'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
This blog is a source for intellectual exploration. It includes a list of alternative resources and a source of free books. The placement of an article does not imply that I agree with it, merely that I found it thought-provoking. There are also poems and book reviews. Texts written by me are labelled. Readers are free to re-post anything they like.
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Apoorvanand - ‘Draupadi’ and the Haryana university fracas: There’s a hero in this story and it is not the ABVP
The story of Indian
universities is generally written (and read) as a long lament. But we could
also write it as a heroic ballad – or, to be more accurate, a narrative of
individual courage and collective failure.
The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad has started to resemble the student militia of the early days of the Islamic revolution of Iran. It spies on teachers and starts vilification campaigns against them.
supposed to be places where we learn to put everything to the test. So the
first thing we are taught is to have courage in the face of authority of all
kinds. How are our universities doing on this front? It could be said that
the university leadership is failing the university and betraying its cause
while a handful of teachers and students struggle to keep it alive. The most
recent case is that of the Central University of Haryana. Here, the teachers of
the Department of English are facing nationalist wrath manufactured though a series
of deceptive acts by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student arm of
the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
What is encouraging,
however, is that despite feeling unsure and being isolated, these teachers have
refused to be browbeaten by threats that sedition charges will be filed against
them. On the other hand, the university authorities have decided to distance
themselves from their teachers.
Staging a classic
Two teachers of the
English department – Snehsata and Manoj Kumar – have been accused of insulting
soldiers of the Indian Army by depicting them in poor light in a play staged at
the university last month. This play was based on Draupadi,
the iconic short story by the eminent Bengali writer and activist Mahasweta
Devi, which has been widely translated and commented upon by critics across
The protagonist of Draupadi,
an Adivasi woman, is attacked and raped by the security forces. After regaining
consciousness, she refuses to cover herself with the piece of cloth offered by
the armed forces personnel who raped her. She rises, putting the shame of rape
behind her, and confronts the State with her stark nakedness.
Snehsata, who teaches
in the department of English, was one of the coordinators of the programme. The
event was planned to pay homage to Mahasweta Devi, who died in
Kolkata in July. The university authorities had approved the programme, which,
after a few inexplicable postponements, was finally scheduled for September 21.
Snehsata wrote the
epilogue of the play. It included a list of acts of violence against Adivasis,
communities in Kashmir, and states in the North East. It gave the instances of
the infamous cases of rape at Kunan Poshpura in Kashmir and that of Thangjam Manorama in Manipur. The epilogue asked its
audience to decide the role it would like to play in the light of these facts. The play was
supervised by the head of the university’s English Department. The audience
applauded the play. There was not a murmur when it was staged. That is obvious
from a video of the performanceavailable on YouTube. University
officials who were present in the hall patted the backs of the teachers for
their creative act.
However, after the
event, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad staged a protest against the play
before the registrar’s office. It was said that the play was an attempt to
malign the image of the Army. The next day, a crowd assembled at the university gate and demanded that
action be taken against those responsible for the play. The protest was taken
to the town Mahendragarh, which is more than 10 km from the university, and
adjacent villages. Former Army personnel were persuaded that some teachers had
deliberately insulted the Army.
The protestors burnt
effigies of the Vice Chancellor and university authorities and demanded that
action be taken against them as well for having allowed this so-called
anti-national play to be staged. It worked. The university immediately formed a
six-member committee to investigate and fix responsibility.
Till today, university
authorities have not thought it necessary to talk to the teachers and students
involved in the play, and assure them of their support. The rest of the faculty
has started shunning Snehsata and Manoj Kumar. A campaign to malign Kumar is
on. Because he taught for some time in Chhattisgarh, where Naxals are active,
it is being suggested that he is a Maoist. Snehsata sticks to her
position. She has owned and defended the staging of the play and the epilogue.
This act of courage stands out in the face of collective silence.
ABVP bounty hunters
The Akhil Bharatiya
Vidyarthi Parishad has started to resemble the student militia of the early
days of the Islamic revolution of Iran. It spies on teachers and starts
vilification campaigns against them. In the case of the Central University of
Haryana, villagers are being instigated against teachers, which makes it very
dangerous for them to venture out of the campus.
The most disturbing
part of the episode is the abdication of its role by the University. It is the
duty of authorities protect the integrity of the varsity. They must resist
interference from outside forces in its internal matters. Snehsata should not
have been left alone to explain herself and defend herself.
Speaking recently at a
workshop in Ahmedabad University, the columnist Pratap Bhanu Mehta said that
universities should ideally be communities of judgement. But this authority has
been badly eroded in the last few years. One of the reasons is that the
leadership of universities is now in the hands of people who are too willing to
let untrained outsiders judge their colleagues. All sorts of people, from Army
men to religious gurus, have started telling us about what and how to teach.
Some would say that
this play was not an academic activity. At best, it can be called an
extra-curricular event. Academic activities are only what is laid out in the
syllabi. But we know that many a times it is out-of-syllabus acts like these
that shape our critical faculty. Syllabi take time to be formed and are
generally static. What instils dynamism, and life in them, are acts like
staging of Draupadi or a discussion with striking workers of
the Honda company.
One of the jobs of
education is to make available resources to students to enable them to examine
the times in which they live. The epilogue of the play did exactly that by
situating a story written decades ago in contemporary times.
Let us rejoice then.
So long we have teachers like Snehsata among us, universities will not die
despite the cowardice of their leadership. Let us speak out for these soldiers
of knowledge who refuse to abandon their posts.