On Tuesday (February 21, 2017), the English department of Ramjas College organised an event called ‘Cultures of Protest’. The event was disrupted by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP, a students’ political organisation affiliated to the BJP). Their reason for disrupting the event was that they did not want any ‘anti-national element’ to speak at the event.
The ‘anti-national elements’, according to the ABVP, were Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid of the Jawaharlal Nehru Univeresity (JNU) who were two of the speakers for the event. To protest the disruption and violence by the ABVP, the All India Students’ Association (AISA), the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) and the students of Ramjas College organised a protest march on Wednesday (February 22, 2017). The protest march was again disrupted by the ABVP, and they resorted to violence which injured 20 people including professors and students.
Following this event, there have been a lot of arguments on how the State is trying to curb freedom of speech and trying to ‘saffronise’ the education system. The way the Delhi Police handled the situation has also been severely criticised. While I do support this argument, in this article, I would like to draw attention to the way the Delhi University administration, especially the Vice Chancellor (VC), handled this situation.
It seems that nowadays, the university administration is playing a very passive role in protecting the freedom of the university space. The job of the administration is to provide and protect this university space where students can freely express themselves without any worries. Unfortunately, the administration headed by the VC has failed to ensure this.
On Tuesday (February 21, 2017), when the situation was already tensed, the VC should have stepped in and talked to the Students’ Union leaders. He should have made it clear that violence would not be tolerated and strict action would be taken against those indulging in violence. He should have assured the event’s organisers that the freedom of the university space would be protected.
Furthermore, on Wednesday, he should have been present at the site of the protest to control the crowd. After all, these students, whether they are affiliated to ABVP or some other party, are ‘his’ students. He should have taken moral responsibility to stop the violence and teach the students about the ‘culture of debating’. The university administration headed by the VC has to play an active role to secure the university space, instead of letting the police do the job – a job in which the police has obviously failed miserably.