“I don’t remember much of what happened when I was being assaulted. People were landing blows and I was defending myself as well as I could. It’s all a big blur, but it was clear they wanted to kill me. They were calling me deshdrohi (traitor) and asking if I wanted to become Kanhaiya Kumar. That I clearly recall,” says Sanjay Kumar, reclining on his hospital bed.
On August 17, the assistant professor from Motihari’s Mahatma Gandhi Central University, Bihar (MGCUB) was assaulted by a group of 20-25 people, allegedly for two Facebook posts critical of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In them he had said that Vajpayee’s death marked the end of fascism. Kumar is admitted in the AIIMS emergency ward since August 20.
Rajan Srivastava, a member of BJP’s IT cell in Motihari, had responded to Kumar’s post and written, “MGCUB ke professor mahoday abhi aapne Champaran walon ka muhabbat dekha hai ab latkhurdam dekhne ka samay aa gaya hai (Mr Professor of MGCUB, you have so far seen only the love of Champaran residents, now get ready to see their muscle power).”
Kumar says that on the morning of the attack, he got calls from three people warning that he would be killed. Soon after, the mob landed on his doorstep.
“Those were my views, which I expressed rather respectfully. I also wrote that he had left for his heavenly abode and said RIP. I have the right to my opinion; I don’t know why there was a big hullabaloo about it,” he says.
Kumar stays in a village in Saharsa, Bihar, with his six-month-old son, wife and mother. His father died when he was young. His brother is a marginal peasant.
“Ever since the attack, my mother has been crying from worry. My son is very young. I feel helpless that I’m stuck here,” he says.
Bihar Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi had accused Kumar of exaggerating his “superficial injuries” and trying to “evoke sympathy of media and left liberals”. But Kumar says he is in bad shape. “I can’t see properly with my left eye. My neck, back and thighs hurt all the time. They did not even spare my private parts,” he says.
Kumar, a JNU alumnus, says he was attacked for his activism. “The services of two teachers were terminated last year, I was the first to publicly speak about it. I also spoke about administrative corruption in the university. I was attacked for my activism. The post is just an excuse. They thought they would instil fear in other people by assaulting me,” says Kumar.
Soon after the attack, the V-C closed the university sine die. Kumar says this too was to stop activism. “When the university is not open, how can there be any movement or mobilisation? The V-C did this to cover up all the issues plaguing the university,” he says.
He claims the attack on him was not isolated. “It’s organised, like we have seen all over the country. Whoever is telling the truth is anti-national,” he says.
Going back to Motihari does not seem to be an option for now, says Kumar. “The police are not doing their job properly. How can I feel safe? Unless I get police protection, my existence is threatened in Motihari,” he says.
Mrityunjay Kumar, also an assistant professor at MGCUB who is now attending to Kumar in AIIMS, agrees. “We can be killed anytime if we go back,” he says. The doctors have said that Kumar will take six months to recover fully, Mrityunjay added.