“Right-Wing Attack On Free Speech”: Pondicherry Univ. Stops Student Magazine Distribution

Posted on August 4, 2016 in Campus Watch

By Abhishek Jha:

Distribution of a literary magazine of the students’ council of Pondicherry University has been effectively banned following protests on August 1 by BJP and ABVP members, according to reports. More than 3,000 copies of the magazine are locked inside the room used by the council, a student associated with the magazine told YKA. The magazine ‘Widerstand’ (German for Resistance), a first of its kind in the university, is critical of the central government and MHRD.

BJP and ABVP members had burnt copies of the magazine on August 1, following which the MHRD had reportedly sought a response on the issue from the University. The University has replied that the situation is calm and under control. Prof. P. Moorthy, the Dean of Students’ Welfare and chief editor of the magazine was also issued a show-cause notice by the University on August 2 and has reportedly replied putting blame on the university administration.

The magazine pays tribute to Ajith Kumar, Rohith Vemula, Monisha, Saranya, and Priyanka– students who allegedly faced caste discrimination or harassment by college authorities in their respective colleges and subsequently committed suicide- as “martyrs of institutional murders”. The editorial in the magazine, which YKA has accessed, says that “a year has passed by where the democratic nation has turned in to a fascist one where Dalits are burned alive and the educational institutions were saffronized”. The magazine opens with a translation of an article by Dr. Pramod Meena, Assitant Professor, Department of Hindi, discusses the “institutional murder” of Rohith Vemula. The magazine also discusses the various student protests across the country that took place in the past year.

The aforementioned student told YKA that when the magazine committee was called by the Vice Chancellor and the Registrar for an enquiry on the matter, it was this portion that they wanted removed. They also asked the students to give a written explanation on the matter. However, the student told YKA that they instead asked for a written communication asking them to furnish such an explanation and when the said communication wasn’t provided, they refused to give an explanation. They have also refused to expunge the portions in contention.

Dr. Meena, when asked to comment on the matter, told YKA in an e-mail that in his opinion as a writer, the matter concerns a “clear right-wing attack on the question of freedom of speech”. He also said that this must be seen as a “conspiracy to sow thorns of divisiveness and hatred on the land of Periyar”. He also cited the case of freedom fighters to explain that they all were critical of the (British) Raj and the government. “Can you call them anti-national? Yes, some people can say that, because they don’t have anybody worth standing in the line of these people”, he wrote.

According to reports, students staging a demonstration in support of the magazine were attacked by a group of some 15 students. There was also a simultaneous demonstration by ABVP students in front of the offices of the Dean of Students’ Welfare demanding an official ban on the magazine with the allegation that it has ‘anti-national’ content. The student associated with the magazine told YKA that they tried to file a complaint with the police but they refused to do so. However, he said, the registrar has assured the students that action will be taken against those involved in the attack.

The Office of the Registrar, when contacted, told YKA that the Registrar was not available. The Assistant Registrar’s offices did not respond to calls.