Education

Six Months After Ramjas College Violence, Things Are Only Getting Worse

An event scheduled in Delhi University to try and initiate conversations of various kinds was cancelled due to ‘security concerns’, only highlighting how free academic spaces have shrunk.

A protest against the ABVP violence at Ramjas College. Credit: PTI/FIles

A protest against the ABVP violence at Ramjas College. Credit: PTI/FIles

It has been five months since the the English Department of Ramjas College, Delhi University, and Wordcraft – the college’s literary society – held a seminar titled ‘Cultures of Protest: A Seminar Exploring Representations of Dissent’, for which I was one of the organising committee members. On the day planned for intellectual debates and academic altercations, however, the college became the site of intense violence involving students from the Delhi University Students’ Union and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the BJP. They violently attacked professors, students and other attendees of the event.

The conference was first disrupted by the members of the ABVP, who brought lathis with them. This was followed by stone pelting and more physical attacks on the attendees of the seminar. ABVP members and supporters objected to the seminar on the grounds that its line-up of speakers included Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid – a PhD scholar who was arrested on charges of sedition in February 2016. (No chargesheet has been filed in the case till now.) We had invited Khalid, who is working on a dissertation focusing on tribal communities. Following opposition to the event, the organisers met with Rajendra Prasad, the then principal of Ramjas. They decided to withdraw the invitation to Khalid, after due pressure from the police and state machinery – which couldn’t be trusted to provide security and safety to the attendees of the event if the demands of the ABVP weren’t met.


Also read: Surrounded By Violence But Not Brought Down By It: A Firsthand Account of Ramjas Protests


In the last six months, Delhi University in general and Ramjas College in particular has faced a severe curtailment of academic freedoms and the liberty of ideas and speech, because of repeated crackdown from the authorities on all attempts at moving towards conversations, apart from the excruciating legal process that the state has kept us involved in. The most recent such curtailment was when we had to call off our programme ‘#WhatTrulyHappened’, an event where we planned to gather to mark six months of the ABVP’s attack. We wanted to highlight our side of the story and talk about the nature of recent violence on campus. The event was planned in collaboration with DU Conversations – a platform started by progressive, democratic forces in Delhi University.

The DU Conversations event was scheduled to be held on August 24 at 3:30 pm in the Sociology Department of Delhi School of Economics, which was celebrating 70 years of independence with cultural and academic discussions. The programme was supposed to have musical performances by Sumangala Damodaran, the Mazdoor Union Band and others. Ramjas College students too decided to be a part of this programme and talk about the violence.

However, once Ramjas students made that decision, rumours spread and we, the organisers, were advised to back out of the programme for security reasons. People came to us claiming that the ABVP thought Khalid and others were being invited to this programme as well without making it public, so they would try and repeat what had happened in Ramjas six months ago. The next day, August 23, the entire umbrella event DU Conversations came under the radar. It became impossible for the event to take place as the director of the Delhi School of Economics, Pami Dua, after being advised by the security officer, decided to write to the authorities to “postpone” the programme with immediate effect.


Also read: After Threats of Disruption, Delhi School of Economics Scraps Event on India’s Democracy


What was DU Conversations all about? It was an attempt to initiate discussion around how to begin conversations in and around the university, to be able to create a space for inter-college, inter-departmental communication and, most importantly, it was an initiative to enable the exchange of ideas. Knowing what the planned event was about – and the fact that the forces that be refused to let it happen – is enough to prove that the university space has now become the state’s monopoly. It is being controlled using the threat of violence; anyone who says or even thinks of saying anything that destabilises the established dominant power becomes a target.

This set up of the university – where we are all being constantly watched and our conversations are overheard – reminds me of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon. We will never know for sure when or to what extent we are being watched – until the hand of power shows itself. The fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behaviour constantly. Bentham described the panopticon as “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.” This is what the state is doing with us. The idea of organising a conversation around Ramjas College and talking of the violence seems to make those in power uncomfortable and thus, a concerted effort to throttle our voices begins.

A herculean effort is being made by the state to contain all critical thinking, particularly in university spaces: first, by keeping us burdened with an unending legal procedure that now seems to have taken a toll on us both financially and intellectually; second, by robbing us of all our spaces to talk and keeping vigil on our thoughts. The resources being used to intimidate students is bizarre, especially given all the work that could be done in the country.

In the last six months, academic liberty and the space for ideas has shrunk, nearly dissipated. There is a systemic uprooting of the values that govern the civility of human lives and academic learning, an erosion of all possibility to exchange ideas that may change minds and broaden perspectives.

This serious act of not allowing a conversation to occur and flow is a threat to the democratic fabric of this nation. It should not be for the state and its supporters to decide who can say what.

Abinash Dash Choudhury is a third year BA student at Ramjas College, Delhi University.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    Mr Choudhury, young men and women like you are this nation’s only hope. Because you – with your natural idealism, inquisitiveness, still-functioning critical faculties and rebellious streak – feel and resent more than anyone else the violent intrusion by the state into your physical and mental space. And if this state is afraid of anyone, it is YOU. Democracy as we understand it is indeed under threat. If the forces that threaten it are not fought right now, it will be a much regressed, much unhappier nation that you shall be living and working in a few years from now.
    So make your voice heard and channelize your dissent productively.
    And above all : make your vote count.
    Good luck and stay safe.

  • K SHESHU BABU

    Struggles have been a part of education in colleges specially for the past three years. Dissent and freedom of expression have been violently attacked and trampled. Even now, the students who protests are not being spared. The right wing are not allowing other students to air their views feel. This write-up is an indication of the worsening situation. Optimism is the only supporter for the courageous students like Abinash

  • http://socioproctology.blogspot.co.uk/ windwheel

    Promising effort but unintentionally hilarious.

    A seminar titled ‘Cultures of Protest: A Seminar Exploring Representations of Dissent’ sounds like the sort of thing an English Dept. anywhere in the World might do. Only in the subcontinent would it draw dissidents wielding lathis. The author does not tell us if these previously surd subalterns also had buffaloes with them but, by Grice’s theory of implicature, it is the buffaloes who hold centre stage in our thoughts as we delve deeper into the article.

    That these buffaloes suffered unspeakably is apparent because the author tells us that ‘intense violence’ was unleashed on ‘professors, students and other attendees of the event’. Since the linked to article states that only one student was hurt, it follows that either some professors are buffaloes of such sturdy breed as to suffer no injury despite experiencing ‘intense violence’ or else that the ‘other attendees’ were donkeys inured to harsh punishment.

    However, there is a third possibility- one which the principle of communicative efficiency, as a critique of Gricean implicature- should alert us to. That possibility can only be uncovered by a close reading of the text.

    Notice the author is not saying that ‘goons’ belonging to a particular Student Association prevented ‘all attempts at moving towards conversations’ on the part of his committee. He is saying it was the State which did so. Yet, Delhi University is autonomous. The action the author imputes to the State is ultra vires and hence has a remedy in law.

    The author speaks of ‘the excruciating legal process that the state has kept us involved in’. Does this legal process involve determining if the complainant is a buffalo as opposed to a donkey- for which students are regularly tested and thus don’t find ‘excruciating’ at all?

    Human beings face no obstacles, after about the age of three, in attempting to ‘initiate discussion around how to begin conversations’. Why? Because it can be non-contexual. Indeed, communicative efficiency depends crucially on non-contexuality. Language would have no supervenience on intentionality if this were not the case. Stalin’s contribution to philosophy, in this respect, was certainly beneficial for the Indian Left because it placed ‘desi’ extensional vernaculars on an equal footing with the ‘margi’ i-language. It also explained how Socialism could be autochthonous to ‘Asiatic mode’ terrains. Even the most rigorous repression can’t distinguish between an attempt at initiating a dialogue dangerous to a given regime till there is an overt act further down the line. How is NaMo’s Gestapo supposed to predict that a guy who attempts to initiate a conversation by saying ‘Heil Modi’ is not going to go on to say ‘is a greeting fit only for donkeys’? If however, it is a buffalo which begins a conversation in this way, then some lathi wielding dehatis are bound to turn up because ‘jiski lathi uski bhains’.

  • alok asthana

    Do not worry, Abinash. Modi seems to be winning, but it is not so. Well meaning people hate him and they are far more in number than his RSS goons. Only, their anger and disappointment is not synergistic. If you wish their individual voices to become united, join me at http://www.sushaasan.in. I’m creating a system by which individual voices against the present system get seen as a common roar.