This is a guest post by SHAFEY DANISH
The violence that gripped Ramjas College on the 21st and 22nd of this month is now national news. We heard belligerent slogans by ABVP members of ‘chappal maro saalon ko’ (beat them with slippers), we saw students being chased on the campus, and we saw students being beaten up. All this culminated in a situation where students and teachers were held captive for over five hours within the campus premises. Let me emphasize that this violence was completely unprovoked.
On the 22nd of February, some of the students who were simply sitting with their friends were attacked. The police came and formed a cordon around them. Others joined the students in a gesture of solidarity. Teachers joined them to ensure that the students were not assaulted. The police cordon became their prison for the next five hours. And even then they were not safe.
They were repeatedly assaulted, threatened, and abused. All of this happened in front of their teachers and, more importantly, in front of the police, who, as is well known by now, did not do anything substantial. They could have maintained the cordon around the protesters, arrested those who were repeatedly carrying out the assaults, or – at the very least – prevented the attackers from coming back in (they had left for some time to attack the protest going on outside). But they did not. Whether this was because they were under pressure or because they were complicit is besides the point. The point is that students and teachers remained at the mercy of their attackers for over five hours.
But on the same day something far more ominous was also going on.
Goons went into classes and demanded to know what was being taught. One teacher, and his students, were asked to sing the national anthem in class, or risk being beaten. Students were threatened that they had been identified and would be targeted. Teachers were threatened that they would not be allowed to teach in Ramjas. Together, these acts constitute an unprecedented assault on the sanctity and the independence of our educational institutions.
Societies function on a normal and natural presumption of safety. We go about because we believe our streets are safe, and that, if violence occurs, we can seek redress with the police and the justice mechanism of this country. This presumption of safety from harm holds even more strictly in educational institutions.
Teachers do not take security personnel to the classroom, they exercise their authority in their classes as a given. They may ask not to be interrupted, they may ask an offending student to leave the class, they may deny someone entry to the class because he or she is not a part of it, or because they had simply failed to be punctual. This is how classrooms in colleges and universities are supposed to work.
Students gather, talk, hang out with their fellow students in campus under the same assumption of security. They organize talks, fests, musical events and cultural programmes. They form societies and groups within the college and these groups carry out their work with relative autonomy. At the very least, and let me repeat that for emphasis, at the very least they expect to do their work without intimidation and certainly without the threat or possibility of violence.
Neither students nor teachers can do their work if that feeling of safety is snatched away from them. Are we supposed to be constantly looking over our shoulders while taking a decision? Have we come to such a pass that hoodlums can get into classrooms and demand that everyone should get up and sing the national anthem or face the possibility of violence? Is the national anthem to be converted from a symbol of our love for our country to a symbol of brute coercion? Are we now going to have to submit our courses and content not to an academic body but to those who have nothing but brute force as their argument? Is this the kind of society that we are moving towards? These are extremely troubling questions and transfigure the violence, heinous as it was, into something far more dangerous. These tactics take us from a society based on principles and collectively held values to one that is based on coercion and brute force.
If the goons who had done this knew history, they would have known that such tactics have been tried before, by fascist and dictatorial regimes, at various points in history and in various places. And they would have known the end result of such tactics have always been disastrous. They would have known that the sixty million dead of the Second World War attest to this fact.
In the light of all this, a strong and immediate response to restore security and trust was called for. While the college authorities have unequivocally condemned the violence, and a committee has been formed to look into disciplinary measures to be taken, the upshot is that no action has been taken against the perpetrators of the violence so far. It would have been easy enough. There were hundreds of witnesses. Much of the violence has been caught on camera. Teachers were witness to it, and students bear bruises as visible proof—if, indeed, proof is needed.
It will be days, possibly weeks, before the committee can make its recommendations. It means that when the students return to the campus—and I do not know when they would feel confident enough to do so—they will be running the risk of further intimidation, simply because the very same people will still be on campus. Fear is rampant, and the promise of security rings hollow in the absence of any concrete measures. There will be police, but the police were present on the 21st and the 22nd also; they did not, or could not, guarantee safety.
We might even see a repeat of the same events, as students have come to know that these people have planned to go around the college, enter classrooms, and justify to the students the action they have taken. Bear in mind that their ‘action’ consisted of threat, intimidation and physical violence. In effect, victims would be forced to listen to their victimisers. Classes would be disrupted and, if a teacher were to deny them entry, there is every possibility of a repeat of the violence.
The crisis then is far from over, the violence is set only to continue. The question is what are we going to do about this? Is it not time enough for action, or would we play the fiddle as our college burns?
Shafey Danish teaches literature at Ramjas College, Delhi University.