The Maharaja Sayaji Rao University of Vadodara has added another shameful chapter to the history of persecution of its own students and teachers at the behest of groups affiliated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It has done what we had long feared.
By rusticating Kundan Yadav, a student of the sculpture department of the faculty of fine arts, it has repeated an episode from 2007 that took place in the same university. It has also decided to issue show-cause notices to the Dean, the Vice-Dean and the supervisor teacher for having allowed and guided Kundan, who allegedly created an artwork that was found to be offensive by some people belonging to various organisations of the Hindutva network.
Vaghela Is Determined to Get Offended
Rustication is the maximum punishment you can give to a student. Here, Kundan is being penalised for an imagined crime. The allegation is that he had created and displayed an image made of paper clippings in the shape of Hindu goddesses to depict sexual assault on women. A member of the syndicate of the university, Hasmukh Vaghela, had learnt that this artwork was exhibited as part of his final year assessment.
The teachers, however, denied that any work like this was part of the evaluation process. Despite the teachers' assertion, Vaghela insisted that the work was indeed made and displayed – even when he could not find it anywhere as he forced his way into the department.
He claimed that it was on display the day before and was later removed. So, without even having seen the work. he finds it offensive.
The word of the teachers is brushed aside. Vaghela is determined to get offended. If the event is not based in reality, it will be imagined. He claimed that even if he did not see the image, it must have been there and hidden by the teachers and the students. And the university initiated proceedings against them based on an allegation that was made without any evidence.
A Replay of 2007
In MSU, the works prepared by the students as part of the assessment process are later put on display for the public, but only after evaluation. Even if the work in question was part of such a process, it was strictly private. In fact, the secrecy of the examination process cannot be compromised at any cost. But this is what Vaghela did by insisting on seeing the exhibits that were available only to the examiners, not outsiders.
The incident is akin to an outsider suddenly entering my evaluation centre and demanding that answer sheets be shown to him, all because the person has been told that some examinee has written something that may hurt him. What would I do in such a situation? Of course, I would report it to authorities, who should then report this action to the police, because the ‘outsider’ has trespassed. And the authorities would be expected to initiate action against him.
This is exactly what Vaghela has done. And smelling blood, the ABVP rushed in, too. Then came Niraj Sharma, who was the villain in 2007 in the context of a manufactured controversy involving the same department. Back then, Sharma was not alone. Now, the same organisations have again got involved in the mess.
The Very Idea of Universities Is Under Threat
However, at that time, there was a key difference: there were some works on display then. The examination-cum-exhibition was vandalised. The student examinee behind the work was arrested. He was released after having spent four days in jail but was restrained from leaving Vadodara. His career was destroyed. He lost everything. The then-Dean, Prof Shivaji K Panikkar, was suspended, and after an enquiry that lasted 11 years, the university decided to forfeit all his service benefits as punishment. His lifelong earnings were taken away.
Today, we see a re-enactment: first, the violation of the secrecy of the examination process, and then, the persecution of the student and teachers. The university is guilty of inflicting violence on its members to satisfy the bloodlust of a Hindutva gang.
Well-meaning people are calling it an attack on artistic freedom and freedom of expression. But it is much more serious than that. What happened was an attack on the privacy of the student, it was a violation of the very idea of the processes that make a university. A third person enters my classroom and attacks me and my class. An examinee was attacked for writing an answer. An examiner was attacked for framing a question. The whole idea of university is under threat. If people don’t see this and what’s happening on the ground, and instead busy themselves with debating grand schemes like the New Education Policy (NEP), we should accept that India is willingly committing suicide.
(The writer teaches at Delhi University. He tweets @Apoorvanand__. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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