Why Are Academic Debates Considered Dangerous But Not Goondaism?

Posted by Zoya B. in Campus Watch, Politics
February 24, 2017

Editor’s note: On February 21, members of Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) locked down the Ramjas College seminar room and pelted stones in protest against an invitation to JNU students to address a seminar saying they are “anti-nationals”. A day after, violent clashes followed on campus. Zoya Bhatt, a student at Ramjas college, writes how her ‘chilled out college’ turned into a political battle zone, why students at Ramjas protested and why it is time to stop following the mob.

College is supposed to be a safe space. A space where you can think, learn and question without fear. A home away from home, a respite from monotony. It is here that you become the person that you are going to be for the rest of your life.

But alas! this peace, this sense of belonging I associated with my college was rendered a severe blow by a bunch of goons who believe themselves to be the sole benefactors of this nation. Thrashing professors, dragging girls by the hair and chasing them down the street while threatening to rape them, vandalizing property and a lot more, they did it all in the name of desh prem, in a bid to ‘protect this country’ from “anti-nationals”.

It all started about four days ago when the English department of Ramjas College, in partnership with the literary society organized a talk titled ‘Cultures of Protest’ on February 21. As a student of the college, there is one thing I’d like to clarify at the very beginning. Contrary to what people think, this was not a talk that was aimed at mocking authority, but one meant to celebrate the power of dissent and freedom of speech. Dignitaries from all walks of life were invited to speak at the event which was scheduled to take place at the conference room of the college. Umar Khalid, was one among the many who were invited. Why was he invited? Well, he was invited because of his expertise in the field of tribal studies. He was to present a paper on the tribal people in Bastar, that doesn’t touch the Kashmir issue even remotely.

But lo and behold! ABVP got to know about this ‘anti-national’ propaganda and in all their pompousness came to disrupt the event. They were successful and Khalid was not allowed to come to college since neither the police nor the organizers could guarantee his safety.

This was not it. Obviously, seeing what was happening, students and teachers of the college also got angry. And in retaliation, students, remaining guest teachers and speakers also began chanting slogans of azaadi or freedom. We chanted slogans demanding freedom from fascist politicos who are hell bent on shutting down voices and curtailing our freedom of speech. Freedom from those who terrorize and vandalize when they do not have anything to say, have nothing to defend their unjust actions.

Photo by Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

But unfortunately, most people don’t get this. When they hear about azaadi, they automatically associate it with Kashmir. And this is how the safest and most chilled out college on campus turned into a political battleground in a matter of minutes. Suddenly, it wasn’t about the college anymore. It became a full blown fight of the left vs. the right, ABVP vs. AISA, nationalists vs. anti nationals.

The media began reporting this incident as a political clash that turned ugly. But this is not the case. What happened at Ramjas is none of this crap. And I can say this with certainty as a student of the college, who witnessed all that happened. We didn’t protest because we were defending affiliations. We protested for upholding our right to dissent and freedom of speech. For helping maintain an environment of thinking and healthy discussion. Against violence, vandalism and hooliganism. Against the dominance of political parties in universities across the country.

Do you think that this qualifies as anti-national? Do you think that abusing and attacking qualifies as nationalism? Did Gandhi (a PROVEN patriot and nationalist) ever advocate violence? I don’t believe so. Why is it that potentially fruitful debates are considered to be toxic and dangerous while goondaism is not? There are so many questions that remain. So many questions that only the people of this nation can answer, but only after they put their brains to use. But that will only happen once they cease to be influenced by a mob.

Please remember what we are fighting for and what we are fighting against. The incident at Ramjas is NOTHING like what happened in JNU last year. We love and respect this nation as much as you do and we will fight to uphold the dignity of our university, professors and constitution. Stop following the mob and start following your mind.

Zoya Bhatt is an intern with Youth Ki Awaaz for the batch of February-March 2017.