Vinod Mubayi and Raza Mir


The unrelenting attacks on Dalit, progressive, and minority students in universities all around the country by right-wing thugs in cahoots with the police, orchestrated by the Central government, continue unabated. The latest episode is taking place, once again, in the University of Hyderabad (UOH) with brutal attacks by police on students protesting the return of the Vice Chancellor Apparao who had been sent on leave pending an enquiry against him for his role in the death of Rohith Vemula in January. Vemula, a Dalit post-graduate scholar in the university, had been hounded and discriminated against by the university administration to the point where he took his own life, an act that has been labeled an “institutional murder.”


Last month the focus was on JNU in New Delhi where several students were charged by the police under the law of sedition that dates back to the time of the British Raj. Notwithstanding the fact that the very idea of a “seditious utterance” runs counter to the principle of free speech enshrined in the Constitution, different governments since the time of independence have let this colonial law remain on the books largely because it gives them a convenient handle to harass and intimidate political opponents. Under the current, authoritarian BJP regime, the use of this law for emasculating the opposition and harassing those who dare to voice their opinion can be expected to increase. Already, numerous students and professors have been dragged into court and slapped with charges based on false, manipulated, and doctored video “evidence.” Although many of the JNU students who were charged last month have now been able to get bail, their future life will be shackled by having to face trial. Exceptional and gifted individuals can, of course, use this opportunity to lay bare the false and hypocritical face of the administration as the president of the JNU students union has done, but the chilling effect of such prosecution on the right to free expression of an average person can hardly be discounted.


The UOH event shows graphically the devious and malign role being played by the HRD ministry, which controls central universities all over the country. After Vemula’s death, an inquiry instituted by the ministry led to the VC being sent on leave while his role was being investigated. Under the administration of the acting VC, the university was slowly returning to normal. However, Apparao suddenly returned to reclaim his position a few days ago; the vast majority of the students, barring a minority belonging to BJP’s student wing ABVP, naturally protested as they feared that Apparao would tamper with evidence to exculpate himself before the inquiry cold be completed. However, the students and the faculty’s protest was met with a brutal assault by the Telengana police. There were many injuries and several students are hospitalized. The administration also cut of power and water to the hostels and closed the messes leaving the students with no place to stay or eat. In all this, it is very likely that the HRD ministry was complicit. Despite the fact that the VC had originally been the target of an enquiry and sent on leave pending an investigation, the fact that the ministry not only allowed him to return but acquiesced in all the other repressive and violent actions of the police shows its true character.


A parallel controversy is being created over slogans pertaining to the government’s, or rather the RSS, concept of nationalism. A Muslim legislator in Maharashtra was expelled from the assembly for refusing to say Bharat Mata ki Jai (victory to Mother India), which has obvious Hindu religious overtones, rather than the secular slogan Jai Hind. This form of harassment based on petty cultural nationalism is not unique to India. It has manifested in other countries when attempts are made to coerce ethnic, linguistic, religious, minorities to adopt the cultural symbols of the majority. However, what is happening in India is the enforcement of this cultural nationalism by street thugs allied to the RSS and its vast array of fronts and groups like Bajrang Dal or assorted senas and the tacit endorsement of their actions by the police responding to their political masters. This is the slippery road to fascism that all votaries of democracy and freedom have to be mindful of.


Finally, it needs to be noted that the repression against Adivasis and their supporters by the BJP government in Chhattisgarh is intensifying. Earlier, the courageous activist Soni Sori, a member of AAP, was targeted by unknown assailants, very likely police agents, by having a toxic chemical splased on her face. Now the police are even targeting journalists who have written about police atrocities. Respected human-rights activists like Malini Subramaniam and now Bela Bhatia are being literally forced out of the state. A well-known commentator has written that all the provisions of the Indian Constitution as well as the directives of the Supreme Court coming to a grinding halt at the borders of this state! Not that they are being observed more meticulously elsewhere under the Modi regime.

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