“I was the first in my family to come to Delhi University (DU)... I come from a family of farmers and I want to do a PhD,” said Ravinder Singh, 24, a first-year Master's student at the Department of Philosophy, DU. His plans might have to wait because he has been debarred from taking exams in the university for a year. He is from Sri Ganganagar in Rajasthan.
Student bodies National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) and the Bhim Army Student Federation (BASF) had planned to screen the BBC documentary -- which focuses on Prime Minister Modi and his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots -- at DU's Arts Faculty on 27 January.
They were not granted permission and the documentary was not screened but a few students were detained by Delhi police on the spot. Following this, the university had formed a committee to look into the matter.
The university debarred two students and recommended action against the six others. The two students who have been debarred received notices on 14 March, stating that they could not sit for exams for a year.
The Quint spoke to six of the students – mostly first-generation learners -- for who being admitted to DU was a matter of pride. Now, as their future hangs in the balance, they speak about how DU is no longer the ‘democratic’ university that they hoped to be part of.
What has Happened in the Matter So Far?
DU Vice-Chancellor Yogesh Singh told The Indian Express that the punishment for the other six students was to write a letter to the administration expressing that they are sorry and won’t repeat the act again.
On 24 March, the Democratic Teachers Front (DTF), DU, termed the move 'uncalled for and politically motivated'.
"Letters have been written to the parents/guardians of these students asking them to appear before the university. This ridiculous move infantilises students and denies them the natural right to defend their own actions. Some of these students also have apprehensions about whether their degree certificates will be provided to them as they should be as per law. Any such apprehension must be cleared through prompt release of the degree certificates," said DTF in its statement.
Several DU students too have come out in support of these eight students. On Friday, 24 March, 11 students were detained by Delhi police for protesting against the notices debarring the two students.
Sagar Singh Kalsi, Deputy Commissioner of Police, North, told The Quint, “On the request of the university, 11 students were removed from near the Vivekananda statue, Arts Faculty, to maintain peace and tranquility in DU North campus. They were gathering there to protest in support of the students who were debarred due to indiscipline.” No FIR was lodged and the students were released from around 4 pm.
‘Career Halted for Year,’ Say Two Debarred Students
The screening of the BBC documentary was supposed to take place on 27 January at Gate no 4 of the Arts Faculty. The students, however, did not end up screening the documentary. They claimed that the laptop was snatched by the guards and soon the students were detained. Ravinder Singh and Lokesh Chugh were the two students who were debarred by DU.
On 16 February, the students received a notice from the proctor’s office stating that they were involved in “disturbance of law and order in the university”. They were asked to give a reply as to why action should not be taken against them.
Lokesh Chugh, 30, a PhD scholar from the Department of Anthropology, said that he wanted to continue with academics and politics after completing his PhD.
His plans were cut short by another notice dated 10 March, from the proctor’s office, stating that the Disciplinary Authority has decided to “impose penalty of debarring him from taking any University or College or Departmental Examinations for one year”.
He said, “I had submitted my PhD thesis on 4 March and only my viva is left. I will have to wait for an entire year just to give my viva.” Chugh is Delhi-based, and his father is a businessman, while his mother is a homemaker. He is the National Secretary of NSUI.
Meanwhile, Ravinder Singh said that the move could set him back by two years.
Singh said, “Ever since the lockdown, the schedule has been delayed and there are three exams remaining instead of two. If I have to halt my studies for a year, I will have to give three exams and that would set me back by two years.” He is associated with the Bhagat Singh Chaattr Ekta Manch, a student organisation.
My plans to give NET-JRF and apply for my PhD will be halted and I might have to give up on studies entirely. There is also pressure from home...Ravinder Singh
'As A First-Generation Learner, being at DU is Very Important’
Dinesh Kumar, 21, was among the students who had an FIR lodged against him. The panel, looking into the matter, recommended punishment for the six students but did not specify the punishment for them. Originally from Rajasthan’s Jalore district, Kumar comes from a family of farmers.
Kumar, who is studying his Masters in Hindi at Kirori Mal College, said, “I worked hard and went to Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya. It was there that I got a platform to do well and aim for a DU college. I was the first person in my village to score well and come to a DU college... That is why it was so important to me. Now, others in the village want to come to DU to study too.”
My parents found out that a case was registered against me. I told them what had happened. They did not understand much but they trust me. The entire village knows that the university is taking arbitrary action against students.Dinesh Kumar
Asif who is pursuing his M.Phil in the Faculty of Social Sciences, is also among the six students who might face action. Originally from Kerala, he said, “I am a first-generation learner and I am here on scholarship. I was about to submit my M.Phil thesis. I am hoping that no action is taken against me.”
‘Dissent is Needed on Campus'
Ashutosh Boddh, 20, a third-year student from Sambhal district in Uttar Pradesh (UP), said, “I have worked hard to reach DU. Ever since I came here, I tried to raise my voice against anti-student policies but unfortunately, action is taken against anybody who is even a little against authority.”
Boddh, a B.Com student from Satyawati College, told The Quint, “Back in school, I had started reading Dr BR Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, and about Communism. I wanted to become a writer and work for the good of the people. All of that changed when I came here...”
He is now preparing for law entrance exams. He said, “There is an FIR against me and that might hold me back in the future but I still believe that dissent voices are needed.”
About the day of the screening, he alleged,
The guards attacked us and police detained students. We saw female students being assaulted too. We had never seen anything like that on campus before... It was almost as if we were doing something illegal. In reality, the documentary is not banned, it was blocked and people were not allowed to share clips.Ashutosh Boddh
On the condition of anonymity, one of the six students said, “I want to learn critical thinking and be allowed to voice my opinions. Hopefully, I will go abroad to study further... Other campuses across the country too, have been screening the BBC documentary.”
Anshul Yadav, 24, from UP’s Etawah district who recently finished his Masters in Sanskrit from DU, said, “We will not say sorry because we have not done anything wrong... we were sitting quietly that day.” He wants to apply for his PhD at DU. He too, comes from a family of farmers, and was the first in his family to go to college.
The other two students who might face action are Mishab and Shreya Sarahshaji. The students told The Quint that they will file a writ petition in the High Court if the issue is not resolved.