“When you term someone anti-national, what is the definition of it? Is it that if you question certain things, you will become anti-national? Who defines the nation?” asked Delhi University Associate Professor Dr Hany Babu MT, in an interview with The Caravan towards the close of November in 2019.
Dr Babu’s questions on who defines the national and how came nearly two months after the police conducted a search at his Noida residence, allegedly over his links to the Elgar Parishad.
Nearly ten months after the search, Dr Babu has now been arrested by the National Investigation Agency in connection with the Elgar case.
Although Dr Babu asserts that he had no role in organising the Elgar Parishad or in the Bhima Koregaon violence that erupted thereafter, the National Investigation Agency says he has been arrested on charges of “propagating Naxal activities, Maoist ideology and was a co-conspirator with other arrested accused in the Elgaar Parishad case.”
In the interview cited above, Dr Babu had mentioned how the police had seized books on caste and social formations, which in his words had made it “clear that they were looking for books that would show me in a kind of profile .”
Dr Babu’s Tryst With All Things Linguistic
Specialising in Language Ideology, Politics and Policy, Linguistic Identity, Linguistic Debates, Marginalised Languages and Social Justice, among other areas, Dr Babu went to Sree Kerala Varma College, University of Calicut, where he completed BA in English Language & Literature in 1989.
In 1991, Dr Babu obtained a Masters Degree in English Language & Literature from the same university. He then went on to complete his PhD from Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad in 1998, where he also taught as a lecturer between 2002 and 2007.
Apart from academics, Dr Babu produced grammar lessons for Ratnasagar, a book-publishing company, and had also reviewed audio-visual material on English Grammar for Oxford University Press.
He had also served as the Joint Secretary of Formal Society for the Study of Syntax and Semantics of Indian Language (FOSSIL).
From Saibaba to Caste: Dr Babu’s Many Causes
Dr Babu, in the interview cited above, had said that he was a part of a committee that was formed in defence of Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba, who was arrested in 2014 and subsequently sentenced to three years in prison, on charges of having Maoist links.
He mentioned that out of the many books handpicked by the police during the raid in September, two were related to the defence committee. He referred to the arrest of academics as an attempt to “intimidate and silence people.”
An expert on the interplay of linguistic identity, Dr Babu had written extensively on the issue of caste.
Following the derecognition of the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC) in IIT Madras in 2015, he, in an article titled Unequal rights: Freedom, Equality, Life, and Liberty of citizens and “others” had sought to explain the resentment against reservation.
“The dominant groups, however, have always resisted the struggle to attain equality through reservations, even when there is overwhelming empirical evidence showing how caste is a factor of backwardness in India. When there is state action in the form of reservation in order to give full effect to Articles 14, 15 and 16 of the Constitution, there is widespread indignation and resentment in the upper caste media, almost giving the impression that reservation is the only reason why our society cannot get rid of caste,” he wrote in the article, published in June 2015.
In yet another article, titled Converging Struggles and Diverging Interests: A look at the recent unrest in universities, following the suicide of Rohit Vemula, a Dalit PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad, Dr Babu maintained that support from dominant groups had poured in as the most fundamental right to freedom had been threatened.
“Dalit Bahujans, who are the victims of discrimination in all walks of life, are still struggling for ‘equality’, and the dominant student groups do not participate in these struggles as discrimination in terms of identity is not something they have to be wary about. However, once the question is about freedom of speech and expression, they sense a danger. As equal citizens, they are extremely vigilant about their right to freedom.”Dr Hany Babu
Dr Babu feels that his work on the issue of caste could have played a role in the police seeing him as a suspect in the Elgar Parishad case. “So, there is clearly a kind of message being sent out: that you have to be careful about what kind of activities you are engaged in,” he told The Caravan.