ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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University as Battleground

India’s university students are reminding us that democracy means dissent.

The vanguard of democracy is on the field of battle in our universities. Those who hold that universities are clearing houses for ideas, where young and curious minds ought to be permitted to explore, to articulate, to debate a range of ideas, confront those who see all expression that does not echo the official ideology of the state as “anti-national,” to be condemned and throttled. The latest site of such a clash was Delhi University’s Ramjas College where in an open show of bullying the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)–Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-backed Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) disrupted a seminar on “Cultures of Protest” to which Umar Khalid, an activist and doctoral student at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), was invited as a speaker. The following day, ABVP goons viciously attacked the students and teachers who had gathered to protest against the disruption with stones and bottles. Journalists were also attacked while the Delhi Police, present in full strength, did nothing to stop them. They also failed to register a first information report (FIR) against ABVP members and instead lathi-charged the protesters at the Maurice Nagar police station who were demanding that an FIR be filed.

This incident is part of a discernible pattern of the current regime to silence all criticism, all voices that do not conform to its ideological agenda. It is part of the Sangh Parivar’s long-term strategy to subvert intellectual spaces, capture institutions of higher learning, not through debates, discussions, or the use of any logic, but through intimidation, harassment and violence, often with the aid of the state machinery. A similar situation arose earlier this year when a police complaint was filed against Nivedita Menon, a professor of comparative governance and political theory at JNU, by the registrar of the Jai Narain Vyas University (JNVS) in Jodhpur over her alleged remarks about Kashmir during a speech on campus. Her speech had triggered protests by ABVP members, who predictably called it “anti-national,” and led to the suspension of the main organiser of the event, Rajshree Ranawat, an assistant professor in the English department in JNVS. In September 2016, there was a similar demand for suspension and “severe punishment” of two faculty members, Snehsata Manav and Manoj Kumar of the Central University of Haryana for staging the adaptation of Mahasweta ­Devi’s short story Draupadi. The ABVP members had declared the play “anti-national,” as “it showed the Indian army in poor light,” even as Mahasweta Devi, after her recent demise, was being honoured for her lifetime’s work across the country.

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Updated On : 28th Aug, 2017

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