Ramjas has taught me many things, the foremost being the importance of a material history. An ideological history means little, something the ABVP and the rest of the saffron brigade would do well to keep in mind. The premise of Makarand Paranjape’s article in this newspaper (‘What Ramjas taught’, IE, March 4) is that Ramjas College is an AISA-controlled island, marooned in the ABVP-dominated sea that is Delhi University.
To clarify, the Ramjas Students’ Union, presided over by Yogit Rathi (and comprising Ramit Bhutani, Amit Singh, Amit Kumar, Anshuman Dubey, and Parul Aggarwal) ran for election independently — they claimed to have no affiliation to any political party. Facts and material conditions, as I have discovered in my three years of studying English, are most important when it comes to constructing an argument or narrative — analysis, however vital, is secondary.
The Ramjas Students’ Union has made its political leanings abundantly clear; they support the ABVP and its love for brazen lies and facile expressions of violence.
My favourite aspect of the narrative the ABVP has so carefully curated is the one where they decide that the seminar was organised by “leftists” and AISA members. Paranjape believed that it was organised by our AISA-led students’ union and “Left-sympathising teachers”. That line has now been omitted online from his opinion piece, and it now looks like Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid (JNU’s resident “agent provocateurs”) were to arrive at Ramjas College of their own volition only to “stir the proverbial hornet’s nest”.
As a member of the team that organised the seminar, I would just like to explicitly state that we are ordinary students. We have no political affiliations or aspirations. Umar Khalid was invited to speak on the subject of his PhD thesis, on Bastar, as a part of a session titled “Regions in Conflict”. His identity as an activist, or his personal political opinions, is of negligible significance.
And, to the Ramjas Students’ Union and ABVP, if you thought you were fulfilling your duties because only “ordinary students” were irreconcilably perturbed by the idea of “anti-nationals” speaking on campus, you are mistaken. We, too, are ordinary students, politicised by your penchant for brutality, who wanted nothing more than to investigate the various voices of resistance and be exposed to certain ideas through the medium of a seminar.
If you believe our numbers are what they are because “yeh sab baahar ke log hain” (they are all outsiders) or “JNU waalon ko bulaya hai” (People from JNU were called), let me remind you that the people you held hostage on February 22 were all your classmates. The people who marched in peaceful protest on February 21 are the same ones who you exchanged amiable smiles with outside the common room.
Paranjape goes on to suggest that the ABVP should take on its opponents by engaging in an open debate, an offer that was actually made to them. For starters, the seminar was open to all — they were at liberty to come and question the speakers, air their contrary opinions, and have their voices heard. Moreover, when the fracas ensued, they were even invited to put up their own representative for the panel on campus politics the next day. As Paranjape indicates in his article, it is perhaps their lack of intellectual impulse or cerebral prowess that prohibits them from doing so.
The perception that the ABVP consists of honourable and simple-minded, goodhearted people that have been waylaid on their quest for a nation-loving nation by the calculating, cunning “Communist Vermin” (as an ABVP leaflet said) falls flat on its face. Our organising the seminar had absolutely nothing to do with the ABVP and its incredible ability to be bothered by the simplest of matters — we organised the seminar to learn, not “to create ruckus and riot”.
Ramjas has taught me so much, and I am eternally grateful for that. I have learnt that narratives exist to be questioned, and that hegemony of any sort is fatal. Ramjas has been a safe space, a democratic space built by red brick and dappled sunlight. It is a space where dissent has been historically allowed, and liberal thought has triumphed. Lumpen elements will not break this painstakingly constructed haven, nor will they bend our will to interrogate that which is presented to us.