Let's go at it point blank. Why wouldn't Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid speak at a seminar in Ramjas College? Were the college authorities doing enough to stop members of ABVP from disrupting the lecture? These questions assume certain gravitas given our campuses are fast coming in the grips of the culture of coercion and intimidation.
It is not simply a matter of two people not being allowed to express their views at a pre-arranged event; it is a case of attack on the very idea of free speech. Ideological differences are fine. Every person is entitled to his views, but must everything come down to crude, physical show of power? Politics elsewhere might have taken this sorry turn, but this should not be happening on our campuses. If this sounds like a desperate plea, one cannot help it. The ongoing fracas in Ramjas College is the continuation of a disastrous trend, of which the development post the 9 February incident in JNU last year marks a milestone.
For those not in the know, the college was forced to call off a seminar after members of the ABVP protested against the invite to Rashid and Khalid to speak at the event. Khalid, a student of JNU, was in news last year for organising a meeting where slogans hailing 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru were raised. He was arrested by the police on the charge of sedition. Rashid, a member of left wing All India Students Association (AISA), spearheaded the protest against the action on students by the police and the varsity authorities. Khalid was supposed to speak on Tuesday and Rashid on Wednesday. The trouble that began on Tuesday and witnessed minor violence continued on Wednesday.
Media reports say as many as 20 students have been injured in a clash between members of AISA and ABVP. The police have refuted the number. Interestingly, the theme of the seminar was 'Culture of Protest'. Surely, the developments at Ramjas College don't reflect a healthy culture of protest.
By now there's an established format to how these incidents develop. Certain student groups raise objection to the presence of certain people at events on campus. They turn aggressive and resort to violent behavior. The authorities decide to play safe and oblige these groups. This is not far different from governments preferring to stay aloof when vigilante groups strike at targets. In both cases, it is threat and intimidation at work.
The fact that students with Leftist leaning are at the receiving end these days is not the point of this article. In fact, the Left students unions have been known to be violent and more intolerant in their approach to ideological rivals on campuses. It is possible they have abused the right to free speech and hurt feelings more than anyone else. So when the ABVP does so why should it be a matter of distress? The Left enjoyed the sympathy of the governments in power for long, so what's the problem when the current government is sympathetic to ABVP? Someone might ask.
Well, it should not be if tit-for-tat is the accepted norm in the world we live. But should the student community be bound by that norm? Campuses are supposed to be free places for ideas of all kind. It is an essential part of the intellectual growth of students. It does not hurt to listen to the different point of view and prepare oneself to offer a logical counter to it. What we have now is naked acrimony and the culture of hate. By offering no resistance to these students are degrading themselves as a community. Teachers are not playing a healthy role by turning them into mules of ideology.
Who will bring back sanity to campuses? That's a difficult question to answer.
Updated Date: Feb 22, 2017 18:06 PM