Dalits Media Watch – News Updates 04.03.16


Had resisted rape bid – Dalit girl succumbs to burns – The times of india


Dalit BJP leaders form group to demand ‘justice’ for murdered VHP leader – Nyoooz


Protests continue over gang-rape of Dalit girl – The hindu


Dalit scholar in UP threatens suicide – The asian age


BJP MP who rallied Dalits in Agra is prime accused in anti-Dalit riots – The indian express


‘Azadi’: Kanhaiya Kumar returns from Tihar Jail to JNU to make a speech of a lifetime – Scroll.in


Universities on the boil – Blink


How Hinduism delegitimizes the Dalit – Live mint


What a university means– Are there limits to academic freedom? The telegraph



Please Watch:

Kanhaiya Kumar speaks to Ravish Kumar on Prime Time


We stand for socialism, secularism and equality: Kanhaiya Kumar at JNU


FULL SPEECH JNU Leader Kanhaiya Kumar after getting out of Jail 03/3/2016


Out of jail, Kanhaiya Kumar attacks PM Modi in speech on JNU campus


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The times of india

Had resisted rape bid – Dalit girl succumbs to burns


Varanasi: A teenaged Dalit girl, who was allegedly set ab laze by three persons attempting to rape her, succumbed to burns in a Varanasi hospital on Thursday . The incident, on February 26, took place in a village of Ghazipur district.

Following her death, her family members and some political activists staged a demonstration after blocking road in Kakarmatta area.

Situation normalised when circle officer Bhelupur and inspector Bhelupur rea ched there and assured of proper investigation.After the stir was called off, the body was sent for postmortem.

On the evening of February 26, the girl was found engulfed in fire in a cane field. She was rushed her to a local hospital from where she was referred to Varanasi. On the complaint of the girl’s grandfather, the police lodged an FIR against Sonu Yadav, Pra vin Yadav and Prasidh Yadav under section 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 307 (attempt to murder), and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.


Dalit BJP leaders form group to demand ‘justice’ for murdered VHP leader


Summary: on ThursdayAgra: Dalit leaders of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Thursday formed a committee titled ‘Dalit Garjna’ to carry forward their agitation over Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Arun Mahor’s murder. We are not going to keep mum on the issue,” said Dalit Garjna coordinator Ashok Kotia. Later Agra police booked three BJP, VHP and ABVP leaders for inciting communal tension during the same meeting.Kotia said although they are members of BJP, Dalit Garjna has been formed comprising Dalit leaders to highlight the atrocities meted out to their community. said Ravi Mahor, another leader of Dalit Garjna. “Mahor’s murder was part of an organized crime by cow slaughterers.

on Thursday Agra: Dalit leaders of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Thursday formed a committee titled ‘Dalit Garjna’ to carry forward their agitation over Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Arun Mahor’s murder. The leaders accused ruling Samajwadi Party leaders of shielding “cow slaughterers” ni the murder case.Slamming the Akhilesh Yadav government for its “double standards”, BJP leaders said that while the state chief minister gave Rs 45 lakh, two government jobs and two houses to the family of Akhlaq who was allegedly lynched over suspicions of beef consumption, but only Rs 15 lakh to Mahor’s family. They have threatened to launch a massive agitation in Agra, Lucknow and Delhi in the coming days if Mahor’s family is not given compensation equivalent to the Dadri victim.

Further, they wanted renaming of Meera Hussani crossing in Mantola as Shaheed Mahor Chowk.”Mahor’s murder was part of an organized crime by cow slaughterers. While so much noise was created over the Dadri episode, why is no one speaking about this murder? We are not going to keep mum on the issue,” said Dalit Garjna coordinator Ashok Kotia. “It is ironic that leaders like Arvind Kejriwal, Rahul Gandhi and Mayawati who shed crocodile tears over the suicide by Hyderabad University student Rohith Vemula are nowhere to be seen here in Agra,” he added.Kotia accused Agra police of harassing and filing false cases against BJP leaders who spoke in support of getting justice for Mahor.

The hindu

Protests continue over gang-rape of Dalit girl


The Joint Action Committee of the women victims, Dalit organisations and others staged a massive dharna in front of the Collectorate in Karimnagar on Thursday demanding action against Huzurabad DSP and Jammikunta Rural CI for neglecting their duties in the Dalit girl’s gang-rape issue.

JAC leaders led by its convenor Surapalli Sujatha, co-convenors Marwadi Sudarshan, J. Jayaraj, Kothapalli Amarnath and others participated in the dharna demanding justice to the victim. Alleging that police negligence had led to the heinous crime, they sought suspension of DSP and CI along with the SI and constable.

Flaying the police lethargy in checking crime against women, they also sought Rs.1 crore compensation to the victim, a government job, three acres of land and double-bed room house. They also warned of direct action against the persons involved in the crime against the women if the police failed to prevent the occurrence of such incidents.

TPCC SC cell memo

In the meantime, TPCC SC cell chairman Arepalli Mohan, TPCC Mahila Congress State president Nerella Sharada, DCC SC cell chairman Uppari Ravi and others submitted a memorandum to the National SC commission member Kamalamma at her camp office in Hyderabad on Thursday. Alleging that the police were responsible for the gang rape of the victim as they failed to respond to the panic call made by another girl, they also stated that the police were trying to shield two other accused persons by claiming that they were minors. Demanding stern action against the culprits involved in the heinous crime, they also sought compensation, government job and agricultural land to the victim.


Dalit organisations and others demand suspension of Huzurabad DSP and Jammikunta Rural CI for neglecting their duty

The asian age

Dalit scholar in UP threatens suicide


In what could be a replay of the Rohith Vemula case in Hyderabad, a Dalit scholar in the Chaudhary Charan Singh University in Meerut district had threatened to ‘commit suicide like Vemula’ if no action is taken against faculty member who has been harassing him.

Harish Kumar, a Dalit researcher, told reporters in Meerut that the Research Design Course committee gave the nod to his research topic in 2012 but he could not start his work because the University Grants Commission (UGC) had issued an order that all research scholars had to go through a six-month pre-PHD course.

Harish Kumar alleged that when the course started in November-December 2014, he found that his batch had been merged with the second batch whose course had to be started six months after his batch.

“The coordinator, Aradhana Gupta started to shout at me instead of giving me any reasonable answer. I started to attend the classes but most of the time I was provided a paper to sign on that to mark my attendance instead of any attendance register. After six months 10-12 scholars including me were asked to take extra classes as we were short on attendance. On this ground I was not permitted to take internal exams”, he said.

Prof. Aradhana Gupta, however, denied misbehaving with the scholar. “He was stopped along with 17 other scholars from taking the exam due to shortfall in attendance. Kumar only came to the department on the very first day of the course and we saw him again when internal exams were about to start. When all the students had signed on the attendance register, why would he be given a paper instead?” the professor added.

She further said that on the request of students with less attendance, the department had arranged extra classes for 20 days in July-August 2015.

“But Kumar attended 10 classes in five days. The final exams will start on March 6 and only those scholars who have cleared internal exams and have 45 per cent attendance will be allowed to appear. Therefore he has filed a complaint even though he has no specific allegation to make. At the beginning of the course he had a heated argument with me and later gave a written apology”, she added.

The research scholar, meanwhile, explained that he was forced to write an apology because he was a Dalit.

“Now I have just two options, either take to crime or commit suicide like Rohith Vemula”, he said.

Vice chancellor N K Taneja said the though the matter had been settled but if the student has complained again, an inquiry would be ordered into the episode.

Harish Kumar has already sent a copy of the complaint to the district magistrate, in which he mentions writing to PM Modi, HRD minister Smriti Irani and chairman of UGC.

“If I commit suicide like Rohith Vemula, the responsibility will lie on Anuradha Gupta, the V-C, PM and HRD minister”, he said in the letter.

The district magistrate remained unavailable for comment.

The indian express

BJP MP who rallied Dalits in Agra is prime accused in anti-Dalit riots


Babu Lal, who sought to rally the Dalit community with his speech, is also a prime accused in one of the worst cases of violence against Dalits in Uttar Pradesh.

DURING A condolence meeting organised by the Sangh Parivar on Sunday for Arun Mahaur, a Dalit VHP worker allegedly killed by Muslim youths in Agra on February 25, BJP’s Fatehpur Sikri MP Babu Lal urged the crowd to “fix a date” and “take on Muslims”.

Dalits, Agra, BJP, Anti-Dalit, riots, Dalit subjugation, dalit discrimination, BJP towards Dalits

Babu Lal, who sought to rally the Dalit community with his speech, is also a prime accused in one of the worst cases of violence against Dalits in Uttar Pradesh.

According to police records and eyewitness accounts, in June 1990, Lal allegedly mobilised Jats to prevent a Dalit wedding procession from crossing his home in the Jat-dominated locality of Agra’s Panwari village. The village had 87 Dalit families, but all of them, barring one, were forcibly evicted by the Jats, allegedly under the leadership of Lal, who was at the time the Block President of Achhnera and was emerging as a prominent Jat leader.

Bharat Singh Kardam, whose younger sister Mundra was supposed to get married on June 21, 1990, vividly remembers the incident. “Babu Lal has concern for Dalits? He was the prime accused in the Panwari riots. He instigated people, saying a wedding procession of Dalits must not cross the Jat colony, that it would be a humiliation. We had decided to change the route but he wanted to further his political career through these riots,” Kardam claimed.

Despite heavy security, Jats managed to attack the wedding procession, leading to riots in the area. Dalit homes were burnt down in Panwari as violence spread across Agra and adjoining districts. Several people died in the riots, and Agra remained under curfew for several days.

Babu Lal was unavailable for comments. His personal assistant said he is unwell.

Kardam alleged that “armed Jats had surrounded the wedding procession”. “We were scared. Somehow, we managed to run away, leaving everything behind,” he said.

Kardam, who is fighting the case in Agra’s SC/ST court on behalf of the affected families, has with him thick files containing newspaper clippings and photographs showing burnt down homes and a deserted Panwari village. One photograph, of two big vessels, is captioned: “Vegetable curry that was prepared for the wedding guests”. Another is of “a dead buffalo in Jatav colony”.

Rambai Sonkar, a member of the Schedule Caste, died in the violence, reportedly while trying to pacify the Jats. His body was never recovered. Kardam had deposed in the court that Babu Lal and his men committed the murder.

After the riots, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Panwari, but the Dalits still felt it safer to flee and settle in neighbouring villages. Most of them work as daily labourers today. “The Jats burnt down our homes. Everything was done at the behest of Babu Lal,” claimed Mange Lal, who now stays in Mahal village, a few kilometres away. He claimed that even as they fled, members of their community were “pulled out of buses and assaulted”.

While the administration had promised homes and compensation for the affected Dalits, Kardam said none of them have their own homes till date.

Babu Lal, who bragged on Sunday that he has faced the National Security Act on three occasions, was also convicted and given life term in 1984 for the murder of one Vijendra Singh. The high court stayed the sentence and he was released on appeal. He had also been booked under the NSA for allegedly assaulting a polling officer at a booth during an assembly election in Fatehpur Sikri in 1993.

All five accused in Mahaur’s murder have been arrested. Police claim Mahaur and the main accused, Shahrukh, had an altercation a day before he was killed.


‘Azadi’: Kanhaiya Kumar returns from Tihar Jail

 to JNU to make a speech of a lifetime


“Ladenge,” said Kanhaiya Kumar, drawing out each syllable so that the word became a cry. We will fight.

The Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union president, who has been charged with sedition, was back on campus after more than a fortnight and addressing students after being released from Tihar Jail on Thursday. No half-jokes or preamble for Kumar. He plunged in.

“Ladke lenge,” he shouted, grinning at the crowd gathered at the JNU administrative block.

“Azadi,” they cried. Freedom.

“Hum leke rahenge,” he shouted. Once more the crowd replied, “Azadi.” The whole fortnight had led up to this moment of audacity.

A long fortnight

Kumar was arrested on February 12 after the authorities claimed that he had chanted anti-national slogans at an event to mark the hanging of Afzal Guru, the Kashmiri man convicted for his role in the 2001 attack on Parliament. As hyper-ventilating television anchors aired video clips for several nights in a row purporting to prove his guilt, two other students were also arrested on similar charges.

The case quickly seized the national imagination. When Kumar was produced in court on February 16, a group of lawyers assaulted him, and also beat up journalists, professors and students on the premises, even as the police stood by. Outside the court, a Bharatiya Janata Party MLA was caught on camera punching a bystander to the ground, under the noses of the police. Despite the outrage, the violence was repeated for a second time when Kumar was appeared in court the next day.

As the fortnight dragged on, forensic experts concluded that some of the video clips aired on television had actually been doctored. But across the country, protestors took to the streets to express their support for the young man from Bihar. One of his speeches even got used as the basis for a madly infectious dubstep track.

The case became the subject of a great thrust and parry in Parliament. On February 24, Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani made an energetic defence of the government’s actions in Parliament, only to have several commentators point out that her speech contained several inaccuracies.

At Ganga dhaba

So a great deal of anticipation hung in the air over the JNU campus on Thursday evening, when it was announced that there would be a march from Ganga dhaba, a well-known landmark on the campus of the seething university in the capital, to the administrative block, starting at 9.30 pm. Students had gathered there early, and Ganga dhaba as well as the neighbouring eatery did brisk business. Some groups polished off plates of chicken tikkas, while others smoked in dark corners, talking intently. Sitting at the curb, a woman thumped on a drum and sang We Shall Overcome in three languages ‒ English, Hindi, Bengali.

Slowly, the crowd around her began to swell, and the singing turned to chanting. Posters were passed around: a picture of Ambedkar and written below it, “From HCU to JNU, Save Constitution! Save Democracy! Save University! JNUSU.” The reported ban on photocopying pamphlets and posters on campus has clearly not limited their circulation yet. There were other handwritten posters asking for the release of “Comrade Umar, Comrade Ban, Comrade Geelani”.

Council members of the JNUSU addressed the gathering, advising caution. “In the movement ahead, we have to be careful about the slogans we raise,” said Rama Naga, general secretary of the JNUSU and one of the students accused of sedition. “Two of our comrades are still in jail and we won’t chant slogans that will raise more questions for them. We know what our slogans mean but they are misinterpreted outside.”

But this crowd was in the mood for revolution. “Sangharsh hamaara naara hai,” they shouted. The old classics of the Left were brought out: “The people united shall always be victorious,” “Ho-Ho-Ho Chi Minh,/ We shall fight, we shall win,” and, of course, “Lal Salaam” for all the comrades. These were twinned with the Dalit slogan, “Jai Bhim.”

If there was celebration that Kumar had returned, there was also anger most of it directed at the government. “Sedition ki yeh sarkaar, nahi chalenge ab ki baar,” the crowd chanted. “Narendra Modi murdabaad, home minister murdabaad, Delhi police murdabaad. Hum apna adhikaar mangte, nahi kisi se bheek mangte.”

And then that last, thrilling slogan, “Hum kya chahte? Azadi.” What do we want? Freedom.

 The challenge

Through his speech on Thursday night, Kumar articulated the components of this azadi. He spoke, once again, of his faith in the Constitution. The #StandWithJNU movement, he said, believed in the principles it enshrined: socialism, secularism, equality.

They were demanding azadi in India and not from India, Kumar said. “Is it wrong to ask for freedom from the problems that the country faces?” he demanded. Azadi meant freedom from “jaativad (casteism)” and “Manuvad (the doctrine of Manu)”. It meant freedom for a coalition of the oppressed ‒ Dalits, women, farmers and minorities. It also seemed to mean freedom from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the “programme set by Nagpur”, where the Hindutva organisation has its headquarters.

Kumar’s speech on Thursday was an open challenge to the Bharatiya Janata Party and its student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. “We don’t hate anybody and we certainly don’t hate the ABVP,” he said, pointedly calling them “the opposition” and not “the enemy”.

To the government. Kumar was gratuitously polite. “I particularly want to thank the great personages sitting in Parliament and deciding what is right and what is wrong,” he said at the start of his speech. “I want to thank their police, their media.” A few minutes later, he started an anecdote with the words, “Our dear, esteemed prime minister”. He explained, “One has to say it, or else they will doctor the tape and call it sedition.”

To the human resources development minister, Kumar had this to say: “Smriti Irani will not decide what is sedition because we are not her children… Most respected, extremely respected Smriti Irani, we are not your children.”

If he was adversarial towards government, Kumar tried to reach across other institutional faultlines to build a broader coalition of sympathy. He claimed to have spoken to his jailers, explaining to them what “Lal salaam” (the red salute) and “kranti” (revolution) meant, and to a soldier, discussing what religion meant.

Sympathy stemmed from points of identification. The soldiers who died in war and the lower echelons of the constabulary came from rural, agricultural backgrounds, just like him. “What about the thousands of farmers who are committing suicide?” Kumar demanded, referring to the recent debate of soldiers versus “anti-nationals”. “Do not create a false debate with this binary. People are dying at the frontiers and people are dying in the interiors. But who is making the soldiers fight?”


The Kanhaiya Kumar who spoke on Thursday was radical and defiant. He wore his rural origins proudly and used it to reach out to others. He told anecdotes about magic tricks in his village to make a political point. He even took on jokes made about village people and their pronunciation of English words. And he had a story about his mother, an assistant in an anganwadi, to match Modi’s story about his mother.

In a speech that lasted over 40 minutes, Kumar took his audiences from anger to grief to laughter. It ended with the same slogans ‒ Jai Bheem, Lal Salaam, Azadi ‒ and a euphoria that rose gently into the cool night air. As students started making their way back home, one group stood around a pavement discussing what they had just heard.

“What a speech,” one of them said. “I’ve never heard a speech like this in JNU.”

“What JNU?” said her companion. “I’ve never heard a speech like this anywhere.


Universities on the boil


With the long-excluded marginalised communities entering the domain of knowledge, universities have become the hub for new questions and ideas that challenge old notions

Universities and institutions of higher learning today are in revolt — against attempts to reduce them to a factory for the production of mindless automatons — either in the service of the neo-liberal/corporate machine or of a mind-numbing, virulent Hindu nationalism. If the neo-liberal wants universities to churn out people who would become cogs in the corporate machine, Hindutva forces seek to turn all educational institutions into factories, mass-producing pre-programmed Hindu nationalists who will eat, read and love only as prescribed.

But there is an air of desperation among the hitherto powerful, since, for the first time in India’s long history, universities are throbbing with the new energies produced by the entry of those who have long been excluded from the domain of knowledge.

As masses of students from Dalit and Bahujan backgrounds, or from really poor families enter these hitherto heavily-guarded fortresses, panic buttons are pressed in a bid to protect the privileges of the dominant.

With their arrival, new questions and new perspectives challenge these institutions. The old common sense that has till now dominated many of these institutions is thrown into crisis, received notions of nation and nationalism are interrogated.

Recall the withdrawal of recognition to the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle (APSC) by IIT-Madras in May 2015. This institution has seen a number of right-wing organisations, ranging from the RSSshakhas to groups like the Vivekananda Study Circle, operating without restrictions. However, within a year of its formation, the APSC was faced with a notice of ‘derecognition’, following a complaint by RSS students to the Ministry of Human Resource Development and the latter’s suspiciously prompt response. The ministry’s letter to the institute raised the matter of “the distribution of controversial posters and pamphlets in the campus” and “creating an atmosphere of hatred among students by one student group” and also disaffection against the Prime Minister and ‘the Hindus’.

This is eerily the pattern that is repeated later in University of Hyderabad, where the attack, once again prodded by the MHRD, is on members of the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA), leading eventually to the tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula. There again, the proactive intervention of the MHRD, following provocation by the ABVP, led to the suspension of Vemula and his comrades for indulging in ‘anti-national’ activities.

What is happening in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) now is not very different insofar as the essentials of the script go. It is the same bogey of ‘anti-nationalism’ that is being raised here — and this time it was not just the MHRD but the Home Ministry as well, that intervened — in order to frame students for sedition. The pattern itself suggests that there is more to JNU than meets the eye — and some of this becomes evident in the way a few television channels were pressed into service for creating an atmosphere of paranoid witch-hunting. And lest we forget, two of the five students whom the police want to frame are Dalits and some others from very poor backgrounds.

It is also worth noticing that in all these cases, the Dalit students have been talking not merely about their ‘own’ issues of caste discrimination but also issues that are not of immediate concern from an identity perspective. Thus the APSC in IIT-M had been organising discussions on issues like the coal-bed methane exploration project in the Kaveri delta, GM crops, labour law changes and language politics, just as the ASA in Hyderabad University had been raising the issue of capital punishment in the Yakub Memon case, as well as questions regarding the state of minorities (the screening of a film on the Muzaffarnagar violence being one of the immediate points of conflict with the ABVP). In other words, in all these cases we see the emergence of a new kind of self-confident Dalit politics that is decisively moving in a leftward direction. It is this that has caused panic.

From this it should not be understood, however, that other issues of culture and identity have become any less important. A case in point is the issue of the worship of Mahishasur as a counter-cultural symbol to mainstream Hinduism. It is an index of how much of a microcosm of India JNU is, that even such marginal beliefs and practices find a place there. The coming of age of Dalit politics also manifests in this significant bid to create a counter-cultural canon from symbols that have been consigned to oblivion as far as the mainstream is concerned. It is this feature of JNU that has also opened up possibilities of cultural re-education of Left groups as well, making us all aware of the immense diversity that is India. It is this that Hindutva nationalism cannot digest.

Live mint

How Hinduism delegitimizes the Dalit


A few days after I started in journalism (this was in 1995), a man came into the office of The Asian Age in Mumbai. He was short, stout, dark and dressed poorly. But he was confident and he took a seat, without invitation, in the chair in front of me. He handed me a press release, and it was about a demand of some union in the municipality he wanted publicized.

The note was in Marathi, which I read poorly, and its contents I have long forgotten. But I noticed the words in bold on top, and they read “Jai Bhim”. This interested me because I had not encountered the valorizing of a minor Mahabharat character before. I was disabused of my ignorance only later, when I understood that it was, of course, Bhimrao Ambedkar that “Bhim” referred to. Through“Jai Bhim”, this man was declaring his identity and his affiliation.

In Surat, where I had grown up, it was unthinkable that a Dalit could be assertive about who he was. What he should feel was something akin to shame. Dalits were referred to as (and even referred to themselves as) harijan, a patronizing name. Such things are not easy to be rid of. Visitors to the municipal sweepers’ colony in Mahim, on the left just before Shiv Sena Bhavan, coming from Bandra, will observe a divide straight down the middle.

To the left are the older rooms of the Gujarati sweepers, whose families came to 19th century Bombay, who identify themselves as harijan. They mark Ganesh Chaturthi, pandaland all (no doubt with a pandit terrified of being polluted), and various other Hindu occasions.

To the right is the much newer building with rooms of Marathi Dalit sweepers. This is more austere, more Buddhist, less Hindu and it is out of the question that they would refer to themselves as harijan. They would feel offended if referred to thus, not on their own terms, and rightly.

And yet Gujarat’s savarna classes—meaning those four castes who possess varna: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra—casually use the jati names of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as abuse.

An unkempt or unwashed Gujarati child will be laughingly called dublo, dhed, bhangi. This is how I was raised.

It was only in my 20s, when I encountered the works of the great Reginald Edward Enthoven (without amateur ethnographer district collectors like him and Denzil Ibbetson, where would this third-rate nation be?) that it dawned on me that this name-calling was pure cruelty. That contempt and bigotry was built into everyday Gujarati vocabulary. I had not known it—and mind you, I was reasonably informed. Indeed, it would have angered the 24-year-old me had someone suggested that I was illiterate about the most basic things about India. I have tried to exorcize myself. I suggest people like Union human resource development minister Smriti Irani try to educate themselves, and I am not saying this in derision. I am saying it in sympathy, having been through the process they need going through.

The exorcism is of the conviction that “our” Hinduism, essentially the Puranic, is valid. The rest is primitive, and even the customary, like the worship of Mahishasura, exists because of ignorance on the part of the other. Such thinking needs to be reversed, and it cannot be reversed if, as Irani and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah (a Jain Baniya, who has also been aggressive on this issue) insists, the other’s perspective is not only invalid but blasphemous.

Our middle class needs to be re-educated, else it will remain ignorant. This is not just limited to nomenclature, to knowledge of caste and so on. We confuse privilege with “merit” and most of us do not have the intellectual capacity, truth be told, to look on the issue neutrally. The arguments here are banal, and it doesn’t matter how traditionally literate the middle-class individual may be.

On an NDTV show on reservations moderated by Vikram Chandra, I was on a panel that included two former Indian Institute of Technology professors. They had little to offer and their decades in teaching had, if anything, solidified their prejudices. Their view was shallow and ignorant, I am sorry to say, and of a piece with the angry middle-class audience that was demanding an end to reservations. On the other side were the writer Chandra Bhan Prasad and BJP MP Udit Raj, both Dalits.

You will find any number of savarnas (no need to look far, I raise my hand) who take a firm view in favour of reservations, and affirmative action. I challenge the middle classes to name one Dalit who accepts their point of view on “merit”. Udit Raj finds himself in a difficult position often because the truth is that it is difficult for Hindutva, with its stress on vegetarianism, on prohibition, to be open to other castes, though it pretends to be.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh invests in Ekal Vidyalaya (single-teacher schools) in Gujarat’s tribal areas. The Swayamsevaks who do the teaching sacrifice their years doing this work, it is true. But what they are focused on doing is weaning away the tribal from animism and towards Puranic idolatry.

In their work we observe the same certitude as we find in Irani, but this time there is also a “solution”. And that solution is to delegitimize the customs, culture and dignity of the tribal.

Hindutva should attempt to be more inclusive. If not towards Muslims, and I can understand why here it cannot, at least towards non-savarnas.

A full 25% of India is Dalit and Adivasi. Put your palm on your heart (do it) and ask yourself what representation they have in your office. How represented is their culture in our popular culture (films, TV serials, advertising clichés)? If it is not, ask yourself why it is not. The only answer, a terrifying one, is that it is not “good culture”. Add Muslims and we are talking of nearly 40% of our population, a half-billion people seen with contempt because of an illiteracy on the part of the rest of us.

Aakar Patel is executive director of Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are personal. He tweets at aakar_amnesty.

The telegraph

What a university means– Are there limits to academic freedom?


We are suddenly being bombarded by reminders that freedom of speech can never be unlimited. Political leaders and newscasters are telling us that university campuses cannot claim exemption from the obligation to respect the integrity of the nation and defer to constituted authorities enforcing the law. That there are limits to free speech is a truism. But in the hysteria that has been raised over allegations of “anti-national” speech by university students, there is complete disregard, some caused by careless thinking and others by deliberate obfuscation, for the principles that determine where those limits lie and who can enforce them.

We all know from daily experience that not everything can be said in every social situation. What can be said in a football game cannot be said in the classroom. What can be said in a raucous party of young males cannot be said in a polite gathering of gentle men and women. What can be said on the street corner cannot be said in Parliament (even though our parliamentarians frequently forget that rule). In each case, there are accepted social conventions that define the limits of appropriate speech and identify the recognized authorities – the teacher, social elders, the Speaker – who can enforce those limits. But in none of these everyday situations is the limit defined by the laws of the State. That is the first principle we must remember.

We also know that these conventions change over time. The pace of change has undoubtedly hastened in recent decades. Until fairly recently, for instance, those belonging to the lower castes would not have been allowed to address members of the upper castes as social equals. Those unequal terms of address have changed in many public institutions today. Not so long ago, women would not have been seen, let alone speak, in public gatherings; that has changed. These changes have been brought about by social movements, protests, resistance and reform. The struggle continues. There are many social arenas where Dalits, adivasis and other marginal groups are not allowed to speak with the same freedom that more privileged groups enjoy. Women are still prevented from access to public spaces or facilities that men use as a matter of routine.

This is where the State in a constitutional democracy such as India has to play a special role. Article 19 of the Constitution guarantees to every citizen the fundamental right to freedom of speech, assembly, association, movement and residence. There are specific limitations and exceptions to that right mentioned in other parts of the Constitution and in certain laws enacted by Parliament. But none of those exceptions take away the fundamental right. The implication is that when a woman is ordered by a council of village elders not to use a mobile phone or study in the same class with male students, she has the right to appeal for protection from an agency of the State. If a Dalit is denied access to a public forum on grounds of caste, he has the right to seek the protection of the State. And no matter what the prevailing social conventions, the State is required by law to guarantee the citizen his or her freedom. In other words, irrespective of the limits on freedom of speech imposed by other social authorities, the default position of the State in a constitutional democracy must always be to uphold the freedom of the citizen. Otherwise, democracy slides into tyranny and reform into reaction. That is the second principle that must be kept in mind.

What about freedom of speech in the university? Is there a special quality to the respect that must be given to free thought and expression within the precincts of that institution? Yes. There are two institutions in a constitutional democracy where free speech must receive special protection: one is the elected assembly of people’s representatives and the other the university. The first enjoys legally recognized protection, since the Houses of Parliament and the state assemblies themselves decide what can or cannot be said there; no other authority, not even the courts, have any jurisdiction over them. If one thinks about it carefully, one must conclude that the university must also have a similar autonomous and self-governing character, even if only by convention, if the pursuit of knowledge and critical thinking is to have any value. Given the recent turmoil over this issue in India, the point needs to be argued a little more elaborately.

Take the following text as an example. “Even though from childhood I had been taught that idolatry of the Nation is almost better than reverence for God and humanity, I believe I have outgrown that teaching, and it is my conviction that my countrymen will truly gain their India by fighting against the education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity… Nationalism is a great menace. It is the particular thing which for years has been at the bottom of India’s troubles.” I first read those lines in the 1960s as a student of political thought at the University of Calcutta. Tagore’s lectures on Nationalism were required reading in the class. By then, a song composed by him had been converted by a military band into India’s national anthem. I remember that not only the students but even our professors were unsettled by Tagore’s eloquent and passionate condemnation of nationalism. We had to get underneath our comfortable common sense notions of patriotism to come up with good answers to Tagore’s arguments. It was as a university student that I realized that one had to shed one’s reverence for Tagore as well as the nation in order to pursue knowledge as a vocation.

That is the founding principle of the modern university, as distinct from a seminary or mathaor madrasa. Obligations of bhakti must be set aside for the pursuit of jnana. The university cannot be a place to cultivate deshbhakti or reverence for the nation; there are other, more appropriate, places for that. At the university, one pursues deshjnana or knowledge of the nation. One asks: when and how did the nation come about? What were the different visions of the nation that contended with one another? How exactly did the people of India resolve to constitute themselves as a sovereign republic? Who were the people included and excluded from equal participation in national life? Any a priori assumption of national loyalty cannot promote true knowledge of the nation. Otherwise, Rabindranath Tagore, if he were to speak on nationalism at a university campus in India today, would have to be arrested on charges of sedition.

The absurdity of bringing sedition charges for speech uttered inside a university is so egregious that it defies comprehension. Are we to accept that the present boundaries of the Indian nation state cannot be critically examined in the classroom or seminar? Are history students not to be encouraged to explore the archives to unearth the history of colonial conquests, treaties and partitions that resulted in the territorial boundaries of present-day India? When the sovereign state of India has added (Goa, Sikkim) or given up territory (most recently through a treaty with Bangladesh), are those not to be studied? And since when are judgments of the Supreme Court exempt from public discussion in India? Can students of law and the Constitution not be expected to answer questions about the Afzal Guru judgment, when eminent persons who oppose capital punishment as a principle and others who feel the weight of evidence in that case was insufficient to merit the death penalty have gone on record with their views? Is the status of Kashmir and the Northeastern states a taboo subject in the university when the daily news is full of stories of protests and violence in those places? Can resistant forms of religious and cultural practice that differ from those of the dominant mainstream not be discussed by teachers and students? In that case, the university might as well be declared dead; instead, let the government build national seminaries designed to produce patriotic morons.

Should there not be limits to freedom of speech on campus? There already are. They are governed by conventional practices that are not always the same on every campus and are enforced by appropriate university authorities. Last week, an MA student made a presentation in my seminar on the publicity material and school textbooks produced by Daesh (or ISIS) in Syria and Iraq. The material was spine-chilling in its crude militarism and sheer intensity of hatred. But the students were able to engage in a serious discussion on why this poisonous message might attract some people. That is what a university should be able to do. Perhaps the discussion might not have been appropriate for younger, less mature, students. That is a judgment that teachers have to make. I cannot imagine a physics teacher wasting valuable time in class, except perhaps as a comic diversion, on someone claiming that the earth was flat or that the sun revolved round the earth. Depending on the appropriate forum, discipline and standard, university authorities always make decisions on what kinds of speech are irrelevant, confused or plain wrong. This includes discussions held outside the classroom which are an essential part of a vibrant campus life.

But that is not a judgment that the agencies of the State are equipped to make. If there is a murder or robbery or riot on campus, the university authorities will recognize their inability to deal with the matter and hand it over to the appropriate State authority. On all matters concerning speech and expression, however, the university authorities must be the sole judge to decide on the limits. No other principle is compatible with the idea of the modern university.

The writer is honorary professor, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, and professor at Columbia University

News monitored by AMRESH & AJEET

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