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Violent Cultures of Protest| Abhishruti Sarmah

Abhishruti Sarmah

The Literary Society and English Department of Ramjas College had invited Umar Khalid and a few others as speakers at their event called ‘CULTURES OF PROTEST’. The objective of the event was to make the students aware of various ways in which conflicts are dealt with in different regions. The seminar was scheduled to take place on 21 February, at 1:30 pm in the Conference Room. However, it took a violent turn on account of Umar Khalid being invited as one of the panellists. The right-wing student union, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) did not refrain from disrupting the event because an alleged ‘anti- national’ was called as one of the speakers. They started by violently pelting stones at the conference room. The students who were already in the conference room were locked inside for hours and the only exit was crowded by the ABVP goons.

The police had refused to file an FIR against the ABVP goons for disrupting the session. Instead, they lathi-charged the peaceful protesters who were simply demanding that an FIR be filed. This only proves true what the ABVP goons had chanted “Yeh Andar Ki Baat Hain, Police Hamare Saath Hain.” The police had abused the protesters, bashed them, and forced them into a bus that took them around Delhi for at least two hours. Section 144 was rumoured to have been declared by the Delhi Police in the University campus. Reports from that night were scary and disturbing. The ABVP goons were supposedly roaming around the campus armed with sticks, identifying students present in the protest, in college hostels and PGs in and around the campus. A message for the north campus students who were part of the protests was doing rounds in the social media, instilling fear and intimidating them by asking them to leave the campus lest they be attacked. The Delhi Police seemed least bothered about the safety or security of the students who were offended by the disruption of the session.

The university area was ravaged by the bitter turn of events on 21st February, 2017. I am not writing this for any political motive or to put forward my political ideologies, but as a student of Delhi University who was deeply saddened and traumatised by all that had happened. This article stems out of my deep-rooted feelings toward this ghastly and extremely vitriolic turn of events.

Umar Khalid had been invited to talk about his research on Bastar and how the Adivasis have constantly been at the receiving end of the state-led violence since the British period and even today, the situation is no better. It is surprising how, even after permission had been sought and several posters had been put by the organising committee across the north campus, the ABVP goons started pelting stones and started chanting their slogans after the event had started. If the university and the college unions were not in the favour of the event, the most sensible way to have come to a common consensus was through discussions and debates and not through vicious acts of intolerance.

“This was never about me. They made it about my presence to ensure that the seminar doesn’t happen. I was not even present on both the days of the violence. They are living up to their name – Akhil Bharatiya Vandalism Parishad,” – Umar Khalid

Umar Khalid was clearly an excuse for the ABVP to instigate violence in the university campus. He never really left the JNU campus because his event was cancelled two hours prior. The violence that followed would have been unethical even if he had come to speak about his research work in Bastar. What’s disturbing is that the BJP, its ideological wing and its student union have in their dictionary, their own definition of what it means to be a true nationalist regardless of what others think; and a true nationalist does not in any way speak about Kashmir or Bastar. They fail to understand that the idea of nationalism is very subjective and that it cannot be defined. The narrative of what nationalism means differs from person to person and it is very absurd how every argument on nationalism ends on what our soldiers are doing for us in the borders. It is important that people understand that nationalism also means staying within the country and fighting against that which is wrong and fighting for what is ours, like, our freedom of speech and expression which incorporates our right to dissent.

And when Gurmehar Kaur rightfully said that Pakistan did not kill her father but war did, she was besieged by numerous social media trolls and tweets by our soldier-like cricketers and actors that questioned her right to expression on her father’s martyrdom. The freedom of speech and expression is curbed by those in power so much so that it leaves no space for dissent or critical thinking. Universities and colleges are places for students where they enhance their intellectual and critical thinking through questions and debates, which often reinforce ideological clashes. But where else will the students get the opportunity to learn, think, question, debate, and oppose norms, if not in colleges? However, the hooliganism and the vandalism that followed a peaceful seminar completely nullified the sheer notion of the seminar. It is ironical that the ABVP gave us all a preview of their ‘culture of protest’ through their violent intolerance by disrupting a seminar titled ‘Cultures of Protest’.

One cannot help but see the uncanny resemblance in the consequences of the ideologies of Trump-led America and right-wing dominant India. There isn’t much difference in the nature of crimes undertaken in the name of conservatism and nationalism; people being unapologetically shot in the USA because they are non-American by birth and the right-wing affiliated student union in Delhi shouting rape threats to women and bashing up innocent people and assaulting professors because they wanted to exercise their democratic right to dissent. There are undercurrents of violence in the utopia that Trump promises in the name of ‘Make America Great Again’ and in ABVP’s ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’. We’ve criticised Trump enough but, at the same time, we have forgotten to look into our own spaces and see the things that are wrong within it and raise voices in order to make them right.

But how long can one silence those who have a different line of thought? How long can one shut those who do not conform to their bigoted idea of nationalism? The campus now may have been ‘restored to normalcy’, but this is not the end and this will not be forgotten.

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