It has been over two weeks since the rampaging mob of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad workers attacked students, professors such as Prashant Chakraborty and even some media people at Ramjas College.
Dubbing the students and faculty as anti-nationalists they disrupted a peaceful gathering attending a two-day seminar titled ‘Cultures of Protest’ featuring film maker Sanjay Kak, JNU professor Bimol Akoijam and JNU PhD scholar Umar Khalid.
While one can criticise the All India Students’ Association (AISA) for putting other students at risk by holding such a seminar at DU during a politically sensitive time, it remains the plain truth that the mob resorted to violence rather than opt for dialogue. Unfortunately, their attack is a symptom of our times.
The incident at Ramjas is not an isolated one since it follows a series of attacks in universities. Last year, Jawaharlal Nehru University had come under fire. Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya were attacked, jailed and slapped with sedition charges.
Fortunately, the wheels of justice did not stop turning and they were granted bail. But investigations are still underway. There have also been attacks on students of Jadavpur University (West Bengal) and central universities in Hyderabad, Haryana and Jharkhand.
One may take a simple stand on the matter and say that in order to avoid more attacks on students and faculty members, universities should buckle down and stick to the prescribed syllabus. After all, students come to universities to study. However, universities are also the seat of critical thinking. They prepare young individuals to be more than just cogs in the machine of mass production.
There is something fragile and precious about this quality of universities, and if one is in fact a true patriot, s/he would want to preserve spaces for free thinking and expression. There is nothing anti-national in voicing dissent—as a democracy it is one of our fundamental rights. The debate around freedom of speech and expression is an ongoing one, and as far as debates go, it keeps moving around in circles without a resolution.
Universities cannot be spaces of fear where even the police appear to be on the side of goons attacking defenseless students. In a refreshing move, three senior police personnel were suspended for manhandling media persons and students during the Ramjas clash.
Last few years have witnessed substantial turmoils in some of the big varsities in India. With this, colleges such as St. Stephen’s have sought autonomy. Once again, the manner in which this is being done is questionable and open to criticism.
On another note, as always, the mobocracy resorts to misogyny when faced with tough criticism. Lady Shri Ram College student Gurmehar Kaur, 20, faced rape threats for being ‘anti-national’ when she posted a video of herself holding a placard that read, “Pakistan did not kill my dad. War killed him.” Predictably, the ABVP resorted to its standard threats of violence, while the daughter of a late Army captain was just critiquing war.
One thing remains clear: Whether left wing or right wing, our colleges and universities are being politicised. They cannot, should not be turned into battle grounds for political parties to play out vendettas.
To paraphrase what Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore once wrote, “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high... where knowledge is free... where the world has not been broken up into fragments… into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake”.