Saturday, February 18, 2017

Jodhpur University Goes on ‘Anti-National’ Witch-Hunt, Here’s the Backstory. By Nivedita Menon

In the light of Jodhpur University’s February 16 decision to suspend Rajshree Ranawat, an assistant professor in the English department, for inviting Prof Nivedita Menon to deliver a lecture on nationalism on campus earlier this month, The Wire is republishing an article Menon wrote about the ‘controversy’ earlier this month.

On the 3rd of February, ABVP called a bandh in Jai Narain Vyas University (JNVU), Jodhpur, forcibly stopping classes and demanding suspension of the organizers of a conference and police action against them, as well as against myself. Police complaints have now been lodged, and perhaps FIRs, we hear. The charge? The conference, and my lecture in particular, was anti-national. Not one of these ABVP students attended the event, nor is there yet a video recording available to my knowledge, largely because the ABVP also gathered in intimidatingly large numbers outside the shop that had conducted the recording, and the owner shut up the shop and fled. The entire drama and some sensationalist and outright false stories in the local Hindi press, is based entirely on the testimony of one person, NK Chaturvedi, retired professor from the History department at JNVU, who attended just one session, mine.

At the end of my lecture, he informed me that he had seen me on YouTube and had come to see for himself how anti-national I am. But more on that exchange later. The point is that the blatantly false media coverage and the frenzy whipped up in JNVU is based entirely on the testimony of this one person who on his own admission, had come to measure me against the standards of his own deshbhakti. He did not attend a single other session.

On February 1 and 2, 2017, The English Department organized a conference titled “History Reconstrued through Literature: Nation, Identity, Culture”. Among the speakers were the Chairperson of ICHR, Sudarshan Rao, Sandip Dikshit of the Congress and scholar Himanshu Roy who replaced the original invitee, Seshadri Chari of the RSS when he declined due to ill health. Apart from these there were several academics and practitioners from universities and institutions in Delhi, Gujarat and Rajasthan; among them, Ameena Kazi Ansari and Rizwan Kaiser from Jamia Milia Delhi, Avdhesh Kumar Singh from IGNOU, Ashutosh Mohan from GGS University, Balaji Raghunathan from Central University of Gujarat, Gauhar Raza, scientist and film-maker, Aishwarya Bhati, Supreme Court advocate.

Evidently, the key organizer, Rajshree Ranawat, faculty member in the department, had ensured that the widest possible range of political and scholarly views were represented. There were also presentations by young research scholars and younger faculty on their areas of research, ranging from George Orwell in the era of Trump, to Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwesh and the writing of Shashi Deshpande. A scholarly, stimulating academic event, to a room of about a hundred students, male and female, undergraduate and research scholars, an event marked by debate and sometimes sharp disagreements among panelists, and challenging questions from students to speakers. It was a wildly successful conference, and on any other planet but the RSS griha, the Conference Director Rajshree Ranawat and her colleague Vinu George would have been congratulated  and felicitated by their university, the local press would have reported the conference in glowing terms.

Now here are the two “news” stories that were published yesterday, the only reportage on the event.

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