The quiet and sprawling, though busy, campus of the Delhi University (DU) is in the throes of a new change. There is a strong flutter among students and faculty of the campus and DU-affiliated colleges, following the February 21 BJP students' wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) “attack” on a Ramjas College seminar, that the right to dissent has come under extreme stress.
A case in point is DU professor of English, Sachin Nirmala Narayanan, who teaches in Dyal Singh College. In a note he first circulated on a close WhatsApp group, but later made it public through Facebook, he what he saw on the campus – even a physically challenged colleague, whom he escorted in the campus late at night, was “badly roughed up.”
Coming to the controversial seminar held at the Ramjas College, he said, it was organized by the college’s literary society, and had “all the permissions for the topic and the speakers”, though adding, the organized had perhaps “erred in not inviting the representatives of the sangh (RSS/ABVP) who also has a lumpen culture of protest”.
Referring to the ABVP objection to allowing two Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students to be part of the penal discussion, Prof Narayanan says, “Whether one likes it or not Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid are students with very good academic credential.” Both are are part of PhD programmes, and Umar was to speak his on PhD work on atrocities against adivasis in Bastar.
Even as the seminar was about to begin, Prof Narayanan says, many students were “attacked from behind with bricks and lathis by the ABVP goons.” In fact, ABVP people “tried to strangle” Prasanta Chakravarty, associate Professor, department of English, “with the muffler he was wearing by pulling on the two ends in the opposite direction and was beaten up.”
He adds, “Ramjas students and teachers were locked in and continuously threatened and attacked by ABVP for four hours inside the college. Chairs were hurled at two women teachers, the goons were openly looking for another male teacher of the college with brazen threats of violence.”
On the second day, February 22, when around 200 protesting students and teachers marched to the Maurice Nagar police thana, they were “subjected to a barrage of eggs, glass bottles and heavy stones on their way as well as in front of the thana in full view of the police”, says Prof Narayanan, adding, “They did not allow the injured students to lodge FIRs, targeted women continuously with sexual threats and raised communal, anti-Muslim slogans.”
In fact, he says, “The police who never detained the ABVP, then started physical attack on teachers, students and even the media personnel by around 6 pm in the name of detaining. Many women were manhandled by male police along with male protesters injuring and traumatizing all.”
Ayesha Kidwai, President, JNU Teachers' Association (JNUTA), and Pradeep K Shinde, Secretary, JNUTA, in a statement have said, the attack on Ramjas students “a larger pattern”, adding over the last couple of years, the universities in India have witnessed a consistent pattern of attack on the universities.”
They give the example of what happened previously in “Hyderabad Central University, Jadavpur University, JNU, the Central University of Haryana, Mahendragarh, and Jay Narayan Vyas University (JNVU), Jodhpur.
In a separate appeal, activists and experts have expressed their solidarity with the battered professors and students who have dared to stand up to “ABVP hooliganism”. Those who have signed include Prof Ankur Sarin of IIM, Ahmedabad; Aruna Roy of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information; Binayak Sen of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL); Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA); and Sandeep Pandey, visiting faculty, IIT, Gandhinagar.
Meanwhile, Abhishek Pratap Singh, a Delhi-based Sangh activist, has admitted, the ABVP objection was “not to the event but to the panel of speakers for the seminar”, which included Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid, both from Kashmir. Delhi-based BJP leader Nupur Sharma has claimed she has “received images” from a DU professor “which supposedly depicted atrocities committed by Leftists on ABVP members”, commenting, “Never forget: Left kills our people in Kerala.”