It was 21st of November. Around 6 pm. I had a class from 2 to 4 pm and after the class I was with some of my friends, when it occurred to me that I was supposed to wish a friend for his birthday. I had also received a message that day from him inviting me to a havan at his room, to celebrate his birthday. Not that people performing religious ceremonies on special occasions is a new concept to me.
Back home, I have attended many such birthday ‘celebrations’, which usually took place in courtyards of temples, or with a makeshift mandap installed outside their homes. I had heard that certain students, acquaintances to me, had performed a havan inside their extremely claustrophobic hostel rooms earlier also. But, this being a direct invitation from a guy whom I have known for some time – someone who kept his political affiliations and personal relations apart – I decided, no matter how late it was, to go to his room. I reached there at around 6.20 pm. Before entering the room, in the hostel premises, I had seen certain people discussing something very furiously. I assumed that they were certainly discussing what was going on in my friend’s room; however I ignored them and went ahead.
There was hardly any space inside the room, given that around 20 people were already inside, and five or six people were standing at the door. All the people present there were students, most of whom I knew, and were friends of the birthday boy. Since I was new to this concept (of lighting a fire in a tiny room with minimum ventilation, with 20 or so people inside!) they made way for me to enter, and somebody offered me some space to sit on the ground.
Seeing some familiar faces around and having greeted my friend, the birthday boy, with a smile, I sat down. By the looks of it, the ceremony was about to be over. The havan kund was removed from the room, and so was all other stuff which is used in a havan. I didn’t notice it but someone kept it outside, in the balcony behind the room. Everybody stood up except the birthday boy.
The person who conducted the ceremony instructed all to shower akshat (rice grains) and flower petals on the guy, whilst repeating after him certain chants in Sanskrit, which basically meant “long live X!” and “may you make your family, society and nation proud”, etc. This was the end of the havan. Sweets were distributed afterwards. The birthday boy got up, and everybody took turns to greet him and wish him. When my turn came, I went to my friend, hugged him and wished him a happy birthday. Afterwards, I found my way outside the room. I stood there for a few minutes, meeting other friends and chit-chatting.
At around 6.50 pm, a middle aged person (whom I later realized was the hostel warden), came to the door of the room and asked my friend to come out. He was not yelling, but his voice was stern. When my friend came outside, the warden asked him what was going on in his room. “There was a havan being performed“, he answered. The warden went away. I heard some angry murmurs inside the room, especially that of a girl, probably objecting to the warden disrupting the celebrations. However, I decided to leave after this.
What happened after my going away remains a mystery to me. The way the whole incident got hyped and politicised and the reports of the warden being allegedly accused of sexual harassment, passing communal and casteist remarks, and of allegedly kicking the havan samagri and hurting religious sentiments seems absurd. I asked the birthday boy about the chronology of the events since the one time that the warden came in my presence, nothing happened. He said that after I left, the warden came back with other wardens and security guards, and did all that he was being accused of. Let’s keep in mind some key points over here:
1. I am all in for fire safety within hostels. And I totally support the warden for having swiftly acted on a “complaint” about smoke coming out of a room. This could have resulted in a disastrous situation had anything gone wrong. Had he not come to the room and inquired and god forbid, something would have happened, guess who was going to be blamed? Again, the Warden.
2. Who reported the complaint to the warden? Who were those people, standing near the gate of the hostel and conspiring? Was it necessary to blow all of this out of proportion? (apparently yes, because such political opportunities are rare, having already known the sensitivity of the situation between the warden and the owner of the room, who happened to have certain “political leanings”).
3. Let’s talk about the people in the room and the complaints lodged against the warden. Most of the students present there were from the same centre and knew each other very well. Also, most of them happen to have the same political leaning as the birthday boy. Can their testimony of the incident be trusted? There needs to be a thorough examination of these so-called witnesses.
4. So, according to the complaint, the warden, who belongs to a certain religious sect, came inside the room and “kicked” the havan samagri. What havan samagri? Wasn’t the havan over before the warden came in for the second time? Wasn’t all the stuff used in the ceremony already disposed off to the balcony or some other location?
5. On the charge of sexual harassment: so the warden came inside the room, found the complainant, harassed her in front of her 20 or so friends in the room, and these students (who are all mature adults, all above 21, by the way) did nothing and didn’t lodge any kind of protest.
All of thesecontrasting circumstantial evidences do not fit in together. I recently spoke to another friend in the campus, who is in the same centre as the warden. He said the warden was a gentle, mature and sane person, and that he could not believe that he could do any of the things which he has been accused of.
I, being an apolitical person, in an environment which is highly politicised and polarised based on your political leanings, am trying to find a rational explanation to the incident, which I believe never happened, or has been blown out of proportion. Many in the campus also feel the same way. The way the incident is being showcased by media is what people at the helm of the Sangathan want it to be. The guy who celebrated his birthday is being asked to shut up and let the drama continue (making him equally responsible!). A police officer investigating the case is being asked to not close the case, given how ‘they’ see it as an opportunity. An innocent professor is being harassed, due to his religious beliefs.