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Campus politics hurting academic freedom?

By Anurag Dey

The violent clashes between the right-wing ABVP and the Left-leaning student groups at Delhi University’s Ramjas College are just a reminder of campuses turning into political battlegrounds, or are they also reflective of the premier educatiol institutions losing their academic freedom?

While the ABVP has drawn brickbats for the February 22 fierce clashes that left injured over a dozen persons, including teachers and jourlists, not just the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s student wing but confrontatiol politics has created unrest in the campuses across the country.

From the tiol capital’s Jawaharlal Nehru University to the Jadavpur University in Kolkata to Hyderabad University, student issues have often boiled over, leading to violent clashes between rival groups.

The ABVP’s bid to domite campus life in the country has seriously infringed academic freedom, Delhi University Professor Apoorvand Jha told IANS.

The incident at Ramjas College is not an isolated one, rather there has been a concerted campaign by the ABVP’s student and youth activists to domite campus life in India in the me of tiolism.

The ABVP has been harassing teachers, students, thinkers. Its activists are attacking institutions which are not to their liking, ideological or otherwise. This is happening not just in JNU or DU but on campuses across the country. There are numerous instances where ABVP threats, agitations, frivolous police complaints have led to cancellation of events, Jha says.

Enraged over the invitation to JNU student Umar Khalid — arrested last year on the charge of “sedition” — for a semir, ABVP activists not just foiled the Ramjas College event but went on a rampage, assaulting students and others.

Jha says the BJP-RSS’s politics of causing fear has robbed the campuses of their atmosphere of free debate, along with academic freedom.

“Today my academic freedom has been curbed. As a teacher, I am apprehensive of giving my views on a subject. Would I be attacked or called an anti-tiol or an FIR be filed against me,” Jha wonders.

“As a teacher of tiolism, it is my duty to expose my students to different interpretations of tiolism. But in order to ensure my safety, I will censor myself. I don’t know which of my thoughts or words would be taken as anti-tiol and a case be filed against me,” said Jha.

DU Professor Rakesh Sinha, though, squarely blames the Leftists for “vitiating” the campus atmosphere and says free speech at the cost of tiolism can never be allowed.

“Like violence, there is also no place on the campus for those who live in India but talk about breaking it. These people are more dangerous than exterl forces. When the government is taking steps to strengthen tiol integration, these people who talk about Kashmir’s ‘azadi’ are actually strengthening Pakistan’s bid to intertiolise the Kashmir issue,” Sinha told IANS.

“This is not just condemble and should be vehemently protested, but also warrants legal action,” Sinha said, justifying sedition charge against Khalid.

Rubbishing allegations that the ABVP resorted to violence on the campus, Sinha accused the Left-leaning student activists of being intolerant.

“RSS academicians have not been given space for the last 50 years, so who is curbing free speech? Are non-Leftist academicians invited to give their views in JNU?” he asked.

“It’s the leftists who are intolerant. Opposed to their monolithic views, there is this altertive rrative emerging. When their feudalistic ideas are challenged, they are protesting, accusing, alleging and resorting to any other means in their bid to stave it off,” added Sinha.

Refusing to get into the tiolism versus free speech debate, former JNU Vice Chancellor Sudhir Kumar Sopory expressed his anguish over the Ramjas College incident.

“Campuses are for debates and discussions. Attempts to curb them are ucceptable,” Sopory told IANS.

“The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and also lays down restrictions. So, in the me of free speech or tiolism, violence cannot be tolerated. Surely it’s the academics that suffers,” he added.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty Intertiol India too has expressed concern over the “threat to free speech in Indian universities”.

A Jamia Millia Islamia professor, who wished not to be med, deplored the tiolism rrative to promote hatred.

“In the me of tiolism, people should not be made to kill other people or hate other people or promote prejudices. That is not tiolism, that is something dangerous,” the professor told IANS.

“tiolism is great when it is for promoting brotherhood and love for the country, but when it is used for commulising or spreading hatred, then that is not tiolism. Except for law, no one can call another unpatriotic or anti-tiol. It is for the judiciary to decide,” he added. (IANS)

(Anurag Dey can be reached at anurag.d@ians.in)

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