Saffron Spillovers in Educational Spaces: An Insider’s View from IIT Bombay

Student groups openly associating with communal organisations are making alarming inroads into campuses across India – even such a premier institution as IIT B. 

The aim of educational institutions is to create an environment where people from diverse backgrounds can interact, engage in dialogue, and cultivate empathy, understanding, and respect for one another. But what if these places become sites of exclusion? 

In recent weeks, we came across something that undermines these inclusive values at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT B). 

We take the curious case of a student group called IIT B for Bharat at IIT, Bombay. Recently, this group was found openly distributing free tickets to women students for an Islamophobic movie, The Kerala Story. To be clear, this is not about any group’s right to distribute these tickets but about how its targeted actions can have a larger effect of fostering hatred within our diverse student community at IIT Bombay. Communally targeting women students for a free show of a commercial movie that has generated much controversy and fear in recent weeks only exposes the intention of instilling suspicion and anger against Muslim students on campus. 

As proud members of this esteemed institution that has magnanimously embraced its role by unequivocally supporting us as students, providing best-in-class resources, invaluable mentorship, and an enriching environment to nurture our academic and personal growth, we find it important to unmask these kinds of dissonant and fringe student groups that attempt to sully the atmosphere of noteworthy university campuses across the country.

Communalisation of campuses

In recent years, there have been several incidents of communal tensions within university campuses in India. We recall the 2020 incident in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), where a group of students attacked other students on the campus while allegedly shouting religious chants. This led to injuries and police cases. More recently, in 2022, there was  violence over non-vegetarian food being served in the JNU hostel and scuffles during a religious procession in the JNU campus. There were also cases of girls wearing headscarves being heckled in several campuses across India, such as PES College, Bengaluru. More than such direct attacks on minority students, however, we find it pertinent to highlight the more surreptitious forms of communalisation from within student bodies on campuses.

Many of these seemingly innocuous student organisations that claim to foster diversity, discussion, and teamwork covertly attempt to disrupt the secular fabric of the campus, often with outside instigation or support, by instilling suspicion and ill-will against students hailing from marginalised backgrounds. 

In the first week of May, the IITB for Bharat group said in a WhatsApp group message.

“We are pleased to announce that IITB for Bharat is sponsoring the movie tickets of 51 girls who are interested in watching the movie ‘*The Kerala Story*’. IITB for Bharat is a group of students and alumni of IIT Bombay aimed at having a common space for the Indic civilizational values in the community.

“Please fill the form if you are interested…”

On May 11, after the event, IITB for Bharat posted a self-congratulatory message on Facebook, stating that more than 80 students – 65 of them women – had accepted the free tickets and watched the movie. Written in Hindi, the message flaunted the support of the right-wing Hindu organisation Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and explained the group’s reasons for distributing the tickets – to create and spread awareness about the issues of ‘love jihad’ and Muslim radicalisation.

It ended with a dhanyawad (thank you) for the students who had attended the show.

Having accomplished a ‘huge success’ in their controversial initiative in collaboration with the VHP, the group is now “organising another screening for more than 100+ tickets in the next few days”. 

(Left) A congratulatory message after the successful screening of the film, posted on Facebook on May 11, 2023. (Right) Official announcement of “organizing another screening for more than 100+ tickets in the next few days”.

The issue

The Kerala Story is based on the false premise of ‘love jihad’, a concept that civil rights groups and academia have widely condemned as Islamophobic propaganda to validate and promote the right-wing political ideology.

There is no serious evidence to prove the existence of love jihad, but the communal targeting of women students for free viewings of a commercial movie – not even a documentary – exposes the intention of instilling fear and anger against the Muslim community. Even the Supreme Court has ruled on the movie’s fictionalised, inauthentic and vilifying depiction of a community and has asked the filmmakers to place such a disclaimer prominently.

Worse than this, the movie perpetuates the same societal emphasis on the pathological communal bias that was revealed by the 2021 Pew Research topic, Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation. The research found that an overwhelming number of Indians across religious groups believed that it is very important to prevent interreligious marriages, particularly for women of their communities. Drumbeating the fiction of ‘love jihad’ seems to be just another tactic to deploy this xenophobic bias.

Emulation of the ‘Other’

‘Love jihad’ is a term used to describe an imagined organised phenomenon of Muslim men luring and marrying Hindu women with the intention of converting them to Islam. This term has been criticised across academia as well as the media as a propaganda and othering tool used to stoke communal tension and promote Islamophobia.

The term demonstrates the classic toxic progression of the ‘stigmatisation and emulation’ strategy of presenting a strong toxic ‘Other’ as observed by Christophe Jaffrelot in his famous 1999 book, The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics.

The Kerala Story capitalises on this propaganda of ‘love jihad’, which is meant to denigrate Muslims. The alleged free distribution of tickets to only girls is not just a loud endorsement of such propaganda but also hints at their sexist and women-infantilising value system – burdened by a duty to so-called ‘protect their girls’ from being influenced by Muslim men. Also, by financially incentivising the consumption of a polarising and divisive narrative, the student group in question is violating the secular fabric of the university space. 

The student group IITB for Bharat claims to be associated with the VHP. It posits itself as “a group of students and alumni of IIT Bombay aimed at having a common space for Indic civilisational values (sic)”.

The group is not a new offender and has often been found peddling Islamophobia, sexism, linguistic chauvinism and jingoism on campus, all under its broader assumed vision of fostering some distorted idea of ‘Indic civilisational values’. Some exhibits  of their barely subtle agenda include:

A call for the Sanskritisation of Hindi (‘Sanskrit-nishta Hindi’) by removing Urdu words (‘Urdu-mukta’ Hindi) based on the claim that Urdu is a symbol of the ‘invaders’ (Facebook, March 15, 2023).

An exhortation to ‘identify our enemy’ in the post that says, “Be a proud and aware Hindu…. Identify our enemy!! Kashmir is a reminder of what may happen to you if you continue to live in denial”. (Facebook, June 2, 2022)

An appeal to the Hindu women of India to beware of Muslims based on the infamous Shraddha Walker Delhi murder case. The post refers to Muslim men as “calculating” and “predatory men”. (Facebook November 18, 2022)

A cartoon depiction of two apparently irreligious ladies wishing to go to a temple to cause trouble and mischief. This was posted during the famous Sabarimala case and displayed the group’s deep-rooted misogyny and sexism. (Facebook, April 6, 2022) A poster of a movie titled The Conversion and the disturbing depiction of all Muslims as jihadis heinously trying to convert Hindu women to their faith. The narrow version of their understanding of Islam could not be more explicit. This political Hindutva narrative often deployed by right-wing organisations and parties explains the IITB for Bharat group’s intimate bond with the VHP, an organisation reputed to have a blood-stained communal history. (Facebook, May 2, 2022)

A bigoted reference to meat shop owners as ‘jihadis’ along with the claim that “…Hindu Students are forced to eat Halal meat in all of the IIT Bombay mess for a long time since Jihadis Hijacked the meat market with their bad intention (sic).” (Facebook, April 22, 2022).

A communally provocative appeal to continually play the Hanuman Chalisa through loudspeakers “until the enemies [presumably Muslims] run away” at the time when there was a public discourse on banning the use of loudspeakers for the azaan or call to prayer from mosques. The actual post, translated, reads, “We have heard that the demand for loudspeakers is increasing…Let us keep playing the Hanuman Chalisa and religious thoughts till the enemies run away).” (Facebook, April 9, 2022)


The list of seemingly mischievous posts by this group is endless. They range from direct Islamophobia to the blatant endorsement of jingoism and chauvinism – including Brahminical, linguistic, national and patriarchal chauvinism. Even a glance at the group page shows how recklessly they have been trying to spread societally divisive ideas.

Apart from identitarian, sexist, and Brahminical assertions in their discourse, there is a continuous stream of hateful thoughts about Muslims as the ‘enemy’, a ‘threat’, and the toxic ‘other’. Such hate-mongering is sure to make the atmosphere on campus toxic and instil in students the feeling that they are in a war zone rather than in a progressive and inspiring educational space. 

Just as shocking is how this overtly regressive and hate-peddling group has remained unchecked to date. The brazenness with which this student group has been operating in IIT Bombay raises a legitimate question about the need for some positive checks and balances and an institutional call for attention and action.

Fostering diversity

The student group’s collaboration with the VHP to distribute movie tickets for The Kerala Story inside the campus cannot be seen in isolation. The VHP is known for its openly communalising project to building a Hindu Rashtra, something that we are sure is not in line with IIT Bombay’s vision or support. Though this alleged student group’s actions have met with sporadic criticisms from several students and faculty members in the past, their barrage of divisive actions so far has seemed to remain unabated and unchecked. 

The distribution of free tickets by a student group on campus to an evidently Islamophobic movie – which does not even enjoy the stature of a documentary or a factual account – is a serious problem. It is an attempt to target and intimidate Muslim students and can create a climate of fear and hostility on campus. The movie itself is based on false and harmful stereotypes about Muslims and is likely to further alienate Muslim students and contribute to Islamophobia. Besides the apex court’s observations, almost all mainstream movie reviews in the country have flagged this movie for its clear propaganda posturing, fake news peddling and Islamophobia. Student groups must be cognisant of the impact their actions can have on their fellow students and the larger society and must consider if the actions are consistent with the lofty and humane ideals that IIT Bombay has held so close to its heart ever since the institution’s inception in 1958.

IIT Bombay is already facing much criticism about its alleged campus-bound identity-based discrimination since the unfortunate death by suicide earlier this year of Darshan Solanki, a B.Tech student whose family, along with several other student solidarity groups, have vehemently claimed that he was trolled and ostracised by his fellow students due to his caste identity. Against this backdrop, the open presence of a student group harping on promoting identitarian division and paranoia against Muslim students in a multicultural campus is a definite red flag and potentially tarnishes the top institution’s historically progressive, diverse and inclusive image. 

Not in IIT’s name

IIT Bombay is among the most reputable institutions of higher education in the country, a place where students from diverse backgrounds come together to learn and grow in an inclusive environment to emerge as global leaders. The unabated propagation of societally divisive ideas and initiatives on the campus by a mischievous fringe group of students undermines the culture of diversity and inclusion, making it a potent jeopardy to the multicultural, scientific, and progressive ethos of an institute that is deemed to be one of India’s National Institutes of Eminence.

Student groups abusing IIT Bombay’s name and openly associating with communal organisations are making alarming inroads into the campus and the minds of our youth while also demoralising students hailing from disadvantaged communities. The university must take cognisance of such negative overtures on the campus and ensure a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all students, regardless of their religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. 

The student group in question is explicitly identifiable with the institution of IIT Bombay and is promoting a problematic, polarising and fake narrative that targets a community at large which is a serious problem. It must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. The institute administration must take action to address this problem and protect the rights of all students. 

The student group in question is explicitly identifiable with the institution of IIT Bombay and is promoting a problematic, polarising and fake narrative that targets a community at large which is a serious problem. It must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. The institute administration must take action to address this problem and protect the rights of all students.

We students, too, must set our priorities right and not let prejudice, fear and hostility towards a particular community become concretised in progressive spaces like IIT Bombay. Universities and colleges are places that instil a sense of freedom and agency among us. They are the spaces of upliftment and, in the words of Rabindranath Tagore, are the solemn sites for the realisation of the dream – “where the mind is without fear and the head is held high, where knowledge is free, where the world has not been broken up into fragments…into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake”.

Let our universities not become spaces of oppression and exclusion.

Iznallah is a current doctoral candidate at IIT Bombay and an alumnus of the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru. His research interests are artificial intelligence, hate speech, and interfaith solidarity.

Aparna is a Master’s Scholar at IIT Bombay. She works at the intersection of gender, sexuality, and policy.

The authors’ views are personal and do not reflect that of the institution’s.