Even as we mark the 71st Independence Day of our country, dissent seems to meet with the same fate as it used to in the colonial era, with suppression and blatant character shaming. This is exactly what has happened with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) Hyderabad which decided to conduct a talk on Dissent in Educational Spaces by inviting scholar Shehla Rashid to share her views on the matter. It seems that dissent and free speech never goes well with fascist forces because dissent is dangerous for the existence of fascism.
An article titled ‘Save young minds at TISS Hyderabad from waves of Naxalite and anti-national propaganda’ was published on Postcard News, a fake news site. This is the same website which Alt News refers to as a website producing mass fake news and has also exposed some of its blatant lies attempting to disturb the peace of the country with an intention to instigate violence. The more interesting part about Postcard News is that its founders are followed on Twitter by our Prime Minister and some cabinet leaders. Well, that’s a different matter altogether.
The website accuses Azad Mann, a student body of TISS Hyderabad which conducts programs, talks, film screenings, debates, and discussions on national and international issues, of being a breeding ground for Naxalite supporters. It also accuses the body of forcefully manufacturing consent in favour of Marxists-Leninists. As absurd as it can go, the article fails to understand that the body is just an independent student group of TISSians who are deciding what they want in their educational space together. Azad Mann is a club against casteist, homophobic and patriarchal ideas, a reason clear enough why it did not go well with conservative forces when they decided to discuss the state of dissent in the country’s educational spaces.
Some of the activities conducted by the body were discussions with Gorkhaland activists to better understand their problems and the reason behind the ongoing friction, along with the screening of documentaries on people’s struggle in different parts of the country. This is the same body which protested the cut in scholarship for SC, ST and OBC students. They do not use violence but art forms such as street plays, paintings, poems and articles to express their ideas and views. If expressing opinions or say having an opinion is an issue with the oppressive forces, it cannot be helped since the youth can develop their idea of nation.
The article also says that any ‘dissenting’ voice in the campus is suppressed by labels such as fascist or Nazi. The article again forgets that TISS is a place which gives its students complete freedom to choose how they want their institute to be like. It is a place which never dictates to its students on what and how something is to be done. It is instead the students who decide their way of expressing. So if there would have been a dissenting voice as the article says, the first support to that voice would have been extended by TISS as a community itself. It does not believe that the youth of the country need to be spoon-fed either ideologies or any prevalent ‘ism’. It allows them to think freely and then stand for what they think is right.
Within the inclusive normative framework in which TISS is operating, it is important to look at the extent of freedom of free thinking critically. The present steps that the administration is taking to secure the Institute to uphold its immunity from the chaotic victimization going on in other universities are under question. In order to open up the mind, universities must be provided with the adequate freedom to function through upholding academic principles. The situation of TISS is getting worse as it is a centrally funded university. Regular fund cuts and subsequent scholarship and aid cuts make the marginalized section of the country vulnerable in relation to access. Due to the regular government intervention, TISS has become an interim location of theoretical Brahmins against the empirical Shudras. This is a huge paradigm shift in the history of TISS.
Therefore, it becomes even more important to stand up for the motive behind the talk. Dissent in educational spaces needs to be ensured and secured in every possible manner because our nation wants an army of thinkers who could take the country to new heights, instead of a bunch of loyalists who are taught to obey and follow. If our motive is to lead the world and we think that the youth is our biggest asset, then we have to make sure that they get an environment of freedom to express themselves rather than be labelled Naxalites, anti-nationals or right-wing radicals. Why should one be afraid of expression? Different ideologies and different views have always lived peacefully in this country. A country’s educational spaces are the places which lead the foundation for the country’s future. The more diverse and open these spaces are the better it would be for our nation.