Mumbai: A major ruckus broke out at the National Law Institute University, Bhopal after several students opposed the institution’s decision to host right-leaning speakers at the two-day event ‘Young Thinkers’ Conclave’. The event where “wokesim” and “the Bhartiya ways of law and governance” were to be discussed became a place to villainise many India’s foremost academics and political thinkers.
Posters calling eminent thinkers “Ravaanas heads” were put out outside the conclave venue. Among those villainised were academics like Kancha Illaiah, Romila Thapar, Wendy Doniger and Irfan Habib, among others. Many books with provocative titles like ‘Jesus Christ: An Artifice for Aggression’ or ‘Tipu Sultan: Villain or Hero?’ were also sold at the event venue. Students also pointed to objectionable panel discussion around pronouns used by the queer community.
Many students who protested against the conclave told The Wire that they first found out about the event only on September 25. “On the one hand we study their (those against whom derogatory posters were put up) scholarly writings and on the other hand, the college administration allows such open insults,” one of the protesting students told The Wire.
As soon as the students found out about the event on September 25, they claim to have approached the administration. “The moment we realised most of the invited have indulged in hatemongering, we brought it to the administration’s notice. We were assured the college authorities will look into it. But that didn’t happen,” said an irate fourth-year law student.
Among the speakers invited were Neeraj Atri, Swati Goel Sharma, Amritanshu Pandey and Kapil Tiwari. The students say some of these speakers have openly aired their anti-Muslim views on social media. “Atri’s Twitter (now X) handle is full of anti-Muslim posts. We pointed this out to the Students Body Association (SBA) and the college administration. But no action was taken,” a third-year student shared.
The SBA too has been divided on the issue. While the SBA president supported the event, many other members did not. Union minister for environment, forest and climate change Bhupendra Yadav is scheduled to attend the event. “At the SBA meeting, when some members protested, the president (of the SBA) convinced us that protesting an event where the Union minister is one of the invitees won’t look good,” a student who was privy to the SBA meeting said. And hence, in the meeting, the student said, a code of conduct was drafted. “This code of conduct specifically mentioned that no speakers at the event will indulge in anti-minority statements.” At the SBA meeting held on September 26, specific concerns were raised about participation of speakers like Atri, discussion of topics like “A Hindu View of Prophetic Monotheism”, and non-involvement of the SBA in the decision-making process. “Many in the SBA echoed students’ concerns and discussed that such an event could lead to religious tensions and misunderstandings in the college,” the student said.
But at the event, students say, many speakers share communally-charged views. Some among the protesting students attended the event and were filming it, when the administration asked them to leave, a student said. Students now are threatening to continue their protest on the second day of the event, when Union minister Yadav and Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Chouhan are expected to attend the conclave.
In an email to students on Sunday morning, university vice-chancellor S. Surya Prakash said, “As other State Universities and Private Universities have given space to organise such events and in the same line, I have given the permission.”
“The University Administration neither shares nor subscribes to the ideas of YTF. Merely the program was conducted on our campus don’t misunderstand that we endorse their ideas,” he continued. He also said that the objectionable poster had been taken down.
“May I tell you that despite many anti India activities we extended a very warm welcome to cricketers of Pakistan in Hyderabad because extending courtesy even to the enemies when they visit our home, is our culture,” Prakash stated. He also asked students not to take the matter “too seriously”.
The conclave was organised by a senior faculty member Raka Arya. Arya, who is the dean of students’ affairs and also a Law Commission member, allegedly spoke down to students who went to her with the request to reconsider the event.
On Sunday morning, Arya wrote an email to the SBA saying that the Young Thinkers’ Conclave organisers had been asked to remove the objectionable posters.
The Wire has contacted Arya for her comments and this article will be updated if she responds.