Thursday, March 9, 2017

Anushka Baruah - What Ramjas teaches // MSU Baroda Cancels Workshop on Caste citing Ramjas incident: Protest by Indian Cultural Forum Collective

Ramjas has taught me many things, the foremost being the importance of a material history. An ideological history means little, something the ABVP and the rest of the saffron brigade would do well to keep in mind. The premise of Makarand Paranjape’s article in this newspaper (‘What Ramjas taught’, IE, March 4) is that Ramjas College is an AISA-controlled island, marooned in the ABVP-dominated sea that is Delhi University.

A letter to Jaitley: Why do students get jailed but RSS leaders who issue vile threats walk freely?

To clarify, the Ramjas Students’ Union, presided over by Yogit Rathi (and comprising Ramit Bhutani, Amit Singh, Amit Kumar, Anshuman Dubey, and Parul Aggarwal) ran for election independently -they claimed to have no affiliation to any political party. Facts and material conditions, as I have discovered in my three years of studying English, are most important when it comes to constructing an argument or narrative - analysis, however vital, is secondary.

The Ramjas Students’ Union has made its political leanings abundantly clear; they support the ABVP and its love for brazen lies and facile expressions of violence. My favourite aspect of the narrative the ABVP has so carefully curated is the one where they decide that the seminar was organised by “leftists” and AISA members. Paranjape believed that it was organised by our AISA-led students’ union and “Left-sympathising teachers”. That line has now been omitted online from his opinion piece, and it now looks like Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid (JNU’s resident “agent provocateurs”) were to arrive at Ramjas College of their own volition only to “stir the proverbial hornet’s nest”.

As a member of the team that organised the seminar, I would just like to explicitly state that we are ordinary students. We have no political affiliations or aspirations. Umar Khalid was invited to speak on the subject of his PhD thesis, on Bastar, as a part of a session titled “Regions in Conflict”. His identity as an activist, or his personal political opinions, is of negligible significance.

And, to the Ramjas Students’ Union and ABVP, if you thought you were fulfilling your duties because only “ordinary students” were irreconcilably perturbed by the idea of “anti-nationals” speaking on campus, you are mistaken. We, too, are ordinary students, politicised by your penchant for brutality, who wanted nothing more than to investigate the various voices of resistance and be exposed to certain ideas through the medium of a seminar.

If you believe our numbers are what they are because “yeh sab baahar ke log hain” (they are all outsiders) or “JNU waalon ko bulaya hai” (People from JNU were called), let me remind you that the people you held hostage on February 22 were all your classmates. The people who marched in peaceful protest on February 21 are the same ones who you exchanged amiable smiles with outside the common room.

Paranjape goes on to suggest that the ABVP should take on its opponents by engaging in an open debate, an offer that was actually made to them. For starters, the seminar was open to all — they were at liberty to come and question the speakers, air their contrary opinions, and have their voices heard. Moreover, when the fracas ensued, they were even invited to put up their own representative for the panel on campus politics the next day. As Paranjape indicates in his article, it is perhaps their lack of intellectual impulse or cerebral prowess that prohibits them from doing so.

The perception that the ABVP consists of honourable and simple-minded, goodhearted people that have been waylaid on their quest for a nation-loving nation by the calculating, cunning “Communist Vermin” (as an ABVP leaflet said) falls flat on its face. Our organising the seminar had absolutely nothing to do with the ABVP and its incredible ability to be bothered by the simplest of matters — we organised the seminar to learn, not “to create ruckus and riot”.

Ramjas has taught me so much, and I am eternally grateful for that. I have learnt that narratives exist to be questioned, and that hegemony of any sort is fatal. Ramjas has been a safe space, a democratic space built by red brick and dappled sunlight. It is a space where dissent has been historically allowed, and liberal thought has triumphed. Lumpen elements will not break this painstakingly constructed haven, nor will they bend our will to interrogate that which is presented to us.
The writer is a third year student of English at Ramjas College, Delhi University

see also
A letter to Jaitley: Why do students get jailed but RSS leaders who issue vile threats walk freely?
State protected hooliganism in Ramjas College
Pratap Bhanu Mehta - Closing of the University 

The Fear of Discussion Spreads: MSU Baroda Cancels Workshop on Caste
Statement from the Indian Cultural Forum Collective
March 8, 2017
Yet another Indian university has been deprived of its reason for existence: discussing the society we live in, so we can understand it, maybe even think of how to change it. The Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) of Baroda has cancelled a day-long workshop on the politics of caste and social movements in the country, citing the recent violence in Ramjas. Entitled ‘Reading the Margins: Politics of Caste and Social Movements in India’ the workshop, which was to be held on March 5, 2017, is organised by Institute of Policy Research and International Studies and was to be addressed by Professor Ghanshyam Shah. Funds were raised from 60 students who were to participate in the workshop to conduct the workshop.

The university administration expressed fears that there would be a “backlash” from “some people” – these some people ostensibly the ABVP in particular, or the right-wing in general. Does this mean that any group backed by the ruling dispensation can threaten an institute into cancelling events that discuss caste, caste politics and other realities in India?

This is not the first time a university event has been canceled or indefinitely postponed” because of fear of the a right-wing group, or because of active interference by the right-wing. In February 2017, the ABVP wrote a letter to the JNU administration demanding an event named “A Country Without a Post Office” be called off. Subsequently, the then student union President of JNU, Kanhaiya Kumar, was arrested by the Delhi police. Last month, the ABVP locked down a seminar room in Ramjas College in protest against an invitation to student activist Umar Khalid to participate in a panel discussion on tribals in Bastar, the subject of this dissertation. The college authorities bowed down to ABVP and withdrew the invitation to Khalid. Fear, cancellation of events, no discussion, debate or learning; or violence. This seems to be the choice for educational institutions if we live in fear of the right-wing.

The Indian Cultural Forum Collective strongly condemns this distortion of the educational process. We call on all citizens to refuse to be afraid of “some people” — right-wing goons who have no interest in learning – and insist on a full and diverse discussion of issues, such as caste, that are critical to understand the country we live in.

After recent incidents that saw varsities turning into political hotbeds, The Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) of Baroda on Sunday cancelled a day-long workshop on politics of caste and social movement in the country. To be conducted by social scientist Ghanshyam Shah on Monday, the workshop was cancelled on Sunday sans prior notice. Sources at MSU said the administration did not want to take the risk of discussing sensitive subjects and creating disturbance. Sources from the department told Mirror, “The University fears a backlash similar to the one at Delhi University’s Ramjas College over the exclusion of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Umar Khalid from a seminar. Keeping this in mind, authorities took the decision of cancelling the workshop.”

Who are ‘some people’?: Shah: Ghanshyam Shah, social scientist and retired JNU professor was reportedly told by MSU staff that, “Some people are likely to create chaos and disturb the programme; so we have to postpone it” Shah told Mirror, “I fail to understand the reason for the university’s failure in securing the workshop from these ‘some people’. There was nothing controversial about the subject.”

Authorities, however, refused to come on record to confirm reasons for cancellation of the event. While Lajwanti Chatani, head of MSU’s department of political science, confirmed cancellation of the workshop, she refused to reveal the exact reason for the decision. A member of the organising team told Mirror, “The workshop has been postponed indefinitely. We don’t know when it will conducted.” The member refused to be named by the publication. As per sources from the Department of Political Science where the workshop was to be conducted, around 60 students had paid Rs 500 each to participate in the workshop.

As per a notification posted on the website of MSU’s Institute of Policy Research and International Studies, the noted social scientist was to conduct a workshop titled ‘Reading the Margins: Politics of Caste and Social Movements in India’. Divided into two sessions, the first session was a discussion on ‘Politics of Caste in India’ with sub topics ‘Political Economy of Caste and Democratic Politics’ and ‘Dalit Question and Egalitarian Social Order.’ The second session on ‘Politics of Social Movements in India: Understanding its Role and Relevance’ with the sub subjects ‘Social Movements and Democracy’ and ‘Discussing Anti-Corruption Movements: From Nav Nirman to Anna Hazare, Anti-Nuclear Movement in South India and Grassroots Movements of Farm Labourers’.

The Ramjas controversy: Student politics took a violent turn at the Delhi University in February this year after ABVP members sought exclusion of JNU student Umar Khalid from Delhi University's Ramjas College's seminar. Students and professors of the college, however, protested this move. The rally turned violent with clashes between ABVP and Left-affiliated AISA members ; Ramjas college staff and student were also assaulted. Asocial media campaign started by Gurmehar Kaur, daughter of a Kargil martyr, also went viral with support and brickbats in equal measure. Claiming she had received ‘rape and death threats’, Kaur lodged a complaint with police and returned home even as political parties shared their viewpoints over the matter.