A two day seminar on Cultures of Protest, organised by Wordcraft, the Ramjas literary society and the English department of Ramjas college, was disrupted when members of the ABVP protested against Umar Khalid speaking at the conference. Khalid is a PhD scholar from Jawaharlal Nehru University and a student activist who was slapped with sedition charges last year. The two day seminar was set to explore the representations of dissent in literary productions, and Umar Khalid was invited to speak on the theme ‘The war in Adivasi areas’.
ABVP protested against Khalid’s presence inside the college campus. They went to the Principal’s office claiming that the majority of the students were against his speaking at the conference as well, and therefore the conference should be cancelled. “Majority of the students were against Umar Khalid speaking and they were calling us up, asking us to stop the event from taking place. Moreover, the organisers had no approval from the faculty. So we marched inside and managed to stop the conference from taking place,” said Priyanka Chawri, the Vice President of the Delhi University Student Union.
We spoke to one of the teachers-in-charge of the event, Vinita Chandra, who said, “We had approval of the principal and we had been planning this event for months now. We have official proof of the invitations as well. The Principal expressly said, ‘I believe in tolerance and I believe in freedom of speech’. I have always assured my students that when teachers are there, nothing is going to happen to the students. In my 30 years of teaching here, for the first time I feel no confidence at all in being a teacher.”
Apparently, the faculty was aware prior to the event that there could be some form of protests but the college union president assured that all protests would be peaceful in nature. Moreover, the police had said that they would not be able to provide protection to Khalid or the members of the organising team if any major disruption takes place. Apprehensive of any violent outbursts, members of the literary society decided to cancel Khalid’s talk and proceed with the conference. Before beginning, the teachers and students organised a short march around the campus, protesting against the disruption in the day’s events.
After the session was about to resume, the ABVP protesters turned violent and started throwing bricks and stones at the windows. Groups with lathis and rods were seen rioting around the area and the police had to resort to the necessary means to quell the violence. Students and teachers attending the conference inside the conference hall were locked in and the power was cut. The police had to barricade the entrance to the conference hall to stop the protestors from getting inside. After an hour of struggle, the police formed a human chain and helped the students trapped inside to exit safely through the backgate of the college. A student present in chaos said, “The protesters abused and threatened even the teachers of the college. Goondagardi hai yeh toh.’’
In the entire process, a few students were injured and one had to be taken to the hospital for immediate treatment. Umar Khalid in response to these events, posted on Facebook, “ Such open brazenness is only possible because of the institutional impunity ABVP goons enjoy in universities’’.
Feature Image: Arindam Goswami for DU Beat