In the early 19th century, British cultural and social policies introduced Western education of science, economics and polity, albeit minimally, to ‘modernize’ the population of India. The Indian society had stagnated over the past few centuries, stuck in a rut of caste and conventions, and exploited by organized religious corruption. The British idea was to create a market for its industrial products and a society more open to Christian missionaries once it abandoned its own superstitions and ‘archaic’ religions.
The education system, though confined to a few, carried ideas of democracy and anti-imperialism even though it was structured to serve the colonizers. The Indian proved a quick learner and thinker. They absorbed modern ideas of liberty, individualism, and equality rapidly.
This intellectual awakening, led by Ram Mohan Roy who believed in a synthesis of Eastern and Western ideas, was a hopeful ember of individual thoughts even when it belonged to only a minute portion of the society. It culminated in the educated Indian’s analysis of the imperialistic nature of the British empire and the demand of their identity’s assertion. One of the most famous instances would be the Young Bengal movement, led by the Anglo-Indian Henry Vivian Derozio, who taught at the Hindu College, Calcutta. He inspired ideas of free thinking and to question all authority among his students.
And so, these British policies were hastily abandoned in 1858, post- the First War of Independence in 1857. But the motion of reforms was set in the Indian society and there was no turning back.
Why was this brief history lesson necessary?
To remind the present Indian society that public discourse and social engagement are revolutionary. It is why the British took swift action to pull back its education policies. And it is why ABVP goons are afraid of seminars and debates. The spread of ideas promoting an individual’s own ability to think is threatening to their existence. For who can understand the spirit of liberty and humanism enshrined in the Constitution of India, and not immediately see what those who violate it stand for?
Students are active and free thinkers, developing their cognitive ability on their own terms, as they take up both collaborative and dissenting ideas.
The culture of student protests in India is being suppressed violently for a long while now. JNU, HCU, FTII, BHU, KU—there is a systematic suppression being applied to eradicate questions, demands for self-assertion, and enforce assimilation.
Now, this arrives in DU. The on-going violence against students and teachers is a prime example of silencing the individual and persecuting beliefs based on a vision of a dignified life.
What happened at Ramjas College is not new. But this particular incident highlights, close to home, the systematic attack in the light of the recent wave of pushback against liberal ideas across the world.
In the guise of national pride, those drenched in the vitriol of fascist ideologies swooped in around the campus to create an atmosphere waiting to ignite. Then, with no support from the police or the Vice Chancellor, the students got caught in the fray. This, in turn, was used to turn the narrative around, painting the students as provocative and violent. Videos without context spread on social media and public opinion is now being turned against the DU students, using statements from various other occasions spoken by those invited.
The entire scenario seems dishearteningly familiar. Any attempt to contextualize videos, quotes, pictures is met with an organized resistance that uses the tactic of counter-questioning and derailing the moment actual logic breaks their bubble.
This is a vicious cycle with repercussions that a narrowed perspective of short-term selfish political goals is heedless of. It flames the inflammatory rhetoric that preys on fears. It feeds the alienation which, when explodes, is conveniently de-contextualized, again, and labeled “radicalism” that is deemed anti-national and in need of control by force.
If this isn’t a tactic picked straight from the British imperialism that leached the bones of South Asia for the pursuance of its own supremacy with exactly these steps, what is?
There are arguments from the cautious liberal of India who tries to draw parallels in the Western world, primarily the US. I understand the measures were extreme, but what can one do? Do you think the US will allow anyone to speak like this in its Universities? For all of US’s international faults, its public—which overwhelmingly did not vote for its current President—is, since November 2016, vocal against fascism in its domestic life at least. The historic Women’s March that surfaced on every continent, the UC Berkeley protests against the bigot Milo Yiannopoulos, the protests against the capitalist-driven Dakota Access Pipeline, the Black Lives Matter movement, the resurgence of Antifa and the Black Bloc—everything is an answer to those who have settled in their comfort.
The fight for free thinking, liberty, equality, and against fascism is arduous and often stumbling, but history is proof that it always prevails.