My father called to inform me that a Delhi University professor has been raided in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case. I asked him if it was Hany Babu. Soon after, I started getting messages which proved my fears true. Why was this so predictable?
Is it because Babu is involved in some conspiratorial activity to overthrow the state, to which I am privy? No, his involvement with the campaign in the defence of G N Saibaba is the reason I feared for his safety. Saibaba, who has 95 per cent disability and is also a teacher at our university, is wasting away in Nagpur jail. He would have slipped out of our collective mindscape but for the dogged campaign led by Hany Babu. Saibaba has been labelled a Maoist and, therefore, in the statist common sense, he does not deserve to live.
It needed some courage to be the voice of this campaign, given the viciousness with which the word Maoist is used in our public discourse. You need not be a supporter of the Maoist politics to uphold the right of people to follow or practice it. Even the Supreme Court finds it legitimate and lawful if you are not involved in any violent act. Saibaba has been sentenced to life imprisonment.
The Pune police has confiscated Babu’s computer and hard drive, in which his academic work is stored. Now, his social media account and other contacts are with the police. The police did not even have search warrant when they raided his home. It is complete lawlessness from the keepers of the law which a citizen is confronted with. You need to be extremely lucky, like Sudha Bharadwaj, that too briefly, to be able call the police’s bluff. How does it matter if his research work is gone? What is it, when compared to the safety of the state?
The credentials of Hany Babu, the teacher and scholar, are irrelevant for the police. But we must not ignore what his peer like Ayesha Kidwai has to say about the potential items on his hard drive:
“Hany Babu has said many controversial things as a linguist. He has claimed, contra Jayaseelan and Amritavalli, that Malayalam has a past tense. That -unnu can occupy either a lower or higher position in the functional architecture of the Malayalam clause, and that the Malayalam cleft does not have an existential presupposition. He also split the CP in his doctoral dissertation quite independently of Rizzi.
All these are naturally very serious crimes in the eyes of the Pune police.Worse still, Hany has also argued against the three-language policy and said, ‘We need to overhaul the language policy in education in such a way that all children have access to primary education in their mother tongue (and not in the dominant language of the state) … Therefore, what we need to move towards is a two-language policy. You learn your own language, and a dominant language that everyone else in the Union learns. And if Hindi is unable to fit the bill, then we need to find another language that opens for us a window not just to other Indians but to the world at large.’ No wonder the Pune police is so incensed, because his work may make them think.”
It is his scholarship and dedication to his profession of teaching which brought his colleagues and students to the road spontaneously, protesting the raid. No small thing, as even an association with him can land one in trouble.
This is the latest thread in conspiracy theory that the police is weaving around the Bhima Koregaon incident. We have completely forgotten the origin of the case. It was the large-scale violence on the participants, mostly Dalits at Bhima Koregaon near Pune, which warranted investigation and action. But the alleged instigators and organisers of that massive violence are roaming free. They seem to be shielded by the feeling of honour that the prime minister has for at least one of them in his heart. The disinterest of the police in this mass crime is evident. Instead, the police has turned the whole case on its head by “unearthing” a conspiracy to assassinate the prime minister.
It spread its net wide, across India and raided and arrested 10 lawyers and activists. Some of them can be called Maoists, which is not crime. But arresting people like Sudha Bharadwaj and Mahesh Raut is sending out a signal to those who believe that even Maoists have human rights which need to be defended. The flimsiness of the theory of the police has been exposed by several writers. But that has not prevented the police from going ahead with its fantasy by implicating scholars like Anand Teltumbde and now, Hany Babu.
The idea seems to be to persuade the people that there is a large network of “respectable” people who are planning acts of terror. It is not a coincidence that a campaign against “Urban Naxals” has been unleashed on us and media houses and ministers of the central government and the leaders of the ruling party are a part of it.
In democracies, it is the state that individuals are pitched against. University teachers are in a unique position as they have the freedom to the state, unlike other government servants. Corporate houses cannot afford to do this despite the power of money. Therefore, the government seeks to silence academics by bringing in the Civil Services Conduct rules for them and the police uses draconian laws like UAPA to disable them.
The government feels threatened by independent minds as they have no vested interest in the system, which would hold them back. They assert the autonomy of the mind and the individual. People like Hany Babu, with the confidence of their scholarship and the integrity of their profession, can talk to the state with their heads held high. Statism cannot succeed as long as they are free. So, it is important to frighten them into silence or make them do the rounds of courts to secure their freedom. It is for us to think if they should be left to fend for themselves.
This article first appeared in the print edition on September 21, 2019 under the title ‘State versus Hany Babu’. The writer teaches Hindi at Delhi University.