For the second successive day, goons affiliated to the RSS-BJP backed right wing student mafia gang called ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) pelted stones and violently attacked peaceful assemblies of students and teachers in Delhi University. Journalists who were present were also beaten up. Phones and cameras and filming equipment were destroyed. An attempt was made to strangle a professor with his own scarf. He, and some other students who were injured had to be hospitalized. Luckily, they are shaken, but out of immediate danger. The incidents have been characterized as ‘clashes’ between right wing and left wing student groups by some sections of the media. Nothing can be further from the truth. These were not ‘clashes’. They were straight-forward one sided attacks by a mob intent on violence. A riot is not a clash.
Delhi Police, which was present in strength on both occasions did not fire pellet guns at the stone pelters and rioters. After all, this is Delhi, not Kashmir, and the Standard Operating Procedure of the Delhi police is to not disturb ‘patriotic’ stone pelters. Rather, patriotic stone pelting, violence and vandalism are protected and encouraged activities, when done in the defense of the nation by the enthusiastic ‘children’ and wards of the present regime. The ABVP knows this well, because one of their persistent slogans heard yesterday, was, reportedly, ‘Yeh Andar Ki Baat Hai, Police Hamare Saath Hai’ (‘we know it from the inside, the police is on our side’).
You can fault the ABVP on many things. You can accuse them of being a fascist militia intent on destroying higher education in India, which they are. You can call them thugs out to crack skulls on campuses, which they are. You can accuse them of derailing education by preventing debate and discussion in universities, and you would not be wrong in doing so. You can point, correctly, to their colorful habit of using Maadarchod (‘Motherfucker’) as invective against students who are not with them, even as they cry themselves hoarse shouting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ as ways of expressing their feelings towards ‘Mother India’. You can call them stooges of corrupt university administrations, which they are. You can call them informers and scabs, which they are. And the list of the things that you can call them, with accuracy, can grow longer still.
But you can’t fault them on the extent of honesty and sincerity with which they admit that the Delhi Police and the ABVP are in bed with each other. The ABVP is law & order disguised as thuggery, and the police is present to enforce, not suppress law & order in University spaces. When student activists are violently attacked by right wing goons and ABVP cadre outside the RSS headquarters, the Delhi Police shields the attackers. When ABVP level false charges against students in JNU, the Delhi police obliges them by arresting the accused students for sedition. When a student like Najeeb Ahmed disappears from JNU following intimidation and violence by ABVP members, the Delhi Police ensures that the names of the assaulting students are not registered in the FIR. It also ensures that they are not investigated for Najeeb’s disappearance. And yesterday, when students who were attacked with stones, molested and manhandled violently by the ABVP, the Delhi Police not only refuses to file an FIR, rather, resorts to a lathi charge at Maurice Nagar police station against the students who had gathered there to demand the filing of the FIR. All of this happened while the ABVP jeered in the background.
Reports from tonight indicate that while the Delhi Police has declared section 144 in Delhi University (making gatherings and protests on campus illegal) ABVP goons are moving in motorcycle borne squads, armed with sticks and razors, through hostels and the neighborhoods close to the university, looking for the students whom they believe took an active part in the protests. A Facebook message doing the rounds is asking students who may be attacked to leave north campus and its neighborhood and move in with friends in other parts of the city until things calm down. The Delhi Police, as is usual, has not given any assurance of safety or security to any students who fear being attacked. It is not preventing these ABVP ‘search’ squads from undertaking their patriotic duties of intimidation, harassment and the spreading of fear and hatred.
Attacks and a climate of intimidations in universities and institutions of higher education are growing by the day. They are undertaken by the ABVP and Hindutva Hooligans in Delhi and Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh with the blessings of the BJP Modi regime at the centre, by the ABVP and the student outfits of the Shiv Sena and the MNS in Maharashtra, by the Trinamool Cchatra Parishad in West Bengal, by student groups allied with Islamist organizations (and even with some mainstream, so called ‘secular parties’) in places like Aligarh Muslim University and by the CPI-M backed SFI in Kerala. Often these attacks have the tacit backing and approval of university administrators and local authorities. There is, as I have said before, a state of war against the young, and universities are their battleground. The current regime has been successful to a certain extent in dividing students by creating an atmosphere where the constant playing up of the ‘identity’ of different communities within university spaces seems like a relevant and necessary option. In the long run, this has to be seen for what it is, as a campaign of attrition and distraction that saps the energy of student activism from within.
The time may have come for everyone concerned to think beyond the standard response of holding protest gatherings that themselves become targets, or organizing ‘lecture series’ that provide us with some satisfaction, but do little to tackle the facts on the ground. So far, left student groups have been forced to adopt defensive postures to contain the ratcheting up of pressure, violence and intimidation tactics from the right. This is required, as no one could predict the extent to which the right-wing thugs and their protectors in universities could descend to unleash their poison. But its been little more than a year since Rohith Vemula died, since the events of 9th February happened in JNU and its been several months since Najeeb disappeared. In the interim, the UGC has cut seats, and the ABVP has cut its teeth on a fresh wave of violence.
However given the scale of what we are encountering, as it becomes clear we are in this battle for the long-haul, is it time to consider what other response and politics may be forged at this juncture? Is there a way for us to take back the initiative? Even as I salute the extraordinary courage that students and young faculty have displayed in protecting their spaces, protecting each other and ensuring that the right is unable to perpetuate silence, I also worry about the toll in fatigue that another round of hunger-strikes will take, or the prospect of being entangled by the red-tape that is attendant to the endless ‘petitioning’ mode. We have to find ways of responding that are mindful of ketone levels and the burn-out that accompanies waiting for court appearances.
I fear otherwise the right-wing will exhaust our energies given the vast resources at their command if we are continually in fire-fighting mode. Clearly, there are several traps ahead. The government and its stooges are waiting for students to make a false move, to answer provocation with badly thought out, violent provocation. Students and their friends all across India have to think, swiftly, to ensure a co-ordinated, well thought out, militant but non-violent responses to the danger that their spaces, their lives and their freedom is in today.
We hope that Kafila, and other online platforms, social media and offline public spaces can become practical forums where a new, imaginative, radical wave can be shaped with a view to taking back universities and all spaces where the young gather to learn and to live. We welcome reports, ideas, accounts, conversations and strategies that can make that happen. In the coming days, especially, if the election results are not favorable to the BJP, we can only expect that the ABVP will unleash more terror out of their own levels of frustration and rage. Let us never forget that the ABVP and the other thugs are resorting to intimidation because they know they and the regime that is backing them is rapidly losing all legitimacy and support. They are afraid, and that is why they need the ‘cover’ of the police and university authorities. Its time to give it right back to them. We need the support, not just of students and teachers, but also of parents, and people in society generally, so that universities are not held hostage. We need mothers and fathers to stand with students and their teachers, as comrades, everywhere
Let us make them (the right wing thugs and authoritarian tendencies of all kinds) wish that they had never started this fight.
[ Thanks to the Quint, NDTV, Talha, Anshul Mukharji and Anirban Bhattacharya for updates, videos and photographs taken from their Facebook pages.]