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'Azaadi is shrinking day by day'

February 24, 2017 09:33 IST

'The policy of Hindutva and neo-liberalism they want to impose on the country cannot happen by violently crushing all dissent.'
'And that is what we are opposing and that is what we mean by Azaadi.'

IMAGE: On Wednesday, February 22, students belonging to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and the All India Students Association clashed outside Ramjas college, New Delhi. Photograph: PTI Photo

On Wednesday, February 22, Ramjas College in Delhi witnessed violent clashes between students belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-linked Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and the Left-affiliated All India Students Association.

Students were injured, professors were hurt.

At the heart of the violence was the cancellation of a seminar in which Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid (who along with Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested last year for making allegedly seditious comments at JNU) was to speak.

Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf spoke to Umar Khalid on the tussle between the students and what he thinks about the current dispensation.

What was your lecture at the Ramjas college about?

There was a two-day seminar organised at the Ramjas college.

My panel was to speak on conflict areas. I was to speak on 'War in Adivasi areas.' This was the seminar that they (the ABVP) stopped.

Wherever people discuss ideologies contrary to the Sangh's thinking, the ABVP attack.

What was the reason given to cancel the seminar?

There are no reasons given these days to stop seminars.

When I was on my way, I was told by the organisers that they (the ABVP) had surrounded the gate of Ramjas college with sticks and stones and, therefore, I was told to enter from a different gate.

When I proceeded further, I was told that they had blocked all the gates.

The Delhi police refused to provide me with security and the responsibility of my safety was thrust on the organisers.

The police told the organisers that if any law and order problem occurred, they would be held responsible. So I returned.

Despite me not being there, they (ABVP activists allegedly) attacked the seminar and vandalised the place.

They ensured that the seminar would be called off.

So it became very clear that the target of the attack was not me, but the seminar.

The ABVP has repeatedly done this in Delhi University and elsewhere.

Wherever people discuss ideologies contrary to the (Rashtriya Swayamsevak) Sangh's thinking, they attack.

The AISA and other Left-leaning student unions too attacked ABVP members.

This is completely baseless. This attack took place on Wednesday and the seminar was on Tuesday.

What transpired on Wednesday was that the students and teachers of Delhi University called for a march from Ramjas college to the Maurice Nagar police station asking them to register an FIR against the people who indulged in violence against the seminar.

It was supposed to be a peaceful march.

Once again the ABVP came and attacked the people who were participating in the march.

Everything is recorded on video. The media reported the clash, it was not a clash, but one-sided violence.

Catch News and Hindustan Times also recorded the violence on video; journalists were beaten up.

It was a repeat of what happened to Kanhaiya Kumar at Patiala court.

IMAGE: The genesis of the violence was the invite to Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid. Photograph: PTI Photo

I have seen a video of ABVP girls being beaten up by the AISA and other Left wing students unions. Are those videos not authentic?

I don't know which video you are referring to. I have not seen them.

One thing is very clear -- the ABVP as an organisation thrives on lies and propaganda.

We saw the same last year when there were doctored videos from them.

Even for the programme they spread a lie that I have been indicted by the court and therefore they were opposing my presence.

The reality is that I have not even been chargesheeted by the police and the trial has not even begun.

All these lies are integral to the politics of any fascist organisation.

What is the status of the case filed against you last year?

The case has not proceeded. The case is in limbo because the police with all their grandiose claims on television and elsewhere have not been able to file a chargesheet against me.

What did you want to highlight at the seminar?

My PhD is on Jharkhand Adivasis. I am researching the lives and struggle of the Adivasis.

I have been doing the same for the last five years and I wanted to provide an academic perspective since I am a history student.

I think this is precisely what the ABVP had a problem with.

Last year, 100 Adivasis were killed in fake encounters in Bastar alone.

So, they are not allowing any dissent in democracy.

Do you feel you have become a hate figure for the ABVP which feels you are 'anti-national'?

It is not about me. I do not think I am hated by the people of India.

Ever since I have come out (of jail) last year, lakhs of people have stood in solidarity with me.

As far as the ABVP's hate is concerned, it is not hate for me alone, but it is hate for democracy, hate for dissent, hate for reason and hate for rationality.

They say you shout slogans against India and speak about 'Azaadi,' which is against India?

The RSS was never part of the freedom struggle, therefore, they have deep disdain for freedom.

That is why when we speak about freedom of any kind they get jittery and attack.

On a more fundamental level, this is a direct attack on the freedom of expression.

In the university space this was the seminar that was held. In the university space, programmes happen and protests take place.

As far as ABVP's hate is concerned, it is not hate for me alone, but it is hate for democracy, hate for dissent, hate for reason and hate for rationality.

In the university space, various discussions happen. These discussions may not always subscribe to the ideology of the government of the day.

And it should not, because the university is not a party office of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

University is the space where new ideas and new knowledge is created.

And for that debate, democracy and dissent are essential.

In the public's mind, your name is now associated with the cause of Azaadi in Kashmir. Don't you think there is enough azaadi in India?

Just a correction: I am not from Kashmir, but from Maharashtra.

Azaadi is never enough and Azaadi is shrinking day by day.

If you see the attacks in universities and beyond, like the killing of Comrade Pansare and Kalburgi, these are the people who stood for reason, rationality and secularism. They were killed in broad daylight.

We saw what happened in Una when a Dalit was beaten; we saw what happened to Rohith Vemula.

We have seen the disappearance of Najeeb Ahmed from JNU.

These are all reminders that there is no freedom in this country.

And this is happening because of the ruler of this country.

The policy of Hindutva and neo-liberalism they want to impose on the country cannot happen by violently crushing all dissent.

And that is what we are opposing and that is what we mean by Azaadi.

IMAGE: Umar Khalid. Photograph: Kind courtesy Umar Khalid's Facebook page

Since you mentioned Hindutva, won't you agree that Hinduism as a religion is inclusive?

There is a difference between the Hindu religion and Hindutva.

What we are fighting is against the extreme brand of Hinduism, which is used as a political project.

For the last 20 years, they have been playing these politics and the RSS has been sowing discord in society.

The history of the RSS and the BJP is that they have grown only by spreading riots or bringing down mosques. Their history is replete with it.

Now they turn around and say we are the most tolerant people; it is the biggest irony of our times.

If that's the case, why then are the numbers of the Left parties declining? Even in universities, students don't connect to the Left.

That is not true. I am not an individual, but (part of) a collective student movement that is going across the country.

If you see the mass student movement in the last one year in the country, it has shifted and therefore the ABVP has become desperate.

Right from IIT-Madras to the FTII (the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune) to JNU and now Delhi University and many other universities, students have stood in unison and have rejected the Hindutva project.

The students movement was the first to reject this government though it had a democratic mandate.

Students rejected the politics of this government and therefore the ABVP, the foot soldiers of this government, have become desperate.

And this kind of attack which happened yesterday (February 22) shows their desperation.

The ABVP says students must not study beyond the age of 23 but get to work. So how can you, who are above 25, still call yourself a student?

It shows their utter disdain for knowledge.

It is consistent with the policy, which is bound to destroy higher education.

I am a PhD student and a normal PhD student takes time to complete his/her education because you have to first do your bachelor's and then your master's before doing a PhD.

You need five years to do a PhD, which they don't know.

If you take a job at the age of 23 then you get into production to become productive for the economy and productive for society.

I think progressing knowledge is what we are engaged in and it is as essential to society as anything else.

As I said, they have started a campaign against knowledge, rationality and reason. They don't want you to study, but get out and get a job.

All these 'Make in India' programmes are nothing, but them wanting students to become cheap labour for multinational companies and not to think.

This is an assault on thinking and the right to resources. We will fight this.

I will be a student for the rest of my life.

Your critics say you take subsidies from the government and abuse the same government.

I am not taking money from (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi's pocket.

This money is from the Government of India. They should not take onus for the tax-payers' money.

We are fighting for better education and we are fighting against privatisation and against the sell-out of education.

We also know how people are selling the resources of our country and that is what I wanted to speak about in my lecture.

When we connect our fight in JNU with the Adivasis of Bastar and the farmers of Vidarbha who are committing suicide, then we are actually remaining true to the tax-payers' money.

On the other hand, the corporate houses who are funding the government are given tax holidays.

So they should not speak as the voice of the tax-payer.

Syed Firdaus Ashraf / Rediff.com