did someone ask you to write a book?