Last year, HCU followed by JNU were at the receiving end of a vicious attack by the Central Government, with the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula and the witch-hunt of JNU student activists. The IITs and FTII also were similarly attacked. The offensive was met with a powerful and inspiring resistance that fueled hope in the whole country. This year, once again, campuses are the receiving end of a concerted assault.
As at HCU and JNU last year, the Sangh stormtroopers ABVP, confident of the protective hand of the powers-that-be on their heads, indulge in open violence to silence all progressive voices of dissent. In the latest instance, they attacked students and teachers participating in a seminar on “Culture of Protest” at Ramjas College, Delhi University, with bricks and stones. The pretext for this attack that speakers at the seminar included JNU activists Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid who were among those being pilloried as “anti-national” last year.
Such attacks are not new: the ABVP has similarly disrupted screening of a film on Muzaffarnagar communal violence at Delhi University, and violently prevented women’s rights activist Kavita Krishnan from speaking at Lucknow University and journalist Siddharth Varadarajan from speaking at Allahabad University. The grimmest consequence of ABVP violence on campuses has been the disappearance of JNU student Najeeb following a thrashing by ABVP members.
The capitulation to or cooperation of University administrations with the RSS in crackdowns on dissenting voices is also a growing phenomenon. The Jai Narain Vyas University’s (JNVU) Jodhpur suspended a faculty member Rajshree Ranawat for having invited Professor Nivedita Menon of JNU to deliver a talk which RSS members claimed was “anti-national” and against which they filed a police complaint. Last year, the JNU Administration served a notice to Professor Nivedita Menon advising her that she had violated University rules by speaking at a student demonstration and warning her not to repeat such an act.
Similarly last year the Central University of Haryana (CUH) “reprimanded” two teachers for staging a play based on Mahasweta Devi’s iconic story Draupadi – following the filing of a police complaint by ABVP claiming the play was “anti-national.”
At JNU, throughout last year, traditional spaces of protest have been caged off and declared out of bounds for students, peacefully protesting students have repeatedly been punished, and attempts made to institute surveillance on public meetings.
Together with such systematic and widespread suppression of freedom of expression, the Modi Government’s appointee as JNU Vice Chancellor has also taken steps to virtually dismantle JNU’s widely acclaimed research programmes. Even as JNU has been conferred with the Visitor’s Award for ‘Best Central University,’ the JNU VC is unilaterally imposing a 5th May, 2016 UGC notification as a pretext to dismantle annual admissions to research programmes. The Administration has filed an FIR against protesting students who have peacefully been demanding that the VC at least meet and speak to them. The JNU VC has taken this and other decisions in complete violation of the University’s own decision-making bodies and processes. The Delhi High Court has just stayed this move following a petition by affected students.
The Modi Government and the Sangh Parivar attack India’s Universities because these are spaces that can foster independent thinking and dissent – that is anathema to the communal fascist ideology. The JNU in particular is a target also because its inclusive and socially just admission policy has allowed students from deprived and oppressed backgrounds to access higher education, excel in research and also shine in socially committed activism and student movements.
The movements of students and teachers will not take such attacks lying down, however. A spirited resistance in underway, that will surely defend the freedom and autonomy of India’s Universities.