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Mumbai: Student Arrested After Asking Admin to Curb Ram Temple Celebrations on Campus

The 23-year-old Dalit student was one of many who had written a confidential letter to the institute's director and also put up a status on WhatsApp questioning the frenzy on January 22.
Saffron flags and posters celebrating the Ram temple on the IIPS campus. Photos: Special arrangement

Mumbai: On January 22, as right-leaning students at the International Institute for Population Studies (IIPS) in Mumbai organised themselves to celebrate the consecration of Ram Temple in Ayodhya on campus, many Bahujan students feared the frenzy could cause communal tension. As a result, a letter seeking the institute’s immediate intervention in restoring peace on campus was submitted to IIPS direct S.K. Singh. The letter, submitted on January 20, was confidential and around 35 students had signed it.

The institute failed to intervene. And worse still, the names of students who had signed the letter was made public. One masters student, who was instrumental in getting students together to sign the protest letter, was arrested.

A 23-year-old student belonging to a Dalit community from Latur district was arrested on January 22. He was arrested after a senior student filed an FIR against him for putting out a status on WhatsApp against the frenzy created all around on the consecration day. In the post, the student took a critical take against the celebration. It was a copied post from another fellow student. In fact, many students had put out social media statuses in protest of the ongoing celebrations on the IIPS campus. But only one student was singled out and arrested.

Some students that The Wire spoke to say that the post was a mere excuse. “The said student would have become a target anyway. Many students and even the administration were not happy with the student and his friends’ endeavour of organising students against the Ram Mandir celebration,” said one of the students, who too had signed the letter sent to the director.

In the letter, the students wrote: “IIPS is a multicultural campus annually organising various celebrations which includes Ganesh Chaturthi, Dussehra, Christmas, etc which epitomises the promise of grooming a secular young generation who can contribute prosperity to a diversified nation-state like India. But the celebration of Ram temple consecration is a pure act of political agenda orchestrated by the various outfits, which can harm the secular sentiments of students while celebrating in an institute like IIPS, where such celebrations cannot be done.” In the letter, the students sought restrictions on celebrations on campus and said the celebration had the potential of “further deepening the divisions among student fraternity by spreading hate and fear”.

The letter was overlooked. But after the student’s arrest, those who had submitted the letter were bullied into writing an apology. Contrary to the concerns raised in the earlier letter, the students this time were made to apologise for hurting sentiments of those celebrating the Ram temple consecration. Both the letters were addressed to the director.

The apology letter written by the students.

Even as the students were forced to apologise, the right-leaning students celebrated the Ram temple ceremony with much fanfare. Life-size posters were put up across campus and saffron flags were hoisted across all hostels. The students allegedly took out processions late at night, even heckling Muslim students on campus.

On the day of the event, the administration and students’ body had strictly asked students to carry their ID cards and outsiders were not to be permitted. But many men from outside had allegedly entered the campus and participated in the day-long celebration events.

A message sent out by student representatives asking everyone to carry their IDs.

Such an arrest of a student from campus is unusual. Usually, the police never enter the space without the institute administration’s permission. Also, when there is a dispute, the complaint is made first with the institute before escalating it with the police. But here, the complainant, a second-year master’s student, went directly to Govandi police station. The student was booked under Section 153 (A) and 295 (A) of the Indian Penal Code for “creating enmity between religion”.

The police in the remand application claimed that the student had offended Hindu students with his WhatsApp post. The student was arrested and kept in police custody for two days. On the third day as he was sent to Arthur Road central jail, a local court granted him bail.

The student is back on campus. The Wire reached out to him for comment but he did not want to speak.

As an aftermath of the Ram Mandir consecration ceremony, students’ organisations like the Ambedkar Student Association (ASA) have been dismantled. A student, who was a part of the association, said that soon after the arrest, students dropped out and their WhatsApp group was deleted. “We are being targeted for our political understanding and assertion. Most of us come from poor family backgrounds and we don’t have the wherewithal to fight the right-wing forces. So, students just decided to dismantle the group,” a student who was earlier associated with the ASA said.

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