Communal elements have entered classrooms of top educational institutions of country, students’ voices stifled

Students in the top educational institutions of the country feel stifled as they can not openly voice their opinions. The hounding of students in many universities can not be overlooked

Protesting students of Jamia Millia Islamia
Protesting students of Jamia Millia Islamia

Humra Quraishi

The sheer harassment meted out to students of the New Delhi situated university Jamia Millia Islamia has a stark pattern to it. The only fault of the students was that they raised their voice against Israeli participation in a seminar on their university campus!

In fact, the hounding of the students in several of the top-ranking universities of the country can not be overlooked. In the last few years, there’s been one horrifying incident after another on the campuses of the Hyderabad Central University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, Allahabad University, Benaras Hindu University, Aligarh Muslim University, Lucknow University…the list is long.

In fact, the right-wing intrusion right inside the Hyderabad Central University was blatantly writ large at the beginning of 2016, after Rohith Vemula’s suicide on the university campus. That was just the very start to a series of onslaughts on the students of the various universities of the country. Mind you, each time a different alibi was used to create friction and tension amongst students; many a time morphed and fake images were used to hound students. Even sedition charges were slapped on some of them.

The very apparent intrusion and tweaking of the syllabi and texts also can not be ignored; the changing of historical facts if not deleting entire chapters from the syllabi, to bring about changes in the very history of the country, recent and past. It’s important to note here that the RSS-affiliated Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas, headed by Dina Nath Batra, had sent a long list of recommendations to the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) demanding a host of changes in its textbooks: to remove English, Urdu, and Arabic words, a poem by the revolutionary poet Pash and a couplet by Mirza Ghalib, the thoughts of Rabindranath Tagore, extracts from painter MF Husain’s autobiography etc.

Batra also wanted the removal of particular facts or factors like references to the Mughal emperors as “benevolent”, the BJP as a “Hindu” party, the National Conference as “secular”, an apology tendered by former prime minister Manmohan Singh over the 1984 riots, and a sentence that “nearly 2,000 Muslims were killed in Gujarat in 2002”. In fact, the earlier demands of Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas were even fulfilled and these were for the removal of AK Ramanujan’s essay -Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation- from the undergraduate syllabus of the University of Delhi, together with the demand of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus not be sold in India. Yes, Ramanujan’s essay was removed from DU’s reading list, and Penguin India, the publisher of Doniger’s book, pulled it from circulation!

Communal elements have entered classrooms of the so-called top educational institutions. Students have told me that many a time they have been cautious not to pick up arguments with the right-wing elements. Why? Because it's easy to throw anti-national charges on them together with the so-called ‘terror angle’! They pointed out that for the right-wing establishment, there could a hundred definitions of terrorism and terrorists. They also pointed out instances of the ‘disappearance’ of the likes of JNU student Najeeb Ahmad who has been ‘missing’, after he had picked up a fight with right-wing students on the JNU campus.

In fact, this brings to focus another related factor- when a Muslim student has to be arrested or detained or harassed or tortured by the State forces, there could be yet another set of alibis too. That of ‘ISIS sympathisers’ or Al Qaeda ‘agents’ or else ‘Azaadi’ renderers. One wonders at the authenticity of such charges and arrests! Are they terrorists or are they terrorised by the State? If they are labelled ‘ISIS sympathisers’ who decides the level of that so-called ‘sympathy’ and also the very authenticity to those charges? Will the arrested boys be given a chance to tell their side of the story?

The situation more than compounds if the targeted students happen to be Kashmiri students. Many of those incidents of violence come to mind where Kashmiri students have been humiliated if not attacked even in the so-called top-ranking educational institutions of the country. In fact, even those Kashmiri students who do not venture out of the Valley are facing another set of hurdles – disruption of classes for weeks if not months, dismal placement and job scenario, no student unions or other platforms to list out grievances. And the right-wing intrusion right into academic institutions of the Kashmir Valley can not be overlooked. The unrest witnessed in the summer of 2016 on the campus of the Srinagar based NIT (National Institute of Technology) was said to have been triggered off by the right-wing elements, provoking a large number of the non-Kashmiri students to leave the campus/ hostels, after clashes broke out between the local Kashmiri students and the outstation students over ‘nationalism’.

In Srinagar, over the last several years, I have also seen students reacting very vocally to the barbaric killings of the Palestinians by the Israeli forces. These protests start off as peaceful protests but end up turning bloody because of the police firing and killings! In fact, in 2014, a major tragedy had taken place when the security forces fired at a 14 year old student protestor in the Valley, who died on the spot. The unarmed boy’s fault was that he was protesting in a non-violent way at Israel government’s killings of Palestinians in the Gaza Settlement. Though a massive outcry erupted over the killing of the 14-year-old student, the then Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj had refused to comment on the tragedy. Saying that she would not like to comment on the issue and nor on the Israel – Palestinian crisis.

Well, not much seems to have changed in these five years. After all, today when this crisis erupted in the Jamia Millia Islamia over the students’ reacting sharply over the participation of Israeli delegate in a seminar-meet in the university campus, the authorities seemed hell-bent on maintaining a seemingly pro-Israeli stand. Why? Is Israel more important than our students! Can’t we Indians cry out against inhuman tactics unleashed on the Palestinians and with that boycott Israel?

In fact, last week, in a notice issued to this university, the Delhi Minorities Commission has raised several pertinent points, including this one;

To quote from DMC’s notice - “Apparently JMI authorities are unaware about the international BDS movement in which many universities in the East and West are boycotting Israel which is occupying Palestinian lands and is subjecting Palestinians in the occupied territories to worst inhuman treatment.”

Perhaps, needless for me to add the fact that a government that is harsh to the young is doomed. Instead of expanding the very expanse of academics, what we get to see is sheer communal politics cum anarchy prevailing in many educational institutions. As though the government is little concerned about the aftermath of these on the very future of our students.

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