Express yourself without fear: Faculty to IIT Kanpur students

They wrote in support of students reciting Faiz’s poem “Hum Dekhenge” during anti-CAA protest

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“Hum Dekhenge, Laazim Hai ki Hum Bhi Dekhenge” after these words by poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz became the new song of dissent starting with it resounding among the walls of IIT Kanpur, the administration of the University issued an inquiry alleging that the poem provoked “anti-Hindu” sentiments.

The poem was written by Faiz in 1979 chastising General Zia-ul-Haq recounting the Prophet’s conquest of Mecca. The complaint was filed by IIT Kanpur professor Vashi Mant Sharma and 16 others including teachers and students saying that some words of the poem could hurt the sentiments of Hindus.

A committee was set up to probe the matter which alleged that after the poem was read, inflammatory social media posts were put up and IIT Kanpur Deputy Director Manindra Agrawal intervened to stop the unrest from being escalated. He had also clarified that the committee was not set up to look into the contents of the poem itself, but to address the complaints of violence and communally insensitive posts. “Both sides are our own students — we’re viewing this as an in-house issue and trying to understand both sides’ perspectives and hoping to calm things down,” Agrawal told The Telegraph.

The move to set up a committee was highly condemned by opinion makers, calling the same to be “ridiculous” and “shameful”.

Today, The Telegraph reported that sections of the faculty have come out in support of the students’ right to “fearlessly express” their opinions. Members from multiple departments have written a letter urging the students to learn to voice their opinions in a manner that engages the community, even amid disagreements, underscoring the space for contrarian views in a democracy, the paper reported.

Their letter read, “We as teachers would like to remind ourselves and our students, to whom we are primarily accountable, that the duties of a public-funded university in a democratic country include critically examining every issue, curricular and extra-curricular, that concerns the society we live in and also to be tolerant to contrarian views.”

Offering encouragement to the students, through their letter the faculty members said, ““We stand by your right to discuss, debate and dissent on issues that you feel are important and as teachers we will strive to create an atmosphere in our campus where you can fearlessly express your opinion in any form, responsibly and conscientiously.”

Agrawal who was aware of the letter, but not a signatory expressed his assent to the ideas mentioned in the letter, saying that it should never be the case that the students feel that their voices were getting suppressed. He said, “We would like our students to be responsible and introspect about damage that posting on social media can do. Social media posts have this potential to amplify distances between different points of view — that can make the atmosphere worse.”

Amid this rancour that was being spewed at a brilliant work of art, India Today reached out to Saleema Hashmi, Faiz’s daughter who resides in Pakistan asking for her view on the matter. She told the channel, “I must say I am having a good laugh over people who are making suggestions to a dead poet that he can make his vocabulary more secular’. Sorry guys, he can’t hear you! If you can rewrite the poem good luck to you!”

Mentioning that poetry and poets are friends of social movements Hashmi said, “Poem is an instrument of focussing the fervour and passion of young people – leading them towards an understanding of how they must move forward – very upsetting for the powerful who can sense the fragility of their position, once people’s energies are unleashed. Thus poets, writers, singers and indeed all creative people have been the natural enemies of dictators.”

Today, the core message of Hum Dekhenge has leapt above the walls of IIT Kanpur and spread through the corners of India to become a rallying cry that is set to reverberate through all protests and agitations for the freedom of the masses from oppression and injustice.


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