On February 22, Ramjas College in Delhi University’s north campus became the site of violence rather than discussion, coercion instead of education. According to reports, students belonging to the RSS-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) attacked their fellow students from Ramjas. The students of the college, supported by Left student unions, were protesting the disruption of an event at which Umar Khalid, a PhD scholar from JNU, was to speak the day before. Khalid, who was booked for sedition last year for his participation in an event on JNU campus to commemorate the hanging of Afzal Guru, but has never been convicted of a crime, has been branded “anti-national” by the ABVP. This episode can be seen as part of a spreading pattern. Ever since the BJP-led government came to power at the Centre, its student wing appears to have become a force for intolerance. It has aggressively labelled ideas and people as “anti-national” and worked up violent confrontations that threaten to cramp and restrict the freedom of expression on the campus. In Jai Narayan Vyas University in Jodhpur, an academic’s talk on Kashmir at a seminar was made the trigger for a contrived controversy; in Hyderabad central university, Dalit student, Rohith Vemula, who committed suicide had had run-ins with the ABVP; in Mahendragarh, the ABVP agitated against the staging of Mahasweta Devi’s play ‘Draupadi’.
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The ABVP has been, and will likely continue to be, a recruiting ground for the BJP. Leaders of the government and party, however, have not condemned the violence of the Parivar’s student-wing. On the contrary, Union minister of state for home affairs, Kiren Rijiju, has said that freedom of speech does not allow “campuses to become hub of anti-national activity”. Such statements, especially from a Union minister, only embolden those with political ambitions within the ABVP to continue the politics of aggression and repression. The role of Delhi Police in the incident in Ramjas College — as during the confrontation in JNU last year — has also invited accusations of partisanship. Joint commissioner Devendra Pathak has admitted that the conduct of three constables was “unprofessional”; they have been suspended. Several academics and students present during the protests have pointed at police inaction as a reason for the escalation of violence at Ramjas College.
The ABVP has a right to its own views and to protest those it disagrees with. It must allow that same room to its opponents. Its now frequent recourse to violence and disruption under the garb of a nationalist rhetoric, must be condemned by leaders of its parent organisations. In a healthy democracy, political leaders need to respect diversity of opinion and must have the ability to talk to those they disagree with. That ethos must also, and especially, inform student politics — for the sake of the future.