A version of this piece appeared yesterday in The Wire
“I would like to thank Huddersfield University for enabling me to have a sabbatical semester to work on this revised edition and for providing such a supportive environment. Thanks to many of the students on my Women, Power and Society module for their hard work and enthusiasm.”
That is the dedication in a book by British scholar and teacher Valerie Bryson – a text I often use for teaching at a college in Delhi University. Evidently, Bryson found her teaching and research lives complementing each other beautifully, as have thousands of university and college teachers who have had the luck to have what she calls a “supportive” professional and academic environment. What are the elements of this support? A sabbatical semester or year every once in a while, ready research facilities within the college premises or nearby, and an opportunity to formulate teaching courses that ally with your research focus. With these elements in place, both teaching and research benefit dramatically.
Until recently, college teachers in this country had the first two conditions. They were given in their entire careers – say from the age of 26 or 27 when one normally began teaching at a college to the age of 65 – three years of paid study leave to pursue or finish their PhDs (with the usual conditions and caveats including a strict bond that they signed with college promising to return the three years’ pay if the PhD remained incomplete, or if they resigned upon return to the institution) and a further two years of (until recently, paid and now invariably unpaid or “extraordinary”) leave to take a break from teaching and pursue a postdoctoral or visiting fellowship at a research institute.
The following is a statement of solidarity for workers sent by COSTISA – The Coordination of Science and Technology Institutes’ Student Associations from IITs around the country.
May Day 2017:In solidarity with Maruti workers’ struggle
More than 130 years from today, in 1886 May 1st, several thousand workers in Chicago city had participated in the massive strike demanding eight-hour working day and several workers sacrificed their life to achieve this demand. From that day onwards, May 1st is celebrated as the International Workers Day, as a symbol of working class unity against the capitalist class. In 1926, British India government brought the Indian Trade Union Act which deals with trade union registration and their rights. Even after 90 years of this act, formation of trade unions and labour rights including the eight-hour working day are hard to imagine for the workers who are in the unorganized sector and private firms (like automobile, IT, finance and education sectors).
My friend Guddi has a great story about a Gujjar wedding she attended recently in Ghaziabad. It was a typically chaotic event, marked accurately by the swirling crowds around the dinner stalls. If Gujjar weddings are chaotic and the dinner doubly so, the scene around the tandoor is triply compounded chaos. Barely concealed competition amongst overmuscled Gujjar men in overtight pants for that precious hot roti ensures that none but the most Hobbesian men remain, circling the tandoor like hungry wolves, periodically thrusting their plate forward like fencing champions and shouting obscenities at the harried servers. In such a heart-stopping scenario, a young server had as Guddi recounts, figured out the formula to keep everybody from killing each other (or him). As soon as the roti would be pulled out of the tandoor, seductively golden brown and sizzling, this man would hold it high up with his tongs so everybody could see, then in an elaborate dance-like ritual, touch each of the empty extended plates in front of him with the roti, and finally, in a mysterious but authoritative decision, place it respectfully on a randomly selected plate. Repeat with every single roti that emerged from the tandoor. A hushed silence followed by nervous laughter followed every such flourish.
Please find below a collation of statements of solidarity received by Kafila over the past fortnight since the shameful incidents of violence by the ABVP occurred on the 21st and 22nd of February 2017. These are from: Ramjas Alumna, Ambedkar University Delhi Faculty Association, O.P Jindal Teachers: Students and Durham University Politics and International Relations Society, U.S.A; and students and faculty at the University of Minnesota, U.S.A.
The statements are preceded by a short write-up on what Ramjas College has meant to its alumna, by ANUBHAV PRADHAN.
Nostalgia is made of more than just happiness. It is sulphurous too.
To many who spent three or more years of their life in Ramjas College, visuals of violence in and around it on 21 and 22 February 2017 have been a source of deep, personal shock. The footpath and the areas adjoining the college gate were often sites of lingering conversations between friends, offering moments of respite from studies, tensions accruing from impending exams, or relief to those who had just accomplished a hectic ECA festival and were there catching up their breath or exhaling smoke.
The ABVP struck twice, once attacking the college Seminar Room and then coming back the second day to attack students. In the hundredth year of Ramjas’ establishment, a college founded at a time when protest was an active ideal for most Indians, this singular episode of planned, institutional violence against students and teachers is a grim reminder of the brute silencing of interrogation, peaceful protest, dialogue and dissent being normalised across our colleges and universities, and in our society at large. The audacity with which these perpetrators and their ideologues brand entire institutions and diverse communities of students and academics as anti-national—and therefore fit recipients for their brute censure—also gives the lie to the intellectual and affective bankruptcy of a rapidly emergent cultural orientation premised on simplistic binaries of good and bad, right and wrong, national and anti-national. In a society—and nation—whose ideals are peace, dialogue, and inclusion, these attacks on students and teachers point to the deep ideological rot in the perpetrators’ conception of nation, nationality and nationalism.
As an alumnus of Ramjas College, I cherish the right to self-determination and open debate. I feel outraged that the students’ and faculties’ right to decide what discussion to hold and whom to invite for it within college premises was usurped in this manner. It is disturbing that this violence rippled across the campus as it were, with students being followed, identified and harassed in their personal spaces for having asserted their right to listen to discussions on Bastar and for not bowing down to bodily attacks perpetrated through stones and fisticuffs by members of the ABVP and their affiliates.
Most alumni like me are invested in our respective professions, but the foundations of study and work were laid for us by Ramjas’ teachers and the college’s vibrant culture of extra-curricular instruction. This experience has proved fundamental to our engagement with our immediate workspaces, surroundings, power structures, and our nation. Denying current and future students their right to freely and openly debate issues of their choice in fora of their choice is tantamount to denial of a basic academic right. Threatening and manhandling academicians guided by the spirit of enquiry towards generation of dialogue will prove detrimental to the quality of collegiate education in our nation. We collectively issue the following statement of solidarity with Ramjas’ students and teachers in this moment of crisis:
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.
We, the undersigned students and academics, gravely condemn the attack on the students and faculty of Delhi University on the 22nd of February, 2017. The students and faculty of Delhi University were expressing their democratic right to protest against the vandalism and hooliganism unleashed by the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) at Ramjas College, Delhi University, on the 21st of February, 2017. We oppose ABVP’s systematic and deliberate attempts to humiliate, terrorize and bully the students and the faculty members.
We also condemn the brutal, unconstitutional, and illegal actions taken by the Delhi Police against the students and faculty members. Delhi Police’s refusal to lodge legal detention and parading of students in buses, and scapegoating of democratic student and faculty body threatens and undermines values of the Constitution, and has created an environment of fear and dismay.
We, the students, alumni and associates of the Department of English, Delhi University, unequivocally condemn the attack on the students and teachers at Ramjas College and on the university campus by violent protesters from the ABVP and/or other factions, outside and inside the college premises on the 21st and 22nd of February, 2017. We also condemn police inaction and the unprovoked assault on peaceful protesters, manhandling of women and students who were registering their dissent outside Maurice Nagar police station.
The attack on a faculty member of our Department has brought to light the glaring fact that none of us who uphold the right to a free exchange of ideas is safe in the university campus under the current circumstances. We assert that it is our most fundamental right as members of the university community to critically engage with ideas, discuss, debate and follow strands of thought to uncharted territories that remain under the cover of the protective gaze of social and political forces. We have been nurtured by the English Department, at the University of Delhi to question established readings of texts—both cultural and literary—to place them upside-down or to give new shape to them as the need be and we will not concede this ground to forces that wish to stagnate readings of literature, culture and the social at large. An attack on Dr. Prasanta Chakravarty is a blatant attack on each and every member of the English Department, as we have learned more than we can encompass in this statement from his lectures, ideas and discussions both inside and outside the classroom. He taught us to speak truth to power and this practice is most needed today when he was physically assaulted not more than five hundred meters away from the English Department.