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This is not the ABVP we knew: What happened at Ramjas & why the Sanghis should be ashamed

Dilip Simeon | Updated on: 25 February 2017, 14:44 IST
(Kamal Singh/PTI)

The violent attack upon a completely peaceful seminar at Ramjas College is unprecedented, not for the behaviour of the RSS-affiliated student body, which is to be expected, given their long-standing attraction to violence and intimidation.

It is unprecedented for the shameless impunity afforded by the police, who allowed peaceful people to be assaulted with stones, a lady lecturer attacked and held under gherao for nearly 5 hours after with a chair being hurled at her, and numerous students and journalists manhandled, assaulted and abused.

The police is duty-bound and empowered to take action, including arrest, in the case of cognisable offences such as rioting and causing injury. They could have acted on the spot, instead of which they allowed the criminal activity to go on for hours, treating the miscreants smilingly like mischievous children.

A detailed account of the events is being prepared by the teachers, which I will post when available. I also have an immediate reaction by a senior Ramjas student who was eyewitness to the events. You can read it here

But the basic point is that there was no, and I repeat, no provocation by the participants of the seminar. They were merely speaking or listening.

How can a Union Government minister talk of this college becoming an anti-India hub? Has he investigated what slogans were raised?

This is an utterly irresponsible statement and shows the tendency of high officials of this government to justify violence in the name of their version of nationalism. Is it their job to encourage hooliganism? Did they see the agenda of the seminar and know in advance what was going to be said and discussed?

No longer the ABVP we knew

The ABVP today is not what it was some decades ago. When I was a teacher at Ramjas (1974-94) I remember ABVP boys attending my classes in Soviet history – perhaps they thought they would get a non-propagandist view of a heavily ideologised past.

I am also reminded of a seminar in early 1988 on the Tamas serial at which they invited me to speak. I did not do so, but my friend Purushottam Agrawal did speak, that too in the company of the East Delhi BJP MP and student leaders of the ABVP.

He gave a stirring rebuttal of their objections to the serial, but was respectfully listened to. Today he would be assaulted for what he said. Thereafter, in the face of many threats, we organised a meeting on Tamas in Ramjas, the story of which may be read here.

At the very least the ABVP boys those days showed a basic respect for their teachers.

I can also say that during the course of the Ramjas struggle (1981-83) over the victimisation of Sita Ram Mali by the college administration, many of them changed their values spontaneously, without any prompting from us.

I have never propagated any ideology to my students, aside from the value I place upon ahimsa and a respect for human life.

Today's ABVP has discarded the most basic values of respect for their teachers, some of whom are being abused and targeted by name. Is it part of Indian culture to assault and abuse your teachers, including lady teachers, all the while shouting Bharat Mata ki jai?

This is no longer the Bhartiya Janta Party, it is Modi's Janta Party. May God help Bharat.

Let ideas be

Persons with objectionable ideas have the right to speak, whether or not we like those ideas. Under no circumstance should they be liable to violent assault. If people do not like certain ideas they are at liberty to question and even condemn the speakers.

Under what law are they permitted to violently attack speakers and members of the audience? Is there some law under which you can commit violent crime by saying you are 'nationalists'? Is your so-called patriotism a permit to violate the law?

The Sanghi's were infuriated that students protested against this disruption by taking out a peaceful rally inside the campus. The rally also called for freedom (azaadi) of speech and assembly – which slogan was deliberately misinterpreted as referring to secessionism.

Now doctored videos are being circulated. The very use of the Hindi word for freedom has now been criminalised. Is the entire country and the use of language to be policed by the RSS? Will the Home Minister and the Delhi Police Commissioner kindly give us a dictionary of words and phrases acceptable to His Highness The Sarsangchaalak?

How can police officers stand by and treat rioters with kid gloves while peaceful citizens are being assaulted? Are they the hirelings of the Sangh Parivar? Did they take an oath of office in the name of the Indian Constitution or to the government of the day?

Every moment that a police official looks the other way when a criminal act takes place before his or her eyes contains the germ of fascist tyranny.

The Ramjas incident

This is what happened in Ramjas College. I witnessed some of it on Tuesday, 21 February, when I was due to speak (at 3PM) on the theme of the civic response to the massacre of 1984. I could not deliver my lecture because rioting was in full swing when I arrived on the campus. I have seen this kind of scenario many times when I was a Ramjas teacher. 

Stones were being thrown, glass shattered, abuses hurled. None of these activities could have taken place without instructions from the higher political controllers of the Sangh. Their activists are assured of soft handling – they know they can indulge in criminal activity and get away with it.

These are crimes against the law, and in a broader sense, they signify an assault on our minds by activists of a totalitarian project. These persons wish to enforce their beliefs upon us and to use political power as a cover for violent activity.

It is our duty as citizens to protect our constitutional rights. More such attacks are to be expected unless we protest vigorously. We all belong to Ramjas.

This is a citation from a book on Nazism written in the 1930’s – Behemoth, The Structure and Practice of National Socialism by Franz Neumann. (republished 1963, p 27). A pdf file may be read here

"(The counter revolution)…tried many forms and devices, but soon learned that it could come to power only with the help of the state machine and never against it… the Kapp Putsch of 1920 and the Hitler Putsch of 1923 had proved this...In the centre of the counter-revolution stood the judiciary. Unlike administrative acts, which rest on considerations of convenience and expediency, judicial decisions rest on law, that is on right and wrong, and they always enjoy the limelight of publicity. Law is perhaps the most pernicious of all weapons in political struggles, precisely because of the halo that surrounds the concepts of right and justice…”

‘Right’, Hocking has said, ‘is psychologically a claim whose infringement is met with a resentment deeper than the injury would satisfy, a resentment that may amount to a passion for which men will risk life and property as they would never do for an expediency’.

When it becomes ‘political’, justice breeds hatred and despair among those it singles out for the attack. Those whom it favours, on the other hand, develop a profound contempt for the very value of justice, they know that it can be purchased by the powerful.

As a device for strengthening one political group at the expense of others, for eliminating enemies and assisting political allies, the law then threatens the fundamental convictions upon which the tradition of our civilisation rests.

Here are some posts relevant to violent censorship in Ramjas and elsewhere:

Venue for a Speech on Tamas - Chronicle of an Event That Should Never Have Happened

Javed Anand - Ms Wadud, we are ashamed

The essay by AK Ramanujan censored by DU's Academic Council

AK Ramanujan works dropped from new DU syllabus

Sambhaji Brigade vandalised the Bhandarkar Institute in Pune in 2004

Ulema now demand expulsion of Taslima Nasrin - Let's defend her right to live & speak in peace

Prof Irfan Habib's remark on AMU minority character causes stir

Academic research on Rushdie's literary work sabotaged by Deoband Ulema


Edited by Jhinuk Sen

The author is a former professor from Ramjas College. You can read his blog here

First published: 24 February 2017, 13:39 IST