Student Organisations in conflict over Ideologies, ABVP V/S AISA

New Delhi, 19th May 2017 | Kirtika Katira: The campus of India’s Universities has turned into a battleground between liberal voices and secular voices which is an ideological battle between Extremists and Liberals. In past couple of years, protests in the name of ‘nationalism’ has taken a rise in the capital. Student organisations like Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad have been frequently active in intervening violently in any attempt of open discussions by students about matters that are controversial. If we will look in the past then ABVP has been involved in many communal riots since 1961 including Babri Masjid demolition. They have been in news due to violent incidents, attacks etc. They are allegedly Right-Wing Extremist. The growing influence of such group or organisation is shrinking the space for free debate and discussion. ABVP members are quick to brand anyone who opposes their views as ‘Anti-National’.

The whole scenario of the ‘Ramjas Violence’ started when ABVP held a protest against the participation of JNU research scholar Umar Khalid and former JNUSU vice-president Shehla Rashid in a seminar on Cultures of Protest at Ramjas College on 21st Feb,17. ABVP activists were seen pelting stones at the Ramjas College. Next day on 22nd Mar,17, a march to protest was held outside Ramjas College against ABVP violence that was inflicted upon teachers and students. The protesters, mainly comprising students of Left forums like AISA, shouted slogans like “ABVP Go Back” and “Azaadi” as their march made its way through the roads of DU’s North Campus towards the Arts Faculty building. There were protesters from DU, JNU, Ramjas College including students and faculties which turned into a violent clash between the members of ABVP members and AISA members (All India Student’s Association) along with SFI (Student’s Federation of India).

16997934_160875657757247_4524417479417598703_nPicture credit: Delhi University’s Facebook Page.

The Mob soon got out of control and some students assaulted others and derogatory slogans were being sung. In no time, the attacks at students rose to an extent that even a journalists who was trying to capture the violent attacks was mistreated and allegedly pushed and assaulted while she was reporting the incident Live on Facebook allegedly by an ABVP member. Students at Ramjas College couldn’t move out for few hours because of the rising protests. Several Professors were assaulted and some even had to be admitted to hospital. Protesters were pushed, their hairs were pulled and stones were thrown at each other. Both of the side claims that the violent attacks were started by the other student organisation but many have come out to criticise ABVP for involving and starting violence. As many eye witnesses claimed that the fight and attacks were started by ABVP members. Another protest was organised outside the Delhi Police Headquarters at ITO over the police’s failure to register a FIR on 23rd Feb. After few hours, the FIR was finally registered but still, the AISA students were not satisfied as it showed both the side equally guilty. An embarrassed Delhi Police had no option but to be seen as taking action against three of its personnel, who were placed under suspension.

Almost a dozen students and four journalists were injured in the clashes. Journalists who were victims of the violence unleashed by the ABVP members included Catch News’s Aditya Menon and Vishakh Unnikrishnan, Heena Kausar of Hindustan Times and Taruni Kumar of The Quint. ABVP members were, however, kind to their ‘own’ journalists as they reportedly welcomed the arrivals of Zee News’s crew. Aditya said that there was a sense of excitement as soon as the reporter from Zee News arrived at the spot. Some ABVP workers were heard saying, “Hamaray waalay aa gaye (Our own journalists have arrived now).” The incident caused a huge public outcry as civil society members and political leaders began to condemn the violence unleashed by the ABVP workers.

On 24th Feb, Gurmehar Kaur who is a Delhi University student uploaded a picture of herself holding a placard against ABVP on social media which read, “I am a student from Delhi University. I am not afraid of ABVP. I am not alone. Every student of India is with me. #StudentsAgainstABVP”. The post went viral quickly and triggered a social media movement for free speech on campuses. In a brief post on Facebook, Gurmehar said: “The brutal attack on innocent students by ABVP is very disturbing and should be stopped. It was not an attack on protestors, but an attack on every notion of democracy that is held dear in ever Indian’s heart. It is an attack on ideals, morals, freedom and rights of every person born in this nation.” She further urged others to take a similar picture and post it as their profile picture. Running under #StudentsAgainstABVP, she asked students to join her campaign to express solidarity with a joint fight against the “tyranny of fear” in the university. Soon after it got viral, Kaur claims that she got death threats and rape threats from ABVP supporters on social media. She gathered many supporters but one incident changed the entire situation. ABVP activists found a one-year-old video of Kaur with a placard which says that “Pakistan didn’t kill my father, War did”. They took a screenshot of the video and they uploaded it showcasing that Gurmehar is Anti-Nationalist and Pro-Pakistan. It went viral soon and she got criticised for her statement by many eminent personalities to many users on Facebook. She was trolled and criticised consistently. Her father died fighting militants in Jammu and Kashmir in 1999 and she made a video in which she stated that her father died in Kargil attack in 1999 and that she doesn’t support the war. She also mentioned a scenario of her childhood days where she was afraid of Muslim because she thought they killed her father that as she grew up, she realised that war can never be good for any side. Blood will shed in war from either side. Her message was against the war and she was not in favour of Pakistan. Activists from ABVP trolled the video and it soon circulated all over social media. Kaur resigned her previous campaign against ABVP and left Delhi. Soon after she came out with clarifications, she was able to achieve many supporters who could understand her plight. 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 dominate campus life in India in the name of nationalism. Intolerance is at its height between student organisations with extreme left or right ideologies which are unhealthy for students as we live in a world full of diverse thoughts and we can’t oppose or become violent just because their ideologies doesn’t match with yours. All the political parties got involved in the issue soon. The Congress and the CPI(M), however, alleged that it was the saffron party which was “curbing” the freedom of speech and “unreasonably” imposing their ideologies on others. On the other hand, the BJP claimed that the Congress and the Communists were “disturbing” the atmosphere of varsities and “supporting anti-nationals”. Hundreds of students and teachers of Delhi University, JNU and Jamia hit the streets in the national capital with a call to “save” the varsities from the “onslaught” of the RSS-backed ABVP. The students who took out the march also expressed solidarity with an Army martyr’s daughter Gurmehar Kaur who allegedly got rape threats for her campaign against the ABVP after her social media campaign. The Congress leader said the universities and the colleges would never accept the culture of beating up of teachers, the use of violent means against fellow students as a way to settle scores and the language of threat and abuse to everyone who disagrees with the BJP and the ABVP. Undeterred by public condemnation and widespread outrage, the RSS’s students’ body registered its presence in Khalsa College a day later by forcing the administration to cancel Street programme, scheduled there. Now the anger against the ABVP is fast spreading across India with the students’ wing being termed as a viciously violent outfit, hellbent on crushing free voice by using the help of friendly police. This is neither India’s culture nor our tradition. Students up and down the country were then changing the display images of their social media pages by holding placards that say, ‘I’m not afraid of ABVP.’ The ABVP were joined by some members of Delhi Police, which reports to the Centre’s BJP government, in thrashing the protesting AISA students and members of media present on the campus to cover the event.

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Such incidents indicate that a big conspiracy of spreading hatred and dirty politics on the campuses is being hatched. We students as citizens of India have the right to express and give opinions but we cannot go against the integrity of the country by singing anti-national slogans. In the same way, we cannot force our ideologies and beliefs on others with the use of violence.

“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind” said Mahatma Gandhi

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