Our Professor turned 54 on August 16, while in the custody of NIA. Prof. Hany Babu M.T. from the Department of English, University of Delhi was arrested on July 28 by the NIA in a series of ongoing harassment of academics, and activists who have been vocal against the government and its policies. This act of suppressing dissenting voices in academic spaces by the State threatens the very fabric of the Indian democracy. Prof. Babu has been a strong advocate for social justice, and has worked strenuously in the anti-caste movement. As a professor of linguistics, his classes have always been about demanding an equal space for the varying languages in India and looking at English as an emancipatory language. His teachings have made, and continue to make students critically approach caste supremacy hidden within the rubric of the Indian language structure. He has always highlighted the need for equality amongst language, and language speakers.
It should be underlined that eleven activists/scholars have already been arrested in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case and nine out of these have been in jail since nearly two years, as undertrials. We, the students of Prof Hany Babu are angry. It should be a sad day for the country and everyone who has been a student should be concerned that a brilliant academic, and more so, a morally upright and an innocent man is spending this day alone in custody.
Under these circumstances, Students in Solidarity With Hany Babu, a collective composed of his present and former students, put out a call to students to send in birthday wishes and thereby express their solidarity with their professor. The responses shared a collective understanding of Prof. Hany Babu’s persona as a gentle, compassionate professor who not only taught his students about the exclusive nature of universities in India but also created an inclusive environment in an attempt to open the university space for all.
His student Siddi writes:
Your way of teaching with a sweet and humble voice and the way of describing things have always inspired me and yours were among the few classes I regularly attended. Sir, one day I want to become a teacher like you and I want to have the strength you have.
As Jyotirmoy shares:
Like I have always said, if it was not for you, I would not learn to be proud of my mother language Kamrupi, use it without shame in public, and develop a lifelong academic interest in language and culture.
Another student Samiksha writes:
Happy Birthday, sir. You have been one of the best professors I have ever come across. Your sincere efforts in a class taught us not just what was in the books but also about the semantics of inclusivity and equality. We take immense pride in being the students of a Professor who speaks up against the wrongs and injustice in our world. We continue to learn from you.
While some students wrote about the popularity of his classes, which they would attend in large numbers, even though attendance was not compulsory, others have written about the exposure to the contemporary and its problems that they have gained from their classes.
As Adarsh writes:
Thank you for taking a subject that was one of the toughest in M.A. and making us feel heard, and aware. Your sociolinguistics classes made me understand my home more, but also made me realise how deeply language is rooted, even in caste and religion. This is what your classes do sir, they make us question.
There were also wishes from students, who despite not being students of Prof. Babu shared the grief and anger at the present situation. As Abeer, a young student writes:
I do not know you, yet I feel like I do. From what I’ve heard, you seem like a fatherly figure to many which to me is an ultimate form of respect.
Asief writes about the same:
“We first met regarding some internal mark discrepancies students were facing in the department. You guided us and from there, you have always been the go-to person for some of us whenever some issue related to the department or university crops up. You have been a welcoming presence in an unwelcoming space like Delhi University. You are an inspiration for students like us. Many students express their shock, anger and disbelief about the arrest and they also swear to stand with him…”
We have received over 250+ mails, most of them recounting their personal experiences as students of Prof. Babu. We have published a very few of them. We strongly believe that a teacher, mentor and activist like Hany Babu is an integral asset to the university space and his absence only ensures the further marginalisation of students from marginalised communities. We demand an immediate release of our sir, Professor Hany Babu.