What is (differently) at stake in Delhi University?

If the silence and the calmness is a donation of the people who can resort to violence any time, it really isn’t a state we have achieved. It is a tired, convenient and weak interval.

Written by NP Ashley | Updated: February 27, 2017 4:44 pm
Police detain ABVP activists after their clash with AISA students at Delhi University in Delhi on Wednesday. PTI Photo Police detain ABVP activists after their clash with AISA students at Delhi University in Delhi on Wednesday. PTI Photo

There is an irresistible tendency from all corners to draw a straight-line from JNU-February 2016 to Delhi University-February 2017: the right wing sees only Umar Khalid, hears only “azaadi” and only talks of anti-national in the whole development; the left wing sees a lot of things that rhyme with the JNU developments: assault on academic freedom, threats to the University space and the complacency of the Police force in the vandalism of the ruling party’s student wing. Neutral observers see yet another wave of student protests with a newer acronym, in the line of FTII, HCU and JNU.

Despite the charms of equating and recognising patterns, I would argue that the DU episode is nothing like what has been seen earlier and elsewhere. The basic character, the nature of response through demands and the remnants point to something quite new and deserves to be engaged differently.

WATCH VIDEO |Ramjas College Protest: Virender Sehwag Tweets Following Kargil Martyr’s Daughter’s Anti-ABVP Post

Umar Khalid was invited to talk at a seminar in Ramjas College on February 21 about his research topic Bastar. But the invite was cancelled due to the opposition from the ABVP. Such “victories”, gained by creating an atmosphere of fear and giving out an impression that the college authorities will have no control over their space if the session took place, aren’t unheard of. But after this, when the session started without Umar Khalid, the anti-seminar side started pelting stones into the conference room and out of fear, the seminar had to be cancelled.

This act is quite new: you don’t agree with a particular speaker and you shout slogans or hold placards outside the conference hall is a perfectly legitimate way of protesting. You have issues with a speaker and you physically block and attack the person is a crude, brutal and illegal way of marking protest, but it has happened and one can understand such misuses of physical power when some people have no legal action to fear. But pelting stones into a room where people they don’t even know were sitting is quite a different, far more dangerous thing altogether.
The mindlessness and callousness of letting stones breakthrough window panes requires a fundamental change in mind: it thinks of the space as enemy territory. Once you think of a space as enemy territory, all the inhabitants become your enemies and hitting any and every one in that hall becomes an achievement. This is the attitude particular to a terrorist. If stone pelting is allowed to let go as just another item in the disruptive activities, it would amount to being indifferent to this dangerous organizing principle of the event.

Police personnel deployed at Delhi University on Thursday. Express photo by Oinam Anand Police personnel deployed at Delhi University on Thursday. Express Photo by Oinam Anand

After that, the next day, when physically attacked students and teachers took out a dharna, they were attacked again — both physically and verbally: Individuals were targeted, a Professor of the English department was strangled to the point of causing internal injuries, some of the female students were threatened with rape and were thrown money at, some of them were chased out and the fear of being singled and attacked was instilled in them through intimidation and so on. Aggrieved students demanded that an FIR be launched against the attackers and sat in on a dharna outside the police station. The police, instead of filing their FIR, picked up these protesting students rather violently (violence of the evening includes male police personnel beating up female students) and dropped them off at Hauz Kauz Metro station, which is an hour away. Let whatever be the reason, how come when there is so much of street violence, students had to do a dharna to ask the police what they should have done without any prompting? But the students gained some ground the next day when they managed to get the police to file an FIR, get three constables suspended and the Delhi Women’s Commission to give strict orders on policemen dealing with women.

But the issue is far from over as Delhi University is not a campus university – it intersects with the public spaces at many points without offering the possibility of creating “safe havens”. The attacked and threatened students have a different relationship with the roads they have been using, neighbourhoods that they thought were theirs. The madness of that evening has become invisible but not disappeared. Faceless, angry and attacking men (and a handful of women) surfaced from the gullies and went hiding later. But they can come back any time when they want. If the silence and the calmness is a donation of the people who can resort to violence any time, it really isn’t a state we have achieved. It is a tired, convenient and weak interval.

The condition reminds me of that macabre memory of male, majoritarian street violence: 1984 Sikh Genocide (True, it was many steps short of that, but the grammar of it was the same). The accounts speak of men with bloodshot eyes and cycle chains going around in groups, murdering Sikhs, raping their women and torching their houses, and was then heard no more. It is possible to improvise such a situation in the Delhi University area all over again is one thing we know after February 22. Whether you are Congress, BJP or AAP, it should worry you. It is not just the academic human rights of some tiny minority in some critical habitat; but, in addition, human rights of people in terms of right to life, right to free movement, right to safety, right to recourse to legal action and right to justice that is at stake. All university movements are socially relevant in that a society needs this space and its work in becoming itself and in getting ahead; but the DU situation demonstrates that connection quite immediately.

FTII was a remarkable move of student opposition to favouritism imposed with arrogant callousness on an institution, Rohith Vemula of HCU brought out the socio-ethical issues in the university system of a hierarchical society foregrounding its discontents and JNU showed how there is a new political content that students have in offer, both in language and action, in defending the spaces of knowledge production and dissemination. Delhi University punctuates itself differently. Its issues only begin academic: they went on to be issues of rule of law, rights of women and citizenship rights. Its nearest ally from protest movements could be the Nirbhaya case, which was not primarily a university movement.

Whether you are right wing or left wing, student or parent, whether you teach or drive an auto, whether you are a hyper nationalist or an anti-nationalist, by virtue of being the citizen of a republic, as a social being, as a human being with ethical concerns and historical memory, you would agree that the estrangement and helplessness of people through fear is a deadly turn.

It is in knowing this that you become a stakeholder in the Delhi University movement.

(NP Ashley is Assistant Professor of English at St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi)

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First Published on: February 27, 2017 11:18 am
  1. I
    indian
    Feb 27, 2017 at 1:50 pm
    A bit of hyperbole don't you think? Equating some scuffles with 1984 anti sikh riots where the Congress government encouraged large scale murder.
    Reply
    1. I
      IML sood
      Feb 27, 2017 at 5:56 pm
      No one can allow a new Jihadi breed to flourish in other Universities like in JNU. People have tolerated enough during long Cong. rule no more compromise with anti national forces,whether a few like it or not.
      Reply
      1. M
        MyTake
        Feb 27, 2017 at 11:30 pm
        Fake news/media fanning fake issued should be k I c k e d out of public life!
        Reply
        1. S
          Sonu Malik.
          Feb 27, 2017 at 1:48 pm
          JNU must be renamed as National Political Academy , since its job is to train politicians of India.
          Reply
          1. S
            Sonu Malik.
            Feb 27, 2017 at 1:42 pm
            This is all about political space. Having seen Kanhiya Kumar spring out as a politician from the dust of JNU, ABVP wants to give birth to its own politician from DU. He will the head of ABVP . This person will be given the BJP ticket in the next Delhi Elections or if he is capable of more such "fireworks", he may also get a parliamentary ticket . I see JNU and DU problems as ping out parades of b new politicians of BJP , Left etc.
            Reply
            1. A
              Akhlesh Mathur
              Feb 27, 2017 at 9:25 am
              Strange ...the only the thing which we hear is slogans on kashmir . The author says lot of other things but we see none . It seems author has forgotten that its tax payer money that funds these insutions and there no threat ...only issue is anti india slogans on kashmir where the state is at war . In war time you have to rally behind the state.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Its amazing how one side view is published as if all is all wrong .
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              1. A
                ansuman
                Mar 4, 2017 at 12:48 am
                No one should test the patience of Hindus anymore.Like a cotton ball -there is a limit how much you can compress it till you can no more ,and there we are now.enough bs is tolerated in the name of free speech, minority and vote bank.The nation is on path of progress after 70 years and a lot many commies,congies,corrupt and inept -can see their demise thus this useless bs. Shameless as you all are -we expect all the hue and cry from you. However -70 years is-more then we can take.
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                1. A
                  ansuman
                  Mar 4, 2017 at 12:53 am
                  today just stones,but if anti national do not stop -tomorrow they will be jailed too. enough is enough.
                  Reply
                  1. W
                    whoami
                    Feb 27, 2017 at 7:39 am
                    agree
                    Reply
                    1. A
                      A villager
                      Feb 27, 2017 at 9:29 am
                      Time has to come stone death the leftism.
                      Reply
                      1. A
                        Aftab
                        Feb 27, 2017 at 12:10 pm
                        As an educated father of 3 intelligent sons(2 of whom are doing ph.d abroad),I am very worried about the situation.It is not only threats/intimidation ,but also squeezing funds for minorities/dalits and appointment of rss cadres to the faculties that is putting system into disarray.And when you add educated unemployment to it.....God save the country.
                        Reply
                        1. G
                          Girish
                          Feb 27, 2017 at 9:02 am
                          Keep your sermon at your church ashley. Let's see your blog post when someone abuses the pope.
                          Reply
                          1. S
                            ss
                            Feb 27, 2017 at 11:18 am
                            It is important to eliminate the last vestiges of Marxist ideology on our campuses. While violence is never justifiable, deliberate provocation by Leftists too needs to be discouraged. If you invite Umer Khaled to a seminar you are really waving a red flag at a bull. Where does hosting anti national individuals stop ? Is it all right to invite Dawood Ibrahim or Hafez S for a seminar ? Your motives are clearly suspect if you choose to do so.
                            Reply
                            1. I
                              Indian
                              Feb 27, 2017 at 12:00 pm
                              The article is not about the atmosphere today... it is about whether students can be allowed to physically attack other students and teachers, and get away scot-free.
                              Reply
                              1. I
                                Indian
                                Feb 27, 2017 at 11:55 am
                                There were no anti-India slogans at Ramjas. Stop spreading lies.
                                Reply
                                1. I
                                  Indian
                                  Feb 27, 2017 at 11:58 am
                                  Wow, you are so right-wing that you think a centrist like the author is left-wing!
                                  Reply
                                  1. I
                                    innocent
                                    Feb 27, 2017 at 10:51 am
                                    I dont know why indians dont ignore kashmiris...let them live as they wannna live there...
                                    Reply
                                    1. I
                                      innocent
                                      Feb 27, 2017 at 10:55 am
                                      dont know whats the issue ? do people wanna buy land there or marry their kids there...as it doesnt offer any job business oppourtunity.... how does it impact indians will be a mystery always...
                                      Reply
                                      1. I
                                        innocent
                                        Feb 27, 2017 at 10:53 am
                                        what is wrong if kashmiris wanna preserve their separate ideny....we are connected to them only via control of finance, communication and external affairs matter....(i.e., Art 370 contract)
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                                        1. J
                                          jouhar
                                          Mar 1, 2017 at 2:50 am
                                          Democracy as system can flourish only in a platform where individuals having different ideas and ideologies can discuss, debate and dissent in a dialogic platform. When one dominant group starts muzzling the other voices using tools ranging from physical brutality to emotional torturing, even if that group enjoys a democratic mandate, the very foundations of the ideological basis of democracy comes under greater strain. The irony of it all is perhaps, many individuals and organisations could easily switch roles, and metamorphose from victim to victimizer. The slogans on the flags at times could highlight the stark differences between the ideal and the real. Unless we could reinvent ourselves, and all stakeholders are willing to introspect, our pionate interventions might not be fruitful to stem the tide.
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                                          1. A
                                            anil
                                            Feb 27, 2017 at 7:45 am
                                            Why the author did not write such article on Stone Pelting by Kashmir valley persons on the security forces when they were engaged in fighting the terrorists ? totally biased article. Another instance of trolling of ABVP by haters leftists sickulars, award wapasi gang .( Yes ! GANG)
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