Over 2,000 students and teachers from across various universities held an ‘United University Communities’ march on Tuesday at Delhi University’s North Campus, protesting against the violence at Ramjas College last week allegedly perpetuated by the right-wing ABVP. The march began from Shri Guru Tegh Bahadur (SGTB) Khalsa College and ended at the Vivekanand Statue at Arts Faculty building amid tight security.
This comes a day after the Delhi University Students’ Union-led by the ABVP held a ‘Tiranga March’ in the university in the wake of the February 22 incident at Ramjas College, where clashes had erupted between ABVP and AISA members in connection with JNU student Umar Khalid being invited for a seminar. The protest march assumed significance as it had a considerable amount of students participating who were unaffiliated to any political ideology in addition to those from left forums. On the other hand, student wing of the Congress party NSUI were sitting on a hunger strike outside the Arts faculty.
“We are not here to support either AISA or ABVP but have come to show our solidarity for the freedom of speech and expression,” said a student from Khalsa College, who wished not to be named. According to student leaders representing different organisations, the issue is not about the ‘Left’ or ‘right’ but rather a fight to protect the “idea of university”, which advocates critical and free thinking. “This is a fight to decide that whether there will be space for dissent in the campus or it will be curbed in the name of national and anti-national. Today, we the students of DU, are fighting this very battle,” read a notice distributed around the campus with a hashtag #FightBackDU and #DUAgainstGundagardi.
“It is not a tussle between the Left and right. My primary concern is that the violence perpetuated by ABVP is being backed by those who are in power. ABVP is entirely responsible for the violence and I vehemently oppose that,” said Kumar Savarkar, a civil-service aspirant who attended the march to show his solidarity.
The march gained further prominence as a political slugfest has erupted after Gurmehar Kaur, a student of Lady Shri Ram College, started a campaign against the ABVP. The 20-year-old daughter of an army martyr has received online threats of rape and murder for standing against the right-wing student organisation. Congratulating everyone, Gurmehar withdrew herself from the protests in the morning and requested to be left alone.
Prominent among those who attended the march were CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI leader D Raja, JD (U) leader KC Thyagi and Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav. In addition to students and teachers from JNU, Jamia Milia Islamia, Ambedkar University and various others, former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar and ex-vice president of JNUSU Shehla Rashid Shora attended the event. Kanhaiya was one of the three JNU students arrested last year in the sedition case.
Speaking exclusively to IndianExpress.com, a buoyed Shehla said the turnout had been encouraging. “The huge turnout at this protest march gives us hope for unity to stand against the divisive forces. We stand united against the violence perpetrated by ABVP.” Shehla also took a dig at ABVP and said their “patience has been exemplary.”
“This is not about left and right debate but it is fight about right and wrong,” said Yogendra, eliciting a rousing reception from the audience. He also urged the ABVP to indulge in debate rather than violence. Condemning the vandalism at Ramjas, Yadav said the students’ struggle will strengthen the democracy “just like it did against post-emergency”. He also criticised the RSS for talking about nationalism and accused them of not contributing toward the country’s freedom struggle.
Expressing his solidarity for the march, Yechury also targeted the right-wing organisation saying, “Our nationalism is not of Hindu nationalism”. Drawing comparison of today’s student movement with the one during his time, the CPI-M leader hailed the present-day youth’s confidence and added that it was something which was rare back in his days at university. Claiming that the environment in universities has been deliberately disrupted over the past two years, Yechury said, “University rights cannot be trampled upon.”
Another march will be held from Mandi House to the Parliament on March 4.
Towards the end of the march, ABVP also tried to disrupt the protest. However, its efforts were thwarted by the police stationed at Arts Faculty. The march ended before 5 pm and protesters were asked to leave the Arts Faculty premises through the back exit as the front exit had been blocked by ABVP.