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A Hindi Professor's Harassment by ABVP Shows Near-Complete Takeover of Universities by RSS-BJP

We can praise the calmness and courage with which Dr Pandya faced the situation but no teacher should require this extraordinary bravery to be a teacher.
ABVP members entered the class of Dr. Himanshu Pandya at Mohanlal Sukhadia University (in picture) in Rajasthan’s Udaipur, disrupted his class, and forced him out of the class and the campus. Photo: mlsu.ac.in

It is not just symbolic that a day before the swearing-in of the government under the leadership of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister, members of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) entered the class of Dr. Himanshu Pandya at Mohanlal Sukhadia University in Rajasthan’s Udaipur, disrupted his class, and forced him out of the class and the campus. All the while calling him anti-Hindu and anti-national. He was not harmed physically and for that, we would be asked to be grateful to the ABVP members.

Dr. Pandya is a Hindi scholar and Professor and was invited by the university to give lectures on research methodology. This was his third and last class and he was concluding his lecture when the ABVP members entered the classroom with a sheaf of paper. They had dug up an old Facebook post by Dr. Pandya which he had titled “Smriti Babri Masjid.”

Written in January when Narendra Modi was leading the celebration of the consecration of a Ram temple built on the land of the now-demolished Babri Mosque, the post rightly criticized the whole drama and talked about the injustice and criminality involved in it.

The ABVP members said that a man who is so anti-Hindu and anti-national as to criticize this national achievement has no right to be at the university. Dr. Pandya tried to argue with them, asking them to wait till his class was over, but they were in no mood to listen to him. The students were scared into silence and the course coordinator kept requesting Dr. Pandya to come out as he was concerned for his safety. Dr. Pandya saw no point in being there as it was impossible to continue the lecture in the noise that the ABVP people were making.

Dr. Pandya left the campus alone. It is quite shocking that the college authorities did not think it necessary to even call the police and give security to Dr. Pandya and ensure that he reaches his house safely. That he was not harmed cannot be the argument for this callous approach.

One of the students, who was a Dalit, came with his bike and offered to take Dr. Pandya to his place of stay. The ABVP people took out his ignition key. He managed to take it back and convinced Dr. Pandya to allow him to take him home. Dr. Pandya did not want him to be harmed.

All the while, the ABVP people were making videos as doing violence is not enough for the Hindutvavadi gangs. They want to make it a spectacle and spread their violence among the larger population to make them participate in it and enjoy it.

After forcing him out of the campus, the ABVP gang went to the chamber of Prof. Sudha Chaudhary, a senior professor of Philosophy and the person in-charge of the course for which Dr. Pandya was invited. They wanted action against Dr. Pandya and those responsible for inviting him. Prof. Chaudhary has been a target of the ABVP for a very long time and they have tried to harass and attack her earlier too for her secular and independent stance.

Later, the ABVP members told the media that they had driven out a Pro-Palestine person from the campus. Dr. Pandya wrote on Facebook that he wanted to discuss it with the ABVP people and tell them that their own government was supporting the right of Palestinians to have their own state. But are the ABVP people even interested in discussion and dialogue?

Also Read: Where Are the ‘Don Quixotes’ of Indian Academia?

In the video, we can see Prof. Chaudhary telling the ABVP people that everyone has a right to have their opinion, but they refuse to listen to her. Later, one of them tells the media that they would ask the government to discipline teachers like Prof. Chaudhary and Dr. Pandya and make them sit at home and not allow them to pollute the minds of the students.

Their threat should be taken seriously. To understand where it can go, one has to recall an incident at the same university 9 years ago in which the ABVP and RSS people had burnt the effigies of Prof. Sudha Chaudhary and Prof. Ashok Vohra of the University of Delhi, who was invited by her to speak in a seminar on ‘Dharmik Samvad: Adhunik Anivaryata’ (Religious Dialogue: The Need in Contemporary Times).

The ABVP and RSS alleged that Prof. Vohra had insulted Hindu gods and goddesses. It is a different matter that poor Prof. Vohra was only quoting from the Western Indologists to critique them.

One can realize the absurdity of the situation when one recalls that the then education minister of Rajasthan ordered the university to file FIRs against Prof. Vohra and Prof. Chaudhary. He said, “I have read his script… this sort of vulgar, obscene language for Hindu gods and goddesses will not be tolerated, not in Rajasthan…”

We can laugh at his illiteracy, but the danger to the two Professors was real. Prof. Vohra had to make an appeal to the PM. As reported by the media, “Professor Ashok Vohra, former head of the department of philosophy at Delhi University, has now written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking his intervention and urging him to ‘keep the registration of an FIR against me in abeyance until the written lecture is read by some competent scholar to determine the import of its content’.”

Another incident from 2017 comes back to mind. Dr. Rajshri Ranawat of the department of English at Jai Narain Vyas University, Jodhpur, had organized a seminar and invited Prof. Nivedita Menon to speak. Again, the RSS cohort ‘protested’ against their ‘anti-national’ views and FIRs were filed against them. It became worse for Dr. Ranawat who was promptly suspended by the university.

Since 2015-16, things have deteriorated in Rajasthan and other parts of the country where ABVP has become a law unto itself. It disrupts classes, lectures, film shows, exhibitions, and events it dubs as anti-national. The People’s Union for Civil Liberties, while condemning the humiliation of Dr. Pandya, has said that in all universities of Rajasthan it has become impossible to talk about secularism, equality, and freedom of expression. The fear of the ABVP and the administration, which in most cases turns into an accomplice of the ABVP, is such that no teacher wants to touch these issues.

Also Read: ABVP’s Pondicherry Violence Sparks Question: Why Can’t India Interpret Hindu Gods?

The latest incident of attack on Dr. Himanshu Pandya and his humiliation only tells us about the violent atmosphere in which academics are functioning in Rajasthan. Why only in Rajasthan? It is an all-India phenomenon now. We in the University of Delhi and other universities face it every day. University life is hostage to the wishes of the ABVP and the administration bows before it.

When you know that there are topics you cannot discuss on the campus, when you constantly watch your words, when you stop speaking or writing even on other forums because that can go against you, as we can see in the case of violence against Dr. Pandya, can we say that universities are living entities in India?

We can praise the calmness and courage with which Dr Pandya faced the situation but no teacher should require this extraordinary bravery to be a teacher. Not all teachers would be able to respond to the situation as Dr Pandya did. But that is how all of us are. We should not be made to face situations like this.

We’ll call it a case of violation of academic freedom. But it is much more than that. It is a near-total takeover of the universities and our lives by gangs affiliated with the RSS and the BJP. Will the ‘new’ political situation bring some change in it? As we can see from this incident of violence against Dr. Pandya, that remains a wish.

Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University.

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