Close on the heels of Delhi’s Ramjas College, Savitribai Phule Pune University campus became the site of ABVP hooliganism last week. Students Federation of India (SFI) activists were attacked by ABVP goons on February 24 night inside the campus while putting up posters of a protest programme. Nasir Sheikh, PhD student and President of SFI’s Pune University unit, Sandeep Marbhal, MA student and Secretary of the unit, two other PhD students Satish Gore and Satish Padalkar and an MPhil student Satish Debade were brutally beaten. What is more, the injured SFI leaders were taken to police custody and a case slapped against them! The local police connived with ruling party elements to misrepresent the incident as a case of ‘clash’ between two student organizations but the truth is that it was a premeditated act of violence by ABVP. Apart from Ramjas college incident, BJP legislator Prashant Paricharak’s controversial comments in Solapur insulting wives of Army men, Education Minister Vinod Tawde threatening Polytechnic students and recent attack by ABVP on some Dalit students in Aurangabad university had caused much churning among Pune university students. The SFI was campaigning among the students on all these issues and had called for a protest demonstration inside the campus. It was certain that ABVP would be doomed in the campus if a democratic climate of open debate and freedom of assembly prevailed. That is why ABVP resorted to muscle power in Pune University.
But the violence that they unleashed has only galvanized the student and youth in a widening resistance against ABVP’s muscle flexing. On February 27, hundreds of students assembled in a protest demonstration organized by SFI in front of University gate denouncing ABVP violence, mischievous Police intervention and undemocratic stance of University authorities. Youth volunteers from Pune city under DYFI banner joined them. The police who sought to thwart the demonstration initially had to back out when the number of protesters swelled to many hundreds. SFI Central Secretariat member Datta Chavan, State President Mohan Jadhav, University Unit president Nasir Sheikh and DYFI Pune District President Jnaneswar Mote addressed the protest meeting. Later the leaders met the Vice Chancellor demanding strict action against ABVP goons and instituting democratic student life in the campus.
On the same day, students and youth under the leadership of SFI and DYFI came out on the streets in several towns across Maharashtra shouting slogans against ABVP, BJP and RSS, singing songs in protest and burning effigies. Demonstrations were held in Junnar, Karad, Jalgaon, Dindori, Solapur, Beed, Nanded University, Parbhani, Amravati city, Nandgaon Khandeshwar and many other places.
In Mumbai, renowned film maker Anand Patwardhan, AIDWA national General Secretary Mariam Dhawale, Firoz Mithibhorwala of ‘Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy’, CPI(M) leaders Ashok Dhawale and Shailendra Kamble and many other eminent citizens joined the student and youth protesters. Addressing the youth and students, Anand Patwardhan outlined the track record of ABVP, another arm of RSS which was formed when RSS was banned after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. They are now roaming around terrorizing students and teachers. Patwardhan said ABVP does not have any patriotic legacy, instead they have inherited the legacy of Savarkar who begged for mercy from British imperialism. Mariam Dhawale said the despicable reaction to Gurmehar Kaur is just an indication of pathological patriarchal mindset of ABVP and the entire Sangh Parivar. She said the government has nothing to offer to millions of people facing starvation and malnutrition but the ruling Party dictates what to eat, what to wear and whom to marry. Dr. Ashok Dhawle said that after BJP came to power in 2014, the liberal and democratic space in campuses have shrunk alarmingly in the country. The tragic experience of Rohith Vemula, the attack on JNU students, disappearance of Najeeb and the spate of incidents involving the ABVP at universities in Pune, Delhi, JNU, Allahabad Jadhavpur and other Universities demonstrate the intensity of attack on democracy in campuses. ABVP is spearheading this assault but it is no secret that it is acting under patronage of BJP government, he said.
It is a fact that majoritarian communal forces dominate politics and social life in Maharashtra today. But the way hundreds of students of Pune University courageously rallied against the attack on SFI leaders and the protests that occurred in various towns showed that resistance against rightwing authoritarianism is gathering momentum in the state.