Ramjas College violence: Nationalism vs Free Speech debate is here to stay

Last Updated: Tue, Feb 28, 2017 15:13 hrs
Ramjas College violence: Nationalism vs Free Speech Debate is here to stay

A week ago, members of the Akhil Bharaitya Vidya Parishad affiliated to the RSS, disrupted an event organised by the English department at Ramjas College. This was because as part of the event ironically titled Culture of Protest, a panel of speakers included Umar Khalid, the JNU student who was accused of sedition last year for shouting anti-India slogans. The Wire reported that ABVP students came to the campus in the morning and threatened violence if the event was continued. Despite efforts of the Principal Rajendra Prasad and Professor Mukul Mangalik, the crowd did not disperse and eventually Khalid was asked to go back. Students were upset about this and took out a peaceful protest.

ABVP members were waiting for the contingent in front of the canteen on the ground floor of the building which had the venue of the literature event on the first floor. Another group was standing on the terrace. Both the ABVP groups started shouting slogans like ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Vande Mataram’ and the ones on the terrace started throwing stones and tree branches. One of the students got injured in the process.

The police who were present managed to escort the students to the venue but the violence continued during the event.

Vivek Lohiya, a student attending the event said that a large stone smashed one of the windows and came into the conference hall. The students, most of whom had never been involved with student politics, panicked when the lights of the room also went off. Locked inside the darkened room with a slogan-shouting, jeering crowd outside, several students described the situation as intensely intimidating.At this point the police had to intervene and asked the organisers to call off the event.

The next day, the left-leaning Students Federation of India and All India Students’ Association, held a protest march from the college to a nearby police station to protest ABVP’s violence on the previous day. All hell broke out when ABVP members intercepted the protest despite a large police presence. The Hindustan Times provides a timeline of events. Journalists, students and teachers Professor Prasanta Chakraborthy were attacked. The police formed a human chain to divide the two groups.

Here are visuals of policemen beating up a female student.

As protests continue the deep divisions between the student community have been exposed with the left leaning unions accusing ABVP of being energised by the BJP government. In an interview to The Quint Umar Khaid said that he was only being used an excuse for violence and said that ABVP’s bullying tactics will not work.

JNU Student Union Vice President Shehla Rashid who was also injured in the attack had this to say.

A Catch News reporter confirmed that women were attacked by ABVP.

Gurmehar Kaur, daughter of Mandeep Singh who was killed in Kargil, told the NDTV that she was threatened with rape after she came out against the ABVP following the attack.

She was also criticised on facebook by cricketer Virendra Sehwag and actor Randeep Hooda.

Congress and the Aam Admi Party have been quick to criticise the BJP and supported Kaur, calling her brave for standing up for fellow students.

Rituparna Chaterjee of The Huffington Post opined that the trolling Kaur faced was a typical patriarchal response.

They took Kaur's words, robbed it of agency and implied that she is incapable of formulating a political thought without outside help — the misogyny so deep-rooted that even on being called out by women on Twitter, most of Kaur's celebrity trolls refused to either shift from their stand or apologise to her.

The ABVP office bearers, in an interview to News Laundry, said that the left-leaning student groups failed to get permission for events at Ramjas College. Priyanka Chawri the union’s vice president said that those protesting inside the college were raising anti-India slogans and that ABVP was not in the picture until they heard about the tension on the day of the event. She claims that on that day, it was students who protested against the event being organised.

 

The two went on to say that anti nationalism would not be tolerated and that appealed to students to come back to college without fear. They said that ABVP would continue to fulfill its election promise and keep anti nationals out of the campus.

Sreemoy Takuldar writes in The First Post that this violence is a symptom of the push back against the left’s stronghold on campuses.

If Leftist student unions indulge in habitual strong-arm tactics to maintain their writ over India's colleges and universities, actions of the right-wing student's union prove that it is trying to emulate the Left model of intolerance, and not replacing it with a model of tolerance. This is a slippery slope.

The writer calls feels that accusing the ABVP of intolerance and curtailing the right to free speech is hypocritical.

Enough material exists in mainstream and social media to prove that the violent ABVP-AISA clash was an equal opportunity conflict but the truth, as always, has been lost in propaganda. An elaborate charge has been levelled that the ABVP, emboldened by the political wind in its favour, is trying to break open universities, the last bastions of 'liberalism', through force and that this violence is a ruse to gain political foothold and banish all intellectuality. 

Satish Deshpande writes in The Indian Express that the university must be free from violence in order to ensure that it fosters exchange of ideas. According to him, the violence is a strategic and pre planned move.

The more extensive mayhem of February 22 was a pre-planned effort to disrupt a proposed silent march in protest against the censorship imposed by the ABVP. This unnecessary and excessive violence can only be explained if it was intended to be exemplary, as a lesson for all universities. If so, it seems to be working. The stormtroopers of the ABVP have sent shock waves through the academic world, intimidating even liberal administrators and faculty into self-censoring themselves and their students.

The fact remains that campuses continue to be political battlegrounds even on the question of free speech versus nationalism. The Financial Express has a compilation of views of various academicians. One professor, Rakesh Sinha has been quoted as saying -

Like violence, there is also no place on the campus for those who live in India but talk about breaking it. These people are more dangerous than external forces. When the government is taking steps to strengthen national integration, these people who talk about Kashmir’s ‘azadi’ are actually strengthening Pakistan’s bid to internationalise the Kashmir issue


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