Once again the forces using terror and violence have prevailed over culture and tradition of reason, debate and discussion. It is a dark day in the history of Indian higher educational institutions. Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a name now becoming synonymous with vandalism on academic campuses, forced the cancellation of seminar on ‘Cultures of Protest’ organized by a Literary Society of the English Department at Ramjas College in Delhi on 21 February, 2017. Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid of Jawaharlal Nehru University fame were two of the scheduled speakers. Others included Professor Bimol Akoijam, also of JNU, and film-maker Sanjay Kak. ABVP was objecting to Umar Khalid as a speaker.
Why is the ABVP, student wing of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, averse to engaging in intellectual dialogue to express their different viewpoint if they think they have anything of substance to say? Merely raising ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Vande Mataram’ slogans does not serve the purpose. Do Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid as citizens of this country not have a right to express their opinion? Umar Khalid was organizer of the event on JNU campus to commemorate last year the hanging of Afzal Guru when a huge controversy broke out. Khalid and four others Anirban Bhattacharya, Anant Prakash Narayan, Ashutosh Kumar and Rama Naga were charged with sedition. Shehla Rashid, former Vice President of JNU Students’ Union, was part of the student agitation demanding their release. Umar Khalid is on bail. His charge has not been proved yet. How can he be called anti-national? Is he more anti-national than Dhruv Saxena, the Bhartiya Janata Party’s Information Technology cell district coordinator of Bhopal recently arrested by Madhya Pradesh’s Anti-Terrorist Squad for links with Inter State Intelligence, the Pakistani intelligence agency? Why doesn’t ABVP protest against Dhruv Saxena who was a real threat to the country? Comparatively, Umar Khalid is a harmless intellectual.
ABVP and mainly its parent organization, the RSS, should reflect on what they are doing. By curbing academic freedom they want to produce individuals who would be either incapable of rational thinking or afraid of expressing their opinion, both of which will take the society intellectually backward. There is no genuine academic activity possible without the freedom to think. With the kind of parochial thinking and the arrogance of a legacy of some superior tradition that prevails in RSS, it can lead only to mediocrity. There will be no creation of new knowledge nor will there be any innovation. There will be no development of Science and Technology. We will continue harping on our great past and keep importing knowledge and technology from rich countries. The RSS is causing permanent damage to the autonomy and quality of academic institutions. They probably want institutions which can produce more of their type, who can at best parrot statements about some vague glorious past. After all, slogans and symbols can take you only so far. The proponents of the right wing ideology must think whether they want to remain limited only to exhibitionist display of knowledge or want the educated to acquire some depth in thinking?
This madness in the name of cultural nationalism must stop. The battered professors and students of Ramjas College who have dared to stand up to this hooliganism have exhibited rare courage which is needed to protect the right to freedom of speech and expression, spirit of enquiry and culture of dissent, all of which are essential to existence of democracy as well as for an enlightened society.
How could we have achieved our freedom without a culture of protest? All the stalwarts of freedom struggle were engaged in dissent against the British government. Had there been no culture of protest Mahatma Gandhi could not have given a call for boycott of British goods, could not have taken out the Dandi march or Bhagat Singh could not have undertaken a revolutionary exercise. Nor could Dr. B.R. Ambedkar have been able to launch his Mahad movement for emancipation of dalits. There would have been no Civil Disobedience movement nor the Quit India movement. Neither Jayaprakash Narayan would have been able to free this country from the clutches of Emergency. The ideals of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity embodied in our Constitution have informed our freedom movement. They are the foundation stones of Indian nation. Nationalism based on any other ideology contrary to these values is anti-Constitutional.
RSS and its various affiliates can never understand the importance of ‘culture of protest’ as they never participated in the freedom struggle and got a free ride during the JP movement. JP is criticized by some for having accorded legitimacy to the RSS. Now they have captured power using a democratic system which itself is a product of freedom struggle and now they want to stifle the soul of democracy. By cannily using an idea of religious nationalism they have confused the people in the process of mobilizing their support. So that people don’t question their actions they have a system of doctrination for their cadres which conditions them to accept regimentation. It is hoped that people will see through this design otherwise democracy may become a history in our country.