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Attack On The Idea Of A University

Attack On The Idea Of A University

The attacks on Ramjas College, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Hyderabad University and other colleges are basically attacks on what a university should not be. Violence can never be condoned in centers of thought and learning. Universities and colleges are spaces for thinking and thought, arguments and discussion. Political forces aligned to the ruling establishment are attempting to capture universities and destroy its very purpose. One of the important objectives of that capture is to prepare citizens for a state of their ideology.  Ideologically the Sangh Parivar does not believe in the quest of learning, exploration of ideas and innovation of thought. Discussion, debate, deliberations and dissent are foreign to its culture. They are against a free society that encourages freedom of thought and expression. This is simply because Hindutva is ideologically weak and premised on myths, beliefs and dogmas and has to be protected through imposition of every kind of restrictions on those who think and act differently with state power.  When an ideology is weak the adherents of the organization are unable to defend it. In their insecurity they become violent. That is the only way they could defend themselves bereft of arguments. 

Demonization of the University

This is what has happened in Ramjas College lately and earlier in some other colleges and universities of Delhi. In the name of extreme nationalism the entire university, students and the staff members were demonized.  The violence was without any provocation. The purpose is to take charge of the university and destroy thought there.  Among the speakers the seminar was to be addressed by JNU research scholar Umar Khalid who was sent to jail for allegedly for shouting anti-national slogans. Though Khalid was absent at the venue according to the newspapers, members of ABVP, had barged into the conference hall and raised slogans denouncing Khalid as an "anti-national". The reason for calling Umar Khalid as anti-national is that he is a liberal with progressive thought. More than his Muslim identity what disturb the Hindutva groups are the ideas of Umar Khalid and what he stands for, the constitutional values of the country. It is the same kind of treatment that was meted out to Najeeb Jung, a student of JNU who is yet to be traced. It is the similar kind of treatment that was offered to Kanhiaya Kumar, Rohit Vemula and students hailing from minority and marginalized communities.   In the physical attack of the students and staff of the university what is clear to the public is that the family of the RSS-BJP has total disregard for humanistic thought and knowledge. The group is anti-intellectual and any discussion beyond the pseudo-religious frame that they have constructed is anathema for the votaries of Hindutva. If students voluntarily decide not to be a part of the group the organizations has threatened their very existence. On the other hand members of the excluded groups like the minorities, the dalits and the backwards have to subordinate to the Hindutva agenda if they desire to be tolerated.

Battle between right and wrong

The vested interest media with some exceptions has presented the whole battle at the Ramjas College campus as a battle between the ideologues of the right and left.  This is far from the truth. What was witnessed in the campus of the Ramjas College was not a battle between two ideologically opposed groups of the right and left but pure goondaism and act of intolerance by the cadres of ABVP. The enemies in the campus were everyone who was not with them.  In the past ABVP had picked up their enemies belonging to the left and sometimes the centrist organizations, students from minority and marginalized communities.  But this time the anger was against everyone involved in the seminar and others. It was symbolic, a violent protest against the very notion of thought and its exploration. The seminar was on the theme of “cultures of protest”. Did the theme provoke the organization? Sure it did. Any progressive thought is inimical to the ideology of the Sangh.  Instead of facing the challenges of modernity and science ABVP has to find its golden age in the ancient Vedic texts which according to them have to become the basis of post-modern India. Every belief is mentioned there. There is nothing to think but only to follow. Since the entire society has to be premised on ancient religion, any protest against it is anti-national to the ABVP and other organizations it is affiliated to. Cultures of protest will of course have aspects of criticism on rites and rituals, beliefs and dogmas, tradition and conservatism. The very theme itself was enough for the ultra-conservative organization to physically attack the participants. What is not too surprising is that when students decided to protest against the violence in a peaceful manner they were again physically assaulted. Police and ABVP jointly beat students. ABVP slapped teachers and misbehaved with them. There was no respect for the teaching fraternity, guru-shisya heritage that the organization claims as its own. Stones, bricks, glass bottles and eggs were thrown. In the act of physical attacks what the ABVP has demonstrated is that they have total dislike to human rights since any discussion on human rights would prove to be an obstacle to achieving their goals.

Treatment of Gurmehar

Another disturbing aspect was the way Gurmehar was treated by the ABVP. Not that the organization has had any respect for women in the past. To be respected women have to be of their mould. Boys and girls socializing or meeting in hotels and restaurants for chaya (tea) or wearing a dress different than in their imagination have caused violence on women. The organization has glorified sati and rape has been common in communal riots. But the threat of rape in the name of nationalism to a daughter of a martyr who had laid down his life to the nation was the most disturbing. It is unfortunate that such incidents have backing from the system. Gurmehar ceased to be a patriot or nationalist the moment she started questioning the ABVP and their conduct in spite of being a part of the organization for years. The message is clear. Whether one is a martyr or a martyr’s kin, all have to abide by the Sangh doctrine to be a nationalist. Nobody has rights beyond the Sangh Parivar. Leaving a nationalist organization and criticizing it even when the organization is violent is not permitted.  One becomes an anti-national then.

Cultural group’s authoritarianism

The Sangh Parivar has claimed that it is more a cultural group than political. But culture includes everything for the RSS-BJP. In the discourse of rights the BJP and ABVP are very different from other parties because of its connection to the RSS. While the other parties are not tied to apron strings of any mother organization for its rules of governance BJP has to look to Nagpur to the RSS headquarters. BJP, ABVP, Bajrang Dal and VHP do not exist in isolation. Though they are members of different organizations they all have to obey the RSS, the ideological wing of the organization. Each one is offered a function in a different aspect to subordinate citizens to their ideology. While the ABVP is a students’ wing, Bajrang Dal is its physical wing. The BJP is the political affiliate. The purpose of all the organization is one, to take total control over culture and education and brainwash citizens through all means including violence if needed to make them citizens of a Hindu Rastra. As a Bharatiya organization for the establishment of Hindu Rastra it is their right they assert to interpret the meaning of nationalism, culture and history.  They make claims that they have the total knowledge with them, the ancient heritage. This is what makes the RSS-BJP-ABVP to interfere into education more aggressively than most other political parties. The organizations do not believe in intellectuals, writers and artists and they hold these are obstacles to building a nation of their dream. By its very nature the Sangh establishment is profoundly anti-intellectual and the public discourse is shaped by bigots. All appointments to administration of academic, educational and cultural bodies are primarily of people faithful to the ideals of the organization. Most are bigots and anti-intellectuals who are placed there to do the biddings of their organizations without academic credentials.

Media Support

Unfortunately the organization has support of the media. Indian media was recently rated as the second most unreliable by an international agency. They have lived up to their reputation by being a part of the establishment in Delhi with few exceptions. Fascist regimes almost always desire to have complete control of the media because of the potential to shape and control public opinion. The control is obvious and subtle through intimidation, threats and even through the control of funding of advertisements and newsprint. Those who sing praises of the regime are rewarded.  In the battle for the hold over universities the media has presented it as a battle between two students groups while the fact is that the battle is to take control of the universities to shape citizens for Hindu Rastra. C ontinuous efforts are made to poison the environment of all universities.

Kill the Universities

All these developments are to kill the notion of a university. University is a place where thoughts are tested and viewpoints are countered by other viewpoint, logic by logic, arguments by counter arguments.  There is no space in university for bigotry or violence.  University is for democracy. It is a place where individuals think critically and share humanly their differences. And much of what happens in the universities and colleges is outside the formal classes in seminars and meetings, lectures and workshops. Students engage with ideas and broaden their horizons. They watch movies and documentaries, participate in street theatre and act in skits and role plays to make issues come alive. They participate in public protests for rights and place their demands in the public realm in a non-violent way. In all these activities there is a political content and the Sangh Parivar organizations are uncomfortable.

Universities are inclusive

The other aspect that makes the ABVP and its group unhappy about the universities is it inclusive character. Thanks to the policy of reservation more and more students from discriminated communities have entered the portals of higher education. In and through the universities they have learnt to assert their identities and aspirations posing a challenge to the established social hierarchies.  The politics of dalit-bahujans and of the left have come to challenge the narratives of culture, civilization and politics of Hindutva with an alternative narrative.  At several campuses across the country students discuss Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the legacy of Ambedkar, the displacement of tribals and dalits, the rights of the minorities, dangers of a market economy and religious oppression which threatens the existing order of things. To defeat that thought violence is inflicted to silence the audience. That is the way to control the debate.   In this way the Sangh Parivar tends to divert attention away from the issues of social divisions, dominance, hegemony and oppressions

The way ahead

The battle for the right of universities has to be fought in the universities with all stake-holders with support from civil society. It is unfortunate that senseless violence has been inflicted on fellow students and teachers with state support. On the other hand the hope is that the resistance offered there will remake the universities. The path ahead is no easy with both market forces and forces of the Sangh Parivar making every effort to take over the universities. But the hope lies in the students and the civil society who are also committed to preserve the true character of universities and institutes of learning

(The writer is the Principal of St. Aloysius Degree College, Bangalore.)

#(Published on 06th March 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 10)