Ramjas College row: HRD minister Prakash Javadekar's silence on Delhi University clash is deafening

Deafening chants of azaadi and cries of 'ABVP go back' and 'cheeky ABVP why so creepy' resounded through the streets of Delhi on Tuesday when over 5,000 students joined the march protesting against the hooliganism of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad activists in the campus of Delhi University. At the heart of the issue, lay Ramjas College where the protest began last week when ABVP workers disrupted a protest march by Ramjas college students against Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid's participation in a seminar.

After Tuesday's protest march the issue is now snowballing into a JNU-like protest of last year which raised pertinent questions about nationalism, freedom of speech and the sedition law. Tuesday's protest march saw an unprecedented show of solidarity among students and professors in the Delhi circle when the massive crowd walked from Khalsa College at the edge of the university through the sprawling campus, and later gathered at the Arts department, shouting slogans.

Union HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar. PTI

Union HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar. PTI

As expected, reactions poured in from all corners. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju was one of the first to react and also the one to make one of the strongest remarks on the issue. Commenting on Delhi University student, Gurmehar Kaur's video about Kargil war (which was shot in May 2016) and her more recent photo protesting against ABVP "goons", Rijiju said, "She (Gurmehar Kaur) is the daughter of a martyr. But his soul must be crying as she is being misled by people who celebrate when our soldiers die," PTI had quoted the minister as saying. Gurmehar Kaur is a first-year student of Lady Shri Ram College at the Delhi University who had complained that she has been receiving rape and death threats allegedly by members of ABVP after she initiated a social media campaign against the RSS student wing. The campaign went viral and attracted support of students from various universities.

Even Home Minister Rajnath Singh made a statement on the issue.

Despite all the outrage, protests, and comments made by Union Ministers, senior BJP leaders, Left and Congress leaders and eminent personalities from the film industry, the man, under whose ambit education department works, was conspicuously quiet. Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Prakash Javadekar has hardly said anything substantial on the issue which will not die down anytime soon.

After the clashes between All India Students Association (AISA), the left wing student organisation, and ABVP had broken out at Ramjas College, Javadekar had said that the government will not intervene in this issue because Delhi University is an autonomous institution.

"How can we intervene? They are an autonomous university. Police will investigate and take required action," PTI had quoted him as saying. He later also said that he has sought a report from DU over the violence at Ramjas College.

Apart from such vague and inexplicit remarks, Javadekar has maintained a stoic silence on the subject. Javadekar has not said anything on the alleged rape and death threats which Kaur received after her video went viral. He has not said anything on the alleged police brutality at the Delhi University campus, after which four policemen were suspended by Delhi Police. He has not commented on the rallies and protests which took place after the violence at Ramjas College, despite the fact that there are more protests planned, which will probably escalate the already high level of tension among students.

But perhaps most importantly, Javadekar has not said a word on whether some pre-defined notions of nationalism and patriotism are good enough reasons to justify violence and rape and death threats, a question which is at the very heart of this issue. Ironically, the seminar at Ramjas College where it all began, was planned to discuss dissent.

Other ministers from the government like Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu and Information and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad have also issued statements on this issue. But Javadekar has been staunchly silent.

Reports called Tuesday's protest of Delhi University as one of the biggest campus protests. What is the silence of the HRD minister, on an issue which gravely affects a large number of students, supposed to tell us?

The silence baffles a lot especially after Javadekar's moving and the motivated speech last year on how he wants to ensure a "good dialogue" with students so that they do not need to protest in colleges and universities. "I am a product of students’ agitation. I was part of the Jai Prakash Narayan movement; we went to jail fighting it out for students’ rights and other educational problems. I will ensure that we have a good dialogue with students so that everyone becomes a partner in progress,” Javadekar had said in an interview to Hindustan Times.

After the suicide of Rohith Vemula and the spate of protests at JNU last year, Javadekar's predecessor Smriti Irani had strongly defended her ministry's actions, spoken out against allegedly derogatory pamphlets distributed at JNU and had even rejected a demand to waive off punishment to some JNU students. Irani's quotes were seen as a confrontational and after the conciliatory note of the comments made by Javadekar after this appointment, it was hoped that the HRD ministry would be more approachable for students.

But the silence of the HRD minister perhaps indicates that nothing has changed. Union ministers are preaching about patriotism and the limits of freedom of speech while students are getting rape and death threats.

As the minister of education, Javadekar should have said something beyond, "We can't intervene," simply because when a social media debate rages out of hand and the security and safety of students become dodgy, maybe the government or a person from the system should intervene. On the contrary, twenty-year-old Kaur was "bullied" by not just online trolls but from sportsperson like Sehwag, actors like Randeep Hooda and by Rijiju himself, who said that her mind was "polluted." Kaur finally gave up and pulled out of the campaign after trolls made ugly threats to her survival. She left for Jalandhar to be with her family and requested that she be "left alone".

Javadekar's political affiliations were of less or no consequence when the security of students and so he could have reached out to students (from both left and right wing organisations) and told them that no ideology or belief gave them the right to engage in violence.

Updated Date: Mar 01, 2017 13:02 PM

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