In an unusual interpretation of the model code of conduct, six students of the Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya (MGAHV) in Maharashtra’s Wardha have been expelled for organising a dharna and writing a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi protesting, among other things, rising incidents of mob lynching and “shielding” of leaders accused of rape.
In an order issued October 9, Acting Registrar Rajeshwar Singh said the students were being expelled for “violating the 2019 assembly election code of conduct and interfering in the judicial process” by organising a group dharna.
Chandan Saroj, one of the six students thrown out, said though some 100 students were present at the dharna on October 9, university authorities took action “selectively against three Dalit and three OBC students”. He said “there were many upper caste students too in solidarity with us”.
The expulsion order identified the students as Chandan Saroj (M Phil, Social Work); Neeraj Kumar (PhD, Gandhi and Peace Studies); Rajesh Sarthi; Rajneesh Ambedkar (Women’s Studies Department); Pankaj Vela (M Phil, Gandhi and Peace Studies); and, Vaibhav Pimpalkar (Diploma, Women’s Studies Department).
The All India Students’ Association, in a Facebook post, said Rajesh Sarthi is an AISA activist. It called for reversal of the university order, saying “freedom of expression of the students cannot be curtailed”. Stating that women who complained of rape by BJP’s Kuldeep Singh Sengar and Chinmayanand were being “brutally victimized”, it went on to list issues such as Kashmir, “communal and casteist mob lynchings”, the murder of Tabrez Ansari in Jharkhand, the attack on Dalits in Bhima Koregaon and the demolition of a Ravidas temple in Delhi.
Acting Vice-Chancellor Krishna Kumar Singh told The Indian Express: “Action was taken in view of the prohibition in force against protests in groups during the period of model code of conduct for the Maharashtra assembly election. Our letter is very clear on the matter.”
Chandan Saroj said “a few days ago, we had announced on our FB page that we were going to write a letter to the PM to protest. Some students told us that the administration was saying it cannot be done without their permission. So, on October 7, we gave them a letter. They denied permission, saying our letter did not have a date. They never mentioned anything about the code of conduct.”
“We decided to gather at the Gandhi Hill on the campus where there is a Gandhi statue. October 9 was also BSP founder Kanshi Ram’s death anniversary, so we merged both programmes. But they locked the gates leading to the statue. When about 100 students were holding a dharna near the gate, Acting Registrar Rajeshwar Singh, Acting V-C K K Singh and Proctor Manoj Kumar came around 9 pm. They spoke to us in a rude, threatening manner. We kept saying there was nothing unconstitutional about what we were doing, and that there can be no election code of conduct on the campus. But they did not listen,” he said.
“Late at night, when the office remains closed, they issued this letter selectively against three Dalit and three OBC students though there were many upper caste students too in solidarity with us,” Saroj said, adding “we went ahead and posted the letter to the PM on October 10”.