New Delhi: After Jawaharlal Nehru University, IIT Madras and Jamia Milia Islamia University canceled events on the campus hosting “controversial speakers”, the University of Allahabad today withdrew permission to hold an event to celebrate India’s constitution. The day-long ‘Liberty Festival’ to discuss theatre, poetry and songs celebrating the idea of the constitution, was granted permission to be held in the senate hall by the vice-chancellor (VC) on September 13, who also agreed to be the chief guest. However, permission was withdrawn three days later.
Among the invitees to the event were sociologist Satish Deshpande, actor Maya Rao, singer Sonam Kalra and women’s rights activist Abha Bhaiyya.
However, in an open letter to the VC, joint action committee representative Manish Sharma said that they will continue to hold the event in the front lawns of the venue, knowing very well that they may be attacked by forces “intending to shut us down”.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its students’ wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) allegedly started a campaign to spread rumours about this event on Facebook and other social media platforms. According to the students’ body, pamphlets were distributed maligning the profile of the guest speakers, claiming them to be anti-state and anti-nation. A social media post propagating these rumours said that only the name of the event at Allahabad University (‘Jashn-e-Samvidhan‘) is different from the “anti-national” event at JNU but the content and format is the same.
Sharma, in his letter, states that they were also accused of trying to turn “Allahabad into another JNU” and of spreading hatred amongst students.
Deshpande told The Wire, “This is very disappointing, but sadly, not at all surprising. We are in a worse situation than during the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi’s government, because today it is an undeclared emergency. Enormous pressure is being put on university officials across the country to cancel or prohibit every event where anyone other than those singing the praises of the current regime is invited to speak. It is a bitter irony that administrative and police authorities routinely use the real or imagined threat of violent protests by certain student oganisations to impose a ban on the legitimate and peaceful activities of all other organisations. University students and teachers are no longer trusted to – or even allowed to – think for themselves.”
According to the letter, the VC said the permission was being withdrawn following “too much pressure from the Ministry of Human Resources Development” and that there was nothing he can do about it. When asked why permission was given in the first place, the VC said that the permission was for holding this event anywhere in Allahabad.
“Arrangements were made and guests and artists were to arrive from different parts of the country to spend a day of discussion, theatre, poetry, and songs celebrating the idea of the constitution. All of them were carefully selected as they are among the finest in their fields and the festival would have been a rare occasion for the students and teachers of the university to interact with these brilliant minds,” added the letter.
The letter went on to say, “It is only good that now we know for sure that freedom of our institutions is gone for good and even a free mind cannot stand for it. University leaders are fettered from all sides and can be made to eat their own words at the instance of bullies that have overtaken all our institutional and social spaces. It is also an indication that it is only a matter of time that our personal freedom and liberty will also be taken away from us.”
The students’ body did not blame the VC for the last-minute withdrawal and has asked him to attend the event in his personal capacity.
“This is perhaps a trade off intellectuals like you have to make with the ruling powers of the day to be allowed to run our institutions,” the letter said, addressing the VC.
Recently, IIT Madras withdrew permission to hold a series of lectures by documentary filmmaker and human rights activist K. Stali, Delhi University sociology professor Nandini Sundar, and social entrepreneur Adhik Kadam.
In Jamia Milia Islamia, students alleged that the university had denied permission for an event called ‘Shrinking Democratic Spaces in Universities’.