The Ramjas College had recently witnessed large-scale violence between members of All India Students' Association (AISA) and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) workers. The genesis of the clash was an invite to JNU students Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid to address a seminar on 'Culture of Protests' which was withdrawn by the college authorities following opposition by the RSS student wing. The violence in Delhi’s prestigious college and subsequent developments have brought a focus on the issue of freedom of expression yet again. Can or can’t freedom of expression be allowed especially in university campus?
Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to CPI(M) Central Secretariat Member, Nilotpal Basu who condemned the violence and hooliganism unleashed by the ABVP. He also deplored the role of Delhi police in the entire episode. According to him, this is another shameful example of the violent intolerance backed by the State machinery of the RSS-BJP combine and its various wings against all forms of democratic protest, particularly in the universities. Basu said that it is a dangerous trend.
IC: What is your reaction to violence in Ramjas College? The violence triggered over cancellation of seminar invite to JNU students Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid.
Nilotpal Basu: It was a clash between two different identities on the issue of calling certain speakers for a seminar. So it was not essentially fight between ABVP and AISA, but between two ideas. One believed in having a free discussion while the other preferred to decide what is national or anti-national.
IC: Following violence in Ramjas, Martyr’s daughter and DU student Gurmehar Kaur launched an online campaign against ABVP and in turn she got ‘rape threats’. She withdrew from the campaign. The most surprising thing was a reaction from the ruling party. A BJP leader compared her with Dawood Ibrahim…Your comments.
That is the real problem. They do not understand the ethos of the society. Neither do they understand civilization of India nor Hindu religion or even the Constitution of India. They have taken oath for loyalty to the Constitution. Therefore they think that a country as diverse and huge as India can be painted in one colour. India can never be monochromatic. That’s why these clashes are constantly taking place. In all these instances, what the BJP or the RSS or its affiliates are doing is proving to be factually incorrect. It started with the JNU one and a half year ago. The Supreme Court clearly opined that the JNU footage was doctored and ‘hate’ words were inserted. The heinous hate campaign was generated. Time and again, this will happen. Gulmehar Kaur, a 20 year old girl, can be threatened and silenced for the time being. She had also figured that you have to be political. Thousands of people who protested at Delhi University on February 28 were not politically affiliated to any organization. That was essentially a fight between what is right and what is wrong. What ought to be done and what not to be done.
IC: Union Minister of State For Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju asked Kaur who is polluting her mind… what is your reaction to it….is it not state intimidation?
That is the problem. You trivialize an individual and his or her capacity to think for oneself. These are fundamental features enshrined in the Constitution. The most unfortunate and unacceptable aspect is that leaders who have sworn by the Constitution, are crushing day in and day out those ideas under their feet. This has been happening for quite some time. They have failed to fulfil their promises made two and a half year back. Their noises are becoming shriller because they have nothing to explain. There is no redeeming of accountability.
IC: Ramjas violence and subsequent developments have brought back the focus on the debate of freedom of expression. The incidents in JNU and now DU proved that freedom of expression has no place in universities and campuses, that dissenting voices would be suppressed.
You are absolutely right. It is a question of democratic rights and human rights. The University works on two principles. One is autonomy and the other is intrusion. We have suffered and survived scores of invasions in the past because our civilizational past underlined an element of assimilation of discourse and clash of ideas. Ultimately we have evolved in the process of assimilation. The cardinal aspects of Indian past and Indian history are there. If the RSS or its political affiliates and their mouthpieces try to define it, they will fail.
IC: What happens to freedom of expression in the current situation?
If you rig your own GDP figures and say hard work is more powerful than Harvard, it is dangerous. Anti-intellectualism, and that too in universities, is as fatal for the country as any denial of hard work.
IC: Following Ramjas incident, the ABVP and its hooliganism have become the subject of debate. Your views.
Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu has justified the ABVP hooliganism and said that they will decide what constitutes nationalism and what constitutes opposition to it. The criticality in discourse is one of the defining features of universities. If you think you can raise your decibel level and prove that Indian past is great, sometimes that does not gel with the idea of university and idea of scientific temperament which the university system is supposed to promote.
IC: In the Ramjas violence, NHRC has issued a notice to Delhi police commissioner…
The police has unfortunately not been acting as a professional entity but at beck and call of the ruling party. It has been proved in the JNU case also, how the then Police Commissioner Bassi went out of the way and was pulled up by the court.
IC: How can freedom of expression in colleges and universities be protected?
It is a very dangerous situation. It is lethal for a developing mind, if minds are not free. The mind should be allowed to work without fear which is the cornerstone of development of society. You are crushing the vitals of development.
IC: As a political party, how do you plan to handle the growing ABVP hooliganism in the country?
We have been raising these issues time and again, It is evident now that people who are affected irrespective of political affiliations, are coming out in open to defend their basic rights. These rights are clearly mentioned in our Constitution. The CPI(M) and the left will stand in support of such people.#(Published on 06th March 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 10)