Shocking Silence Around the Communal Attack on Academic Freedom at Indore Law College

If the mere presence in a college library of a book critical of Hindutva organisations is enough to make a principal resign and an author be arrested, what is the future of Indian academics?

It is not surprising that news of the forced resignation of the principal of the New Government Law College, Indore has failed to register on the consciousness of India’s higher education community. Nor has it stirred the judicial community, which includes lawyers and judges. One is not aware if civil society in Indore, which prides itself for the city’s physical hygiene, has reacted. What we do know is that after forcing a Muslim principal out, Hindutva groups are now gunning for Farhat Khan, author of Collective Violence and Criminal Justice System – the book which is the excuse for attacking the principal, Inamur Rahman, and other Muslim teachers of the college. On Thursday afternoon, Khan was arrested by the Madhya Pradesh police.

Indore is called a ‘mini-Mumbai’, and people boast about its night life and how free it is. But it is here that the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and a fraternal organisation of the Bharatiya Janata Party, created a ruckus around the presence of a book in the Law College library and demanded action against the principal and other Muslim teachers. The reason given was that the book contains criticism of the RSS, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Durga Vahini and other bodies that fall under the Hindutva umbrella. How can you have such a book in the library? They also accused the Muslim teachers of indulging in ‘love jihad’ and teaching religious fundamentalism. They were angry that the college had such a high number of Muslim teachers.

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The principal, feeling humiliated by the disrespectful slogans involving his religion, resigned. He had earlier instituted an enquiry about the allegations against the book. As it turned out, the book has long been in the library. It was purchased during the tenure of his predecessor, a Hindu, and recommended by three faculty members, all Hindus. He explained that no teacher has ever recommended the book to students and it was not issued to any student. When ABVP members accessed the book and raised objections, it was promptly withdrawn and an enquiry ordered. Even after this, ABVP members continued with their agitation, widening its scope. They asked why there were so many Muslim teachers, and alleged that they were promoting anti-national thought on campus and luring Hindu women students into ‘love jihad’ – the term Hindutva groups use for a mythical Muslim conspiracy to convert Hindus to Islam.

There are only four Muslim teachers in the college, out of a total of 25. Is this a ‘high’ number, and by what metric? And what to say about the absurdity of the other charges! But since the principal was himself a Muslim, he ordered an enquiry by a retired district judge and barred the teachers in question from teaching for the period of the enquiry. But the agitation continued and he resigned.

Matters do not rest here. Now the home minister of Madhya Pradesh has taken a very serious view of the allegations against the book and ordered the author’s arrest. How can she write critically about the RSS, VHP, Durga Vahini, etc. – all venerable nationalist organisations?

It is a different matter that it is perhaps not possible to write about collective violence in India without mentioning these organisations. For example, if we talk about collective violence in Delhi University, can we omit the episode of the physical assault on the then head of the department of history and stoning of the department by the members of the ABVP for a similar reason ? They were angry that the department had suggested a reading titled ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas’ by A.K. Ramanujan. Was it an example of collective violence or not? Or the attack on the Ramjas College for having invited Umar Khalid for a seminar. In this violence, students and teachers were attacked and one of our colleagues was almost strangulated to death. Can it be called collective violence or not? Or the most recent example of the members of the free Saibaba campaign who were assaulted by members of the ABVP? There are scores of such examples across campuses involving this organisation. If a study of campus violence is done, are these incidents allowed to be mentioned or not?

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Similarly, can what we lazily call ‘communal violence’ be discussed without talking about the role of illustrious organisations like the RSS, VHP or Bajrang Dal? Paul Brass actually said that no riot in India has been spontaneous. There is a riot machinery working behind such collective violence. These bodies have been mentioned in report after report looking into the causes of communal violence in India.

Now it seems all books discussing this will be thrown out of libraries. One can also say that the scholarship on collective violence in India will have to move out of India.

This incident should have spurred scholars and academics into action. Teacher bodies should have at least protested. Nothing of that sort has happened. The legal community is silent. Is it because the Indore Law College is not an elite college like our National Law Schools? Or is it because all of us are now tired of assaults on our civil liberties and have reconciled ourselves to the situation?

This incident once again shows how precarious the life of a book or a teacher is in an India where the ABVP dictates the boundaries of what is permissible and what is not. Especially if the teacher and author is a Muslim. People keep advising Muslims to busy themselves with education. But if this is what they are facing in educational institutions, what further advice do we have for them?

Again, we don’t know if the Hindu teachers of the college came out to support their Muslim colleagues or have kept silent, either out of fear or indifference. As Indore becomes the norm, university librarians and accountants can perhaps tote up the cost of sanitising their collections. Muslim students and scholars are being told that their work has no value. But what is the collective silence of the academic community going to cost a country that wants the world to believe it is a ‘vishwaguru’

Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University.