A public meeting organised by the All India Students’ Association (AISA) on the ‘Idea of University’ at the Arts Faculty, North Campus on Thursday was disrupted by the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). The event was attended by over 300 students and featured eminent scholars from different fields.
Sources claim that the event’s organisation was allowed on the condition that microphones wouldn’t be used. The police were quick enough to provide adequate security apparatus for the event. An AISA activist, on the condition of anonymity claims that the entire process of getting permission spanned over weeks and was onerous. “In the wake of UDAAN, the theatre festival organised at the Arts Faculty to instill ‘the feeling of nationalism among students’, we approached the authorities for organising an event to sustain the liberal atmosphere of the varsity. They out rightly denied permission”, claims the activist. AISA alleges that the authorities asked them to ‘furnish money’ for booking the venue.
On the day of the event, as preparations were in full swing, university officials, accompanied by security guards began tearing down posters and banners inside the compound, where the left leaning student organisation was about to hold the event. For the first time, AISA was holding an event inside the walls of the faculty, a shift from their usual location of organising protests and holding meetings – the Arts Faculty gate.
An understanding was successfully reached between the organisers and the authorities through the mediation of the Maurice Nagar SHO Arti Sharma, who promised adequate security and assured of keeping ‘incendiary elements at bay’. The authorities were wary of ‘elements that might stir conflict’ and disturb the academic space. Reportedly, an AISA member was cautioned by a police official into hosting Mohit Pandey, president of the JNU Students’ Union, who was one of the speakers. Consequently,the JNUSU President didn’t attend the event.
Amid chances of backlash against the event, the police deployed security personals in considerable numbers. CRP units were also seen outside the faculty gate.
The event finally started just past noon with the AISA presidential candidate 2016 Kawalpreet Kaur addressing the 250 plus strong gathering of students and scholars. As the event progressed, talks by Anup Dhar from Ambedkar University, Soumyabrata Choudhury from Arts and Aesthetics, JNU and Satish Deshpande from the Delhi School of Economics discussed various aspects of university as a concept and its relevance in the modern world. Dhar talked about his recent article for a daily where he’d compared the situation of the student community in the higher education in India to the parrots in Rabindranath Tagore’s The Parrot’s Training. The story revolves around certain parrots kept in a ‘golden cage’ where they are ‘educated’. Their education is deemed successful once they learn to keep mum and be submissive. Soumyabrata Choudhury invoked the principals propounded by Ambedkar – Educate, Agitate and Organise and went on to say that “the idea of university is that you can have ideas. Those who are resistant to ideas make the loudest noise.”
ABVP members were seen standing on the pavement bordering the lawns where the meeting was taking place. Slogans condemning the attempt at ‘radicalising the conducive environment of the university’ through the event were hurled at the gathering. Soon enough, the ABVP mobilised outside the main gate only to return in more numbers and run a parallel protest. Members were seen carrying posters calling on AISA to leave the varsity – Rapist AISA Go Back. What ensued next surprised many. Some ABVP members, much to the amazement of the gathering and the ABVP leadership that was present at the protest, started ‘pelting’ Lux soaps at the gathering. Kawalpreet, in a statement claims that the soaps were thrown at them to ‘cleanse them of all the vice, as if Bharat Mata needs to be kept clean and tidy’. When some AISA members registered protest with the police, the SHO was seen hurling one of the soaps back at the ABVP members.
The AISA gathering saw address by Usman from ASEAK which spearheaded the right to reproduction of academic material in The Chancellor Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford v. Rameshwari Photocopy Services case. Situation became tense as Kavita Krishnan, president of All India Progressive Women’s Association came forward to speak. Two ABVP female members were seen percolating the human chain maintained by the 50 plus strong police officials; they advanced towards Krishnan, who at the right time managed to dodge them. Subsequently, DUSU president Amit Tanwar was seen advancing towards the gathering and a scuffle broke between the two sides leaving Kawalpreet injured. Many members, including this writer were ‘roughed up’ in the clashes and the police, attempted at bringing tempers down by insinuating at using legal action against members of both the sides. Flyers and posters carrying pictures of Rohith Vemula and Najeeb Ahmed, the missing JNU student were brought down by the ABVP members. Unable to control the situation, the SHO appeared helpless, as another officer took charge, fearing altercation between the two sides. Amid din that saw sloganeering from both the sides, a final warning sounded through a microphone asking both the sides to exercise restraint and disperse, failing which coercive measures were to be exercised by the police and paramilitary units.
AISA members dispersed and called off the meeting. Cries of victory could be heard from the other side. While ABVP members also consequently left the scene, AISA regrouped at the gate on the other side to discuss the heckling of Krishnan and the disruption of the event. Kawalpreet, who had sustained injuries during the clashes, addressed the gathering.
The ABVP has claimed that DUSU president Tanwar and many others were injured and taken to hospitals and that the scuffle broke on provocation by some AISA members. Both the sides have been circulating their side of the story on social media. The authorities denied commenting on the issue.
Image Credits: DU Beat database