Listen to this article:
New Delhi: Members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), stormed the Lucknow University campus on Tuesday, May 11, to threaten and heckle a professor of Hindi there over comments he had made about the ongoing dispute surrounding the Gyanvapi mosque-Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi.
Ravi Kant Chandan, a professor at the university, drew the ire of the Hindutva outfit for comments he made during an online debate hosted by Satya Hindi, a Hindi news platform.
Ravi Kant Chandan, during the debate, quoted a story from the book Feathers and Stones by Pattabhi Sitaramayya which describes the alleged circumstances under which a temple at the disputed spot was destroyed and a mosque erected in its place.
Published in 1946, Feathers and Stones is a prison diary written by Sitaramayya when he was imprisoned by the British in Ahmednagar during the freedom struggle and was described by the author himself as a book “of humour, wit and wisdom.”
While describing what the book said – that Mughal emperor Aurangzeb allegedly became enraged when he heard a maharani in his entourage had been raped within the temple and ordered its destruction – Ravi Kant added that he could not independently corroborate the facts as narrated by Sitaramayya.
However, an edited-down clip of this debate began making the rounds on social media in which this qualification, provided by Ravi Kant, is missing.
As the clip went viral, members of various Hindu outfits took objection to his remarks, alleging that the professor, who is a Dalit, had disrespected Hindu deities. This outrage eventually led to ABVP members and others storming the university campus, shouting inflammatory slogans and threatening Chandan.
Videos of the mob chanting, “Desh ke gaddaron ko… Goli maaro s***** ko” – a slogan popularised by Union minister Anurag Thakur in the run up to the Delhi riots of 2020 – soon surfaced on the internet. However, the police appear to not to have proceeded against those calling for violence but against the professor himself.
After a professor of Lucknow Univ. produced evidence over the Gyanvyapi row during a TV debate, ABVP members assembled at the proctor’s office at Lucknow university and raised slogans against the professor (Ravikant). FIR was registered against the professor. pic.twitter.com/0iLhS1AilR
— Urooj Khan TOI (@UroojkhanTOI) May 10, 2022
A first information report (FIR) was lodged against Chandan based on the complaint of one Aman Dubey, a student of the university. He was charged under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 153-A (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion etc.); 504 (intentional insult with the intent to prove a breach of peace); 505(2) (statements conducive to public mischief committed in a place of worship); and Section 66 of the IT Act. The FIR claims that the professor’s comments had hurt the sentiments of Hindu students on campus and that he had brought goons from outside to attack students on campus.
Sandeep Singh, an Ambedkarite activist, alleged that a political conspiracy was afoot against the Dalit professor.
“An FIR has been registered against Professor Ravi Kant of Lucknow University, Ravi Kant ji continues to raise the voice of Dalits,” he said, speaking to The Wire. “They are getting scared of educated people who are talking in the country. First target is Muslim and second is Dalit. Narendra Modi is scared, he does not want the voice of Dalits to be raised.”
After the intervention of university authorities as well as the Lucknow police, the mob was kept away from the professor and a dialogue between the two parties was opened, according to a report by NDTV.
Chandan also uploaded a video of him responding to the ABVP’s allegations where he explains that during a discussion on the Gyanvapi mosque issue, he recounted the above-mentioned story from Feathers and Stones.
“My reference to the book and the author was removed and it was purported that I was disrespecting Hinduism, which was not my intention. I was simply recounting the story – and I even mentioned that it was a story, not fact,” Chandan says in the video.
He then goes on to describe how members of the ABVP, as well as others, created trouble at the university, as well as the dialogue with them in which he was able to eventually engage.
“I told them to watch the full video so their misconceptions could be done away with. I had even posted about it on Facebook,” he says.
“I am a Dalit and a follower of Babasaheb Ambedkar; his thoughts and ideals. I think that the fact that I am a Dalit is the reason my voice is being suppressed and the ideal for India which Ambedkar had is trying to be finished,” he concludes.
Following the events of the day, a group of academics released a statement condemning the actions of the ABVP and demanding that the members of the mob be brought to book.
“We demand that the culprits be brought to book immediately, the atmosphere of debate and dissent, so crucial for an institute of learning and essential for a democratic society be restored immediately and Dr. Ravi Kant and his family be provided all necessary protection,” the statement read.
The statement went on to describe the incident as “yet another example of the intolerance and majoritarian sectarianism and violence that is increasingly becoming the norm all over the country, especially in BJP ruled States.”
The entire statement and the list of signatories is reproduced below.
Last year, a petition had been filed by five women before a civil court in Varanasi seeking access to the Maa Shringar Gauri site located near the mosque’s western wall.
The court had directed authorities to survey and record a video of the site for inspection before May 10. While the mosque committee had objected to orders for videography on the site, the Allahabad high court had dismissed the mosque committee’s plea challenging the local court’s order.
Below is the full statement issued in response to the threats made against Ravi Kant Chandan followed by the full list of signatories.
We condemn in the strongest possible terms, the death threats being issued publicly and abuses being heaped on Dr. Ravi Kant, an Academician, well-known Dalit Intellectual and Associate Professor of Hindi at the Lucknow University.
Dr Ravi Kant is being targeted for his statement, in a discussion in the well-known online channel Satya TV, about the Gyanvapi Mosque. All Dr Ravi Kant did was to narrate a story from a book, Feathers and Stones written by Patabhi Sitaramaiya. Dr Ravi Kant said that he is calling it a story because Patabhi Sitaramaiya had not quoted a source.
Those baying for Dr. Ravi Kant’s blood are the workers belonging to the ABVP, who have surrounded the Department of Hindi, while Dr. Ravi Kant has had to take shelter in the office of the proctor of the University.
We demand that the culprits be brought to book immediately, the atmosphere of debate and dissent, so crucial for an institute of learning and essential for a democratic society be restored immediately and Dr. Ravi Kant and his family be provided all necessary protection.
We view this aggressive display of the ABVP as yet another example of the intolerance and majoritarian sectarianism and violence that is increasingly becoming the norm all over the country, especially in BJP ruled States.
We demand that elements giving public calls for extermination and annihilation be reigned in immediately, if we wish to be counted among the comity of civilized nations.
Nalin Ranjan Singh
Lal Bahadur Singh
Ram Dutt Tripathi
Indira Arjun Dev