Editorial Note:On August 11, 2016, the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, hosted retired army officer Major General Gagandeep Bakshi as part of its yearly extramural lectures. With Independance Day just a few days away, Gen. Bakshi used the occasion to deliver a speech that has been termed as ‘jingoistic’, ‘hate-mongering’ for its controversial comments on Pakistan and the ahimsa movement. While Gen. Bakshi is known for his patriotic fervour, having caused a similar reaction to his comments on Manipur, this speech has drawn comparisons to similar nationalist comments made by Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Abhinav Surya, a student, who took offence against the remarks made by Gen. Bakshi, penned an open letter addressed to the director of IIT Madras.
I am writing this letter to you with a bleeding heart, worried about the recent EML lecture by Mr. GD Bakshi on August 11, 2016. I am still not able to digest the fact the institute has given a platform to such a speech filled with hatred, instigating violence among the students. A lecture that was heavily loaded with brewing enmity, inhumanity and glorification of brutality.
I hope that EML team would present to you the video recording of the lecture. I request you to kindly watch it so that it’ll be clear that this is not an empty accusation. The speaker was constantly making direct and indirect comments that were instilling a sense utter disrespect for human life and a deep-rooted sense of hatred and enmity towards the people of our neighbouring countries. Right from when he glorified the ‘skull-smashing elephants’ of ancient India to him saying, and I quote, “Fight Pakistan. That will strengthen the unity!” the lecture was designed to foster irrational jingoism.
The level of hatred in his speech was going out of proportions when he said, and I quote, “In our generation, we split Pakistan into 2. Your generation should split it into 4. Only then we can live in peace!” And later he went on to glorify nuclear weaponry and justified the usage of it (At this point, I am ignoring other horrendous comments made about justification of usage of metal pellets against civilians in Kashmir, which has been severely criticised by several human rights organisations including Amnesty International; misrepresentation of facts regarding the history, unscientific claims by quoting mythology as facts, glorification of lighting cities up on fire, expression of clear-cut affiliation to a particular political party, etc., which may be considered as politically debatable topics). The underlying implication behind his constant call to “give tit-for-tat” was for calling out students to take up violent aggressiveness as their strategy (This might even be the reason for the violent behavior of few students in the hall who were intimidating the students who were trying to question the speaker).
The speaker made the utmost insulting comment when he mocked our freedom movement and made fun of it. According to him, only Indians in the Indian Army got us freedom and whatever everyone else was doing in the name of ‘Ahimsa’ was nonsense! This is a complete insult to the lakhs and lakhs of masses who fought bravely against the British imperialism. I am unable to imagine the fact that we, IIT Madras, gave the speaker a platform to make such insulting comments about our freedom movement, especially in the name of a ‘Special Independence Day Lecture’. If this does not show IIT-M in a bad light, then I don’t know what else does!
At this point, I may be brushed aside as a person with certain political affiliations who cannot tolerate contesting views. But let me make it clear that I have not been so seriously concerned in the past about several other lectures with contents contesting my views. But this is not a mere speech with contesting views, but a dangerous hate speech! Anyone who loves humanity, anyone who loves people and not symbols, anyone who wants to eliminate hate and spread love would have cried at the level of hate-mongering in the lecture!
As much as I want freedom of expression to be upheld, I am seriously concerned, as a student of IIT Madras, about the sustenance of peace and harmony among various students of IIT Madras. I hope necessary actions will be taken.
Indian Institute of Technology,Madras
The director of IIT Madras, Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthi responded to the open letter by distancing the involvement of the management in arranging for speakers, as it is a student-run initiative. However, he pressed Abhinav to take it up with the concerned team.
You may be aware that the EML team decides the speakers the students want to invite. They invite people from all walks of life and with widely varying views. They do not check with the Admin on this. If the speaker is a constitutional functionary, they check my availability since there are protocol issues to be complied with. I am copying the EML core on this email. I request them to look into your complaint to see if any legal boundaries were crossed with regard to incitement to violence, etc. No public speaker, EML or otherwise, can cross these. Beyond that, it is up to the EML core to decide what is the width of the spectrum of views the students want to hear, contest, debate. You are also a student here, so please interact with them and influence their decisions on the matter. These are not official events of the Institute, and so do not reflect on the Institute in any manner.
With warm regards
Amidst the attention it has received, Gen Bakshi has penned a strongly worded response dismissing the claims made in Abhinav’s open letter and criticising the ‘leftist’ media while doubling down on some of the controversial statements he had made regarding Pakistan.
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