Call it a ‘February Recurrence’ or another of the systematically planned attacks on University spaces by the right wing, the events that unfurled on the 21st of February at Ramjas College of Delhi University was yet again a brazen attack on the underlying democratic principles of a University-freedom of speech, debate and dissent. After JNU and HCU it was DU’s turn to witness the curbing of free spaces that are open to multiple voices.
It all began with the Ramjas English Department and the Ramjas literary society organizing a two-day seminar on the topic ‘Cultures of Protest: A Seminar Exploring Representations of Dissent’. Umar Khalid, a PhD scholar from JNU who was earlier labeled as ‘anti-national’ by the right-wing, was invited to deliver a talk on Adivasi rights along with Sanjay Kak and Bimol Akoijam. This led to protests by ABVP, following which the principal of Ramjas withdrew the permission for Khalid’s talk. The organisers of the event decided to continue the discussion without Khalid. What followed then was a shocking display of hooliganism by the ABVP goons who disrupted the event using violent means like stone pelting and breaking of glass panes of the seminar hall. The police force present there to ensure the smooth conduct of events proved to be a sham since they did little to stop the ABVP goons who were attacking the students and teachers, and instead evicted the people present in the seminar hall.
The events that transpired on the second day in the university were a firsthand experience of fascism for many students. The biased state machinery heavily cracked down on the students who were protesting against ABVP hooliganism. The professors, students and media persons were brutally attacked by the ABVP goons who were holding the tricolor on the one hand and were pelting stones, bricks, bottles and eggs with the other. The ABVP-Police nexus was clearly visible in the manner the police dealt with them, where the ABVP goons were practically “allowed” to climb on top of the the police van and threaten the protestors. An emergency-like situation prevailed in the campus that evening with the saffron brigade doing rounds of the university and thrashing people whom they’ve sketched during the protest. Female students who received rape threats both publicly and privately moved to safer places out of fear of being attacked. Isolated incidents of thrashing were reported unofficially. The students were forced to flee from their own PGs and hostels because rumours of the saffron brigade checking hostels and PGs were being circulated. Heavy police force along with CISF was deployed in the university.
A peaceful protest in front of the Delhi Police Head Quarters followed the next day, condemning the Delhi Police’s inaction during the protest and also their refusal to file an FIR against ABVP. The copy of the FIR filed by the police reported the whole incident as a “clash” between two parties, “with the rightists on the right side and leftists on the left side”. The fact that it was an assault on common students and professors by the ABVP goons was overturned by this narrative. From all this, one can be sure about a thing - Universities that open up spaces of debate, dissent and alternative discourse make the fascist state feel insecure and will in turn create extra-judicial situations, with paid media and state machinery for its aid.
The social media has surprisingly taken up this issue very well with twitter and facebook handles like #FightBackDu and #StudentsAgainstABVP going viral. Student community all across the country has extended support to DU and a mass profile picture campaign was also launched. The students shall hopefully struggle against the fascist forces and would reclaim university spaces. DU awaits redemption from hooliganisam and corrupt forces and together we shall move towards a progressive learning environment tha would encourage free thought, debate and dissent.
(Aparna is a B.A Honours student of Miranda House, University of Delhi)