The University Community, an independent group of teachers and students of the University of Delhi had organized a discussion on Communalism, Fascism and Democracy: Rhetoric and Reality on the 6th of November at the Arts Faculty. What happened during that meeting has been described by man as the “fascist agenda coming out in the open”.
One of the panelists at the discussion was S.A.R. Geelani from Zakir Hussain College. Despite being acquitted by the Supreme Court in the Parliament attack case, the BJP continues to maintain that he is “not above suspicion”. As a result, his mere presence aroused what ABVP reffered to as “patriotic emotions” which manifested themselves in the declaration by them that Mr. Geelani could not speak at the University. This undemocratic proclamation was accompanied by vandalism at the college campus. Witnesses report that ABVP affiliate DUSU president Nupur Sharma also joined in the violence. According to a statement issued by the People’s Union for Democratic Rights, the protesters threw stones, broke window panes and hurled abuses at the participants. One of them went to the extent of spitting at Mr. Geelani. As most of the ABVP activists were already in the audience, it was probably a pre-planned attempt at disrupting the meeting. Despite this, however, it concluded successfully albeit behind closed doors.
Describing the attack as “absolutely unnecessary”, J.K. Vidhya, a participant at the conference said, “There was nothing anti-national or inflammatory about what was being discussed. The ABVP had no right to disturb the peace inside the institution. The police too did little to stop them from cutting down the lecture. As a result, participants began to retaliate, although not physically.”
Vidhya spoke of a woman who personified a quote by George Orwell that was displayed at the venue. It said, “In the time of universal defeat, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act”. The woman, according to her, “screamed him down and said to him that he was no better than the Nazis and that he should go back to Germany. He looked a little shocked but his response could barely be heard over the angry woman’s voice.”
According to Shikha, a member of the University Community, the attack was not an isolated event. She said, “It is not today’s issue, it has happened before as well. In February it was the History department, and now it is this. All that we’re asking for is a democratic space. Vandalism is not a solution. There can be different perspectives on issues, and if 300 people were interested in listening to them, who are they to destroy their freedom of expression?”
Protesting this assault on democratic rights by the ABVP, a well-attended march was held the next day. Demands were made for the filing of FIRs against members of the ABVP that were involved in the attack as well as time-bound enquiry into it. Further, participants at the march called for an assurance that future public meetings on similar issues will not be disrupted.
“The surcharged emotions of patriotic students can’t be simply ignored,” BJP party spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy told reporters on Friday reacting to the incident. Nupur Sharma was reported saying that Geelani, exonerated by the Supreme Court in the 2003 Parliament attack case, should not have been invited for the seminar. “Geelani is a terrorist and I had politely requested him to leave the venue,” Sharma said. “But he refused.” She also said yesterday’s protest was fuelled partly because most of those fighting her and other ABVP activists were not from DU. “There were a large number of students opposing us who did not belong to Delhi University,” she said. “They attacked us first.She said that she has shot off a complaint letter to Vice-Chancellor Deepak Pental regarding this.