It was a seminar organised by the English department and English Literary Society of Ramjas College, University of Delhi. The day started with excitement with a great line-up of speakers who would discuss the representation of dissent in politics, state, sexuality, literature etc. The program started at 10 am in the morning with a foreboding sense of protest in the air.
Police Bows Down Before ABVP Goons
At around 11 am, a few students began gathering in the college, shouting how they are not going to let the “anti-national” Umar Khalid enter the college.
This crowd soon turned into a mob, screaming slogans of “Vande Mataram”, and threatening the organisers, warning them that they will “disfigure their faces” if Umar Khalid dares to speak inside the University. Ironically, these people didn’t even know what Umar Khalid looked liked, nor had any idea what he had done or why was he invited to the college.
A goon, dressed in an orange kurta came inside the conference room asking who was the current speaker or the “guy with long hair sitting on the right”. He thought he was Umar and went out of the room threatening, “ We won’t let him enter the university.” Umar Khalid was invited to speak as part of the panel on ‘Regions in Conflict’ where he was supposed to present his paper on the tribals in Bastar.
But the angry ABVP mob made sure that Umar didn’t participate in the event. The police, which was called in, owing to foresight, refused to protect the organisers or Umar Khalid, thus betraying their fundamental duty.
Hooliganism Inside Ramjas Campus
After the disinvitation, the organisers and the people present at the seminar decided to peacefully take out a march. The objective was to protest this infringement on democracy, where discussions and dissent apparently are not tolerated.
As the group marched, shouting slogans of “Azaadi” from this “gundagardi” (hooliganism), the goons actually started physically assaulting the peaceful protestors in the presence of the police. They again screamed slogans of “Vande Mataram” and “Bharat Mata ki jai” while showing their middle fingers to the women present.
Sometimes they just hooted for five minutes as a show of power. Things got out of hand and the seminar was disrupted. Somehow, the organisers again began the next panel, by escorting the interested people to the conference room, with the help of the police.
During the first speaker’s address, stones were thrown in the room, shattering the glasses of the area on the first floor. The electricity was turned off and everyone in the room was trapped inside in the dark, a few metres away from the broken windows, ducking behind the chairs, trying to save themselves from this show of power and violence. The only exit was blocked by around a hundred goons, still shouting and threatening now with stones and chappals in their hands. Getting out of that seminar hall was hard and dangerous.
Freedom of Speech Goes for a Toss
What happened today in this supposedly democratic space of the university was shameful.
A university is supposed to be a place that gives space to peaceful dissent and discussion. It is supposed to be a place where ideas flow freely and the status quo is questioned through debates and discussions. It is really sad to see the basic idea of an educational institution being throttled and thrashed by a group along with utter indifference by the authorities that are supposed to protect us.
It shows a deep and dangerous nexus between the State, the political groups sponsored by them and the police. The incident at Ramjas is not a small, secluded event but is a small part of the bigger picture where the same fascism and hooliganism is raising its head again.
A university is supposed to challenge this fascism and authoritarianism. But what does one do when an academic institution stops being a place of learning and is subjected to victimisation by the powerful?
(The author is a student of English Literature at Ramjas College, New Delhi. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)