‘Attack on free expression’: ABVP ‘insults’ Udaipur professor for FB post

People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Rajasthan, condemning what it called "insult of Professor Himanshu Pandya" by students affiliated with with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarti Parishad (ABVP) in Udaipur, has said he was evicted from the class where he was teaching after raising "ugly slogans", forcing him to "leave the university".

Stating the reason for the attack of Prof Pandya was a Facebook post six months ago, where he had “expressed pain over the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992”, PUCL insisted, it is “attack on the freedom of expression and curtailment of academic freedom”, and if left unpunished, “it could derail democracy.”

PUCL condemns the insulting treatment of Prof Himanshu Pandya at Mohanlal Sukhadia University, Udaipur, by student activists of the ABVP. This represents not just an attack on one person, but an attempt to stifle academic freedom and curtail free speech, vital to the health of any democracy. PUCL demands that the state government take cognizance of the offence without delay, and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Prof Himanshu Pandya had been specially invited to the university to teach a course in research methods. The ABVP members reached his class without any warning. They abused the professor and evicted him from the class, raised ugly slogans and forced him to leave the university, pursuing him with slogans even outside the campus. After Prof Pandya left, the foul-mouthed group protested against course coordinator Prof Sudha Choudhury and department head Hemant Dwivedi.

The agitated ABVP activists claimed they were protesting against Prof Pandya because on a Facebook post six months ago, he had expressed pain over the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992. This is evidence that the ABVP members have little respect for the freedom of expression.

To assert that their protest was legitimate, the students later uploaded content on YouTube claiming that Prof Pandya was a supporter of Palestine. The student activists seemed completely ignorant that the Government of India too has often expressed support for the suffering people of Palestine.

What is noteworthy is that the class Prof Pandya was teaching was about research methodology – there was no mention of either Babri Masjid or Palestine during that session.

PUCL is deeply pained that the Bharatiya Janata Party, in power in the state and currently leading a coalition government at the Centre, has worked relentlessly to constrain academic freedom. The RSS and its affiliated organizations have been working tirelessly to penetrate the education system. These forces of disruption had been curtailed for long in independent India, but have been granted impunity under the rule of the BJP.

Even before this incident on June 8, 2024, there have been instances of attacks on academic freedom.

ABVP activists claimed books written by Bhagat Singh were treasonous, and students must only read material promoting patriotism

Rajasthan Central University disallowed students from watching the BBC documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots. Students of Rajasthan University had attempted a memorial event for martyr to India’s freedom Bhagat Singh, which the ABVP activists stopped. Tearing up literature available at the site, ABVP activists claimed that books written by Bhagat Singh were “treasonous,” and students must only read material that promoted patriotism!

Across universities in the state, there is an undeclared clampdown on events that celebrate democracy, equality, secularism, and freedom of expression. A teacher in Baran district was suspended for speaking with students about the Constitution! Muslim teachers are facing the brunt of the illogical power of the state.

The Constitution of India provides for free expression and debate between people holding different points of view. That is why the freedom of expression is listed as a Fundamental Right. It is a matter of great concern that right-wing activism has found considerable success in curtailing the scope for debate even within universities. Only what Hindutva considers appropriate, according to such activists, ought to feature in curricula and classrooms.

What is significant is that the incident at Udaipur on June 8, 2024 occurred even though the subject of the discussion had nothing to do with Hindutva. The ABVP activists were clearly flexing their muscles, asserting their powers, and working to prevent anyone who disagrees with them from gaining access to a public university. It was a show of power, and an attempt to intimidate.

PUCL calls upon the state government and the university authorities to take cognizance of this crime on India’s democracy and bring the accused to book.

Courtesy: CounterView



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