By Anisha Padma:
Despite arriving one hour late in front of Shastri Bhawan, I thought I would be able to catch the beginning of the planned protest against the appointment of the new FTII Chairman, Gajendra Chauhan. However, as I would later find out from numerous accounts, the Delhi police wasted no time in violently forcing hundreds of peaceful protesters into buses where they would be unlawfully detained for more than four hours at Parliament Street police station.
I quickly ran to the police station at 3:30PM, and found myself in the company of several concerned friends who were communicating on their mobile phones with the detainees inside. Although the protest was shut down at Shastri Bhavan, there were loud chants and percussive sounds coming from inside the grounds of the police station compound, where the protesters were being kept. Aban, an independent artist who was also detained, later said, “The police was trying to make sure we didn’t receive any media attention. They would let us shout slogans inside the complex because it meant that no one could see us.”
These sort of containment tactics from the police have unfortunately become the norm in Delhi. Sudhanva Deshpande, a witness to the violence at Shastri Bhavan, noted that “the police first targeted the main organizers…those who were raising slogans as they were the most visible. After that happened, those who sat down were also dragged into buses. And even when people were being forced into buses, nobody was being violent as far as the protesters go. The only people being violent were the police.” When another witness, Mala Hashmi, inquired with the police on why they were arresting people who were sitting down, the police responded with invoking Section 144 – making it unlawful for more than 5 people to congregate at a place.
After spending more than four hours in the police compound, the protesters were released. They were more than happy to give interviews despite not being given any access to water or food. Satya Prakash, a student from Delhi University, felt that he needed to stand up to the saffronisation of higher education in India. He states, “You have this guy who did soft-porn movies as the Chairman of one of the most prestigious institutes in India. It doesn’t make sense and it’s clearly political.” Nakul Singh Sawhney, noted filmmaker and one of the organizers of the event, commented that, “The government is actually embarrassed by the appointment they have made. They don’t want people to know that there’s a growing anger against these sort of appointments.” Samar, another activist who was detained, was frustrated that the police did not seem to know what was going on. “When I asked every single police officer their opinion regarding the situation, they had none,” he said.
Regardless of the police’s crackdown on the protests, the activists do not seem deterred. Aban assured, “These protests will continue until the state stops these appointments.” The government is politicizing the leaderships of higher education and thus placing those actors – quite literally – who favor a Hindutva agenda rather than individuals who have a progressive vision for the future of the institute. She continued, “The Vice-Chancellor of JNU is going to step down in a few months and there’s already talk of another saffron appointment there.” If the government prioritizes the furthering of their agenda rather than the best courses of action for maintaining the quality of education at the institutes, higher education will undoubtedly suffer. And in addition to the issue of changing leadership in higher education, there is a larger issue of the stifling of voices of dissent. Aban compared that “Under Congress, we were at least allowed to protest. But under this government, there is no tolerance for speaking out.” And in spite of it all, the protesters refuse to back down and will continue to assert their demands.
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