In Defence of Mukul Mangalik, Teacher Extraordinary

The lynch mob is now targeting one of Delhi University's most loved and respected professors.

Mukul Mangalik, my senior colleague who has taught history to generations of students at Ramjas College in Delhi University, is under attack. A video is being circulated in which it is being alleged that he is raising slogans of ‘Kashmir ki Azadi’ and ‘Bastar ki Azadi’. His detractors are saying that someone who demands freedom for Bastar or Kashmir does not have the right to be a teacher in the university. On his part, Mangalik has denied raising these slogans.

There was a protest by students of the college after their freedom to hold a peaceful event on campus was brutally violated but I will not go into whether such slogans were raised or not. In one video, a voice of a student can be heard raising this slogan for Bastar and I hope she will be courageous enough to own it. But let me make it clear that even if she admits this act, I do not find it criminal or ‘anti-national’. There is, in fact, no statute or legal category that defines what is ‘national’ or ‘anti-national’. She has not violated any law of the land, she has not provoked violence.

The indisputable fact is that Bastar is under siege. Adivasis, its original inhabitants, are being looted, raped, killed with impunity by the security forces which have been deployed there in the name of this nation. These hapless adivasis do not hear a word of empathy from the co-Indians in whose name they are being eliminated systematically. They want to live freely, like the people of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, who do not fear security men entering their homes at will.

It is the same with Kashmir. When we denounce the excesses committed by the Indian security forces in Kashmir, this does not mean endorsement of what the pro-Pakistani militants are doing there. To me, the very idea of going with Pakistan – which is under existential threat – is suicidal. The azadi being demanded by the hardliners in the Hurriyat and others lacks humanity, it is not secular, and I know that I would not feel secure in such a Kashmir.

Even after saying this, I think that the people of Kashmir have a right to live humanely. To keep them subjugated with the force of the army would be a failure of the idea of India – that it has not proved sufficiently attractive to the people of Kashmir, that it has not succeeded in persuading them to join its national project.

If Biharis, Maharashtrians or Malayalis live freely, the same right accrues to the Kashmiris.

The question of Mukul’s presence amidst those raising slogans on campus remains. There are also some who find the very idea of teachers raising slogans abhorrent. I am personally not put off by them, knowing full well that sloganeering is an art. Not everybody is capable of it. What is more important for me is that Mukul defends the right of individuals to have their own opinions and express them freely. He is uncompromising in these matters and this I know from personal experience.

I was invited by Mukul on behalf of the Historical Society to chair a talk by Prof. Irfan Habib last year. He was frank with me. Ashok Vajpeyi was meant to chair the event but he had fallen ill. Mukul wanted me to be his substitute. I told him that I was simply unqualified to even sit on the same panel as Irfan Habib but he insisted.

Irfan sahab spoke brilliantly on the Indian national movement. When my turn came, I pointed out that there were people and communities which did not feel included in the project of the national movement, and it was not inclusive enough. So, the Indian national project grew in new directions after independence. Not an original point at all.

Later, Mukul told me that when I was in the middle of my remarks, he was sent a message by some members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the party Irfan sahab belongs to, who were sitting in the front row. They were offended by my audacity to even add to what an authority like Irfan sahab had said and asked that I be stopped. Mukul was aghast.

They were helpful in bringing Irfan sahab to the event but that did not dissuade Mukul from telling them upfront that what they had suggested was unacceptable. A person junior to Irfan sahab and no match to his scholarship had a right to have his say even if it meant differing with the don.

By doing so, Mukul was risking the annoyance of a powerful group. He did not care.

This incident told me a lot about Mukul’s passion for the freedom of thought and expression, irrespective of whether he agreed with what was being said or not.

This is what he has taught all his life as a teacher. I have always envied his popularity with his students across generations. Teachers are respected and admired but Mukul is in a different league. His students love him. He teaches them with all his being. And his teaching goes beyond syllabus and classroom. He organises musical events, readings from literature for his students. He goes out of his way, fires on all cylinders to ensure a fuller educational experience for them which he would term cultural.

Is Mukul a leftist? He would not reject that description. To me it hardy matters. What is relevant is his total devotion to teaching. With his genius he could have busied himself on the professional seminar circuit. But he decided to give everything to his students.

This year he is organising an event on Bhakti for them. Not strictly a subject of his domain, he spent days and used his personal contacts in mobilising resources for it.

Mukul called last night. “We won’t be able to do it in college. Peace cannot be ensured,” he said. Especially now, when it is he who is being targeted.

Is it so difficult to understand why Mukul is being made a target? Why a tirade has been launched against him? The aim is very clearly to de-mobilise him, to force him to keep away from students. By making him a suspect in their eyes and making him insecure.

Are we, then going to lose the irreverent figure of Mukul from our campus, this gifted teacher, with his witty, sharp, poetic posters, stickers, badges? A loss to the campus and a gain to the ‘nation’?

Apoorvanand teaches at Delhi Unviersity

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