For over two days, Ramjas College in Delhi University’s leafy North Campus, has been under siege. As a seminar on “Cultures of Protest”, as part of the college’s English literary festival, saw violent opposition from the members from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student body associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), talks by JNU scholars Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid, organised by invitation from the college students, were cancelled.
Khalid was supposed to speak on the topic “War Against Adivasis”, which is the subject of his doctoral dissertation, supervised by associate professor Sangeeta Dasgupta at the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU. Khalid, accused of “sedition” in February 2016, along with JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar and fellow JNU scholar Anirban Bhattacharya, was not welcome by ABVP and its elected members in the Delhi University Students Union (DUSU).
Because they didn’t want Khalid to speak, the ABVP members thronged Ramjas College, pelted large stones and bricks, locked up and assaulted teachers, students, left activists who wanted to attend the seminar, as well as journalists who went to cover the ruckus that broke out since the afternoon of February 21. Prasanta Chakravarty, associate professor of English, Faculty of Arts, DU, was among the several injured. Chakravarty was beaten up by almost 15 members with allegiance to ABVP and images of him battered in the fracas went viral on social media.
|It is with cyclic regularity that the university campuses across India are being held to ransom under the ruse of “patriotism”, or “nationalism”.|
It is with cyclic regularity that the university campuses across India are being held to ransom under the ruse of “patriotism”, or “nationalism”. ABVP’s open assertions that they would not allow “anti-national activities” to happen inside the DU premises are mirror images of violence that afflicts any creative expression in any form that’s remotely questioning in nature.
Whether it’s Umar Khalid talking about rights of the severely disenfranchised adivasis in India, or the question of Kashmir under AFSPA, or filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali working at the sets of an yet-to-be-shot film on the mythical Padmavati, becoming the victim of organised violence from various RSS/Sangh affiliated bodies is quite the new norm. However, the question of the Indian university, belongs to a different league altogether.
From Hyderabad Central University that became a prison house after Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide in January 2016, to Jawaharlal Nehru University, which saw arrests of its students for organising a programme on Kashmir on Afzal Guru’s death anniversary on February 9 last year, things have been on the boil. Charges of sedition against intellectually robust, inquiring students have been one too many.
Teachers like professor Nivedita Menon of JNU have been branded anti-nationals for delivering hitherto standard lectures that open up the idea of nationalism to the rigours of academic questioning. FIRs are being readily filed against university teachers, such as Menon, who have been prodding their students to think independently and dispassionately for over three decades, but Delhi Police shows tremendous lack of enthusiasm to book the miscreants of ABVP, often violent assaulters of students, teachers and civil rights activists, and take action against them.
What happened in Ramjas College is just the latest installment of a culture of violent and organised predation of the universities, by hounding students and teachers who do not wish to conform to the new narrative that the Sangh wishes to normalise. This is paradoxical because the strain of a pungent and hardline Hindu nationalism which the Sangh wants to instill among all, is a direct import from 19thcentury European movements and rivalries that resulted in two world wars.
The cycle of attacks on universities, colleges, liberal arts establishments, literary festivals, filmmaking, writing and staunchly secular journalists is very much part of the larger strategy, which is to supplant the idea of the university as a haven of free and unbiased intellectual inquiry and the idea of a nation as a collection of diverse people united in their citizenship and the rule of law.
ABVP, the student wing of the Sangh, is hyperactive in blocking seminars and lectures that boost the curriculum by foregrounding doubt, not blind belief, by cementing ideas of diversity, difference, equality and struggle against oppression along axes of religion, caste, class, gender, sexual orientation and those by the state.
With Delhi Police barely preventing the assaults on DU, JNU teachers and students, and refusing to lodge FIRs against members of ABVP last night, and with TV channels, with a notable exception, refusing to acknowledge that it wasn’t a uniform clash between students of AISA and ABVP, but a protracted attempt by the latter to destabilise and vitiate the university atmosphere, a few things have become extremely clear.
Firstly, ABVP will continue to harass and hound university students, sometimes even becoming responsible for them going missing, such as in the case of JNU student Najeeb Ahmed. ABVP will not respond to an intellectual dilemma with intellect, because violence and coercion are only tools of its communication, the only language it understands. That is the language supremacists speak, whether they come from the Sangh Parivar, or the Nazi party in 1930s Germany, or the white nationalists of Donald Trump’s America.
Secondly, unlike Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar, who faced the full wrath of a state on the road to full-fledged fascism, ABVP members enjoy the full support of their patrons in the ruling class. That class now is unilaterally Hindu and its only objective is to reconfigure India as the haven for nativist neoliberalism.
Any person, idea, establishment, institution, university, work of art, book, piece of literature, political theory, treatise, poem, social media post that goes against the grain of the overt Hindutva agenda will be vilified and penalised.
Diversity will be discredited, and only blind adherence to communal agenda will be accepted.
Thirdly, because schools and universities are incubators of the future, where generations next are nurtured and their minds are shaped, this is the most significant battlefield for the Sangh. Dismantling of the liberal university is one of the primary aims of this current establishment, which wants to not just embolden those who share the belief of a civilisational Hindu India, but in fact, rapidly and systematically eliminate any opposition — intellectual, political and scientific — to such endeavours.
This is increasingly being felt across the academic rank and file that wants to preserve the university as autonomous institutions of independent, intellectual inquiry. The HRD ministry under Prakash Javadekar is squarely hatching ways to take away UGC’s power to fund universities, limiting the regulatory body’s role to academic and curricular oversight. Crunching of public funds is the easiest way to stifle fearless, counter-intuitive research and academic pursuits in universities.
It’s not enough to dismiss ABVP members as “goons” and “lumpens” with state patronage. It’s far more insidious than a culture of politically powerful baahubalis bullying people over either caste, gender or class in India’s heartlands. The bullying to intended eventual submission is not just an intermediate or isolated event. It’s a chain reaction that is meant to change the very character of our nation.
Finally, a future of intellectual subservience and complete obedience to an overarching dogma, the kernel of RSS’ shakha brand of education, merged with a martial temper that advocates violent suppression of dissent, is exactly what the central and state universities are staring at if they cease to oppose RSS/ABVP/BJP’s version of Hindutva-driven nation-building.
Of course, by universities I do not mean their mostly supine administration. I mean the students and teachers who want to maintain the secular and liberal character of the institutions. For example, students at IIT-Delhi may consider writing about how a seminar on “panchagavya” for its fabled anti-cancer properties better suits a class of fiction, unless accompanied with empirical evidence.
Similarly, faculties and students in DU, JNU, HCU, AMU, Jodhpur University, must speak up each and every time against the sustained campaign of xenophobic violence ABVP indulges in. Journalists, civil rights activists and other concerned citizens must help them out.
Basically anybody who does not want India to become a country of saffronised sheep must join in this struggle against Sanghification of India and help save the university.