College campuses must be spared from zealotry

Campus chaos: The violence at Ramjas is just one of the many where universities have been targeted

When I look back at my years spent in college, I feel lucky to have studied at Delhi University’s North Campus. Consisting of around a dozen undergraduate colleges apart from various faculties of higher education, the North Campus provides one of the few platforms in the country for an amalgamation of a large number of young students from different states and socio-economic cultures. It was in college that I made friends with people from different states, religions, upbringings and cultures. I began to learn about the world at large, started exploring different political thoughts and discourses, and learned the importance of critiquing. My college years didn’t just provide me with a BA (Honours) degree but with a real education.

I fondly remember the discussions and debates I indulged in with my friends and fellow students on various issues. Though I neither subscribed to left-wing nor right-wing ideologies, my engagements with students and teachers leaning on either side of the political spectrum often enhanced my perspectives. During the extensive debates with my religious peers following different faiths, none of them — be it staunch Catholics, Sikhs, Muslims or Hindus — showed any disrespect to my criticism of various religious practices, just as I respected their right to choose to be believers. No matter how fiery the discussions over politics, religion or culture got, there were never any acrimonious exchanges. Even if we stuck to our stands, the least we did was heard the other person out and tried to understand her point of view.

The recent violence at DU’s Ramjas College, located in the heart of North Campus, has made me wonder what has gone wrong a decade after I left college. What was so offensive and “anti-national” that students brutally beat up each other and a college teacher, Professor Prasanta Chakravarty, was almost lynched to death by activists of the ABVP — the student wing of the BJP?

Let us logically analyse the situation. What was the conflict all about? Some students and teachers at Ramjas College had organised a seminar where controversial JNU students Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid were among the speakers. The seminar was cancelled in a bid to maintain law and order after the ABVP protested violently, pelting stones and breaking window panes in college premises. The ABVP’s main opposition was that Khalid and Rashid were “anti-nationals” who shouldn’t be allowed to address students.

Once the seminar was dismissed, the ABVP had achieved its goal. After that, they had no business to disrupt the protest march against the cancellation by students who had organised the seminar. Just as ABVP practised its right to protest against the seminar, the organisers too had a right to protest the cancellation. The students and some teachers were to march to a nearby police station and the situation would have been handled by the cops. The fact that hundreds of ABVP students went to the venue from where the march was to begin to disrupt it points towards their role in instigating the violence.

Secondly, let us talk about why they wanted to disrupt the seminar and if a section of students were right in organising it in the first place. Khalid was charged with sedition on allegations of raising anti-India slogans in JNU a year ago and is currently out on bail. Rashid was also a part of the protests where the slogans were raised. Many people feel that such students are “anti-national” and must not be allowed to speak. However, such attitude is a big fallacy.

Every court of law in India gives the opportunity to accused persons to defend themselves by telling their side of the story. So why have we not allowed these students to present their stories? Their defence was that the JNU protest was organised by them but the anti-India slogans were not raised by them or their known peers but by unknown people who came from outside the campus. The Delhi High Court has also held that there is no proof that these vilified students had themselves raised the slogans for the beak-up of India into pieces and their mere presence at such a spot doesn’t prove their guilt.

As a concerned citizen who wants her country to remain united and progress in every possible way, I have been disturbed by what happened at JNU last year and I am very curious to hear these students out. I believe that it’s not fair that in the garb of patriotism they should not be given a chance to explain their accounts of what exactly happened or why they hold certain views. 

Just as ABVP practiced its right to protest against the seminar where controversial JNU students were among the speakers, the organisers too had a right to protest the cancellation

Another point that needs to be discussed here is the root cause of terming some JNU students as “anti-national” — 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru who was hanged after being given the death penalty. The reason why some students commemorated Guru’s death anniversary was not because they supported a terrorist who had planned to attack the Parliament but because they believe that he was an innocent man falsely implicated and hanged. These students are not the only ones who think so. Many eminent lawyers and jurists have also spoken out in support of Guru, a disillusioned militant who had surrendered and become an informer of the J&K Police.

Not going into the merits of the case, rationality suggests that Guru was rightfully punished if he had indeed masterminded or participated in planning the terror attack. However, if he was an innocent man falsely implicated to quickly solve the complicated case (which has happened in many cases when investigative agencies have been under immense pressure), then there is no point in rejoicing his hanging as the real culprits have conveniently gotten away.

The violence at Ramjas is just one of the many recent instances where Universities such as University of Hyderabad, Jodhpur University, Haryana Central University, Mohanlal Sukhadia University among others across the country have faced hooliganism by the ABVP in the name of nationalism. The right-wing student body has touched a new low with threats of rape to women by some of its members which are there for everyone to see on social media.

The propagation of ‘hateriotism’ accoutered as patriotism not only goes against the very principles enshrined in our Constitution but also alters the role of Universities in shaping students’ personalities. If students are trained to be passive in expressing their thoughts or intolerant towards those of others, the purpose of education is defeated.

Every citizen in this country has a right to discuss, dissent and debate amicably. Indians are lucky to have been born in a democracy where everyone is endowed with equal rights and liberties that millions of people in many other countries crave and fight for. We must not allow fundamentalists from any religion to jeopardise progressive thought with their dogmatism. As we denounce the ABVP’s violent tactics, we must also abhor the hounding of Muslim secularist and liberal activist Tarek Fatah at a festival celebrating Urdu in New Delhi by Islamic fundamentalists.

As for my nostalgia for my college days, I want to turn back the time and be a University student again amidst a healthy and tolerant environment where no one is afraid to speak their minds.