Kar Seva through Universities

Image Courtesy: AP

Arundhati Vashishtha Anusandhan Peeth (AVAP), founded by late VHP leader Ashok Singhal, recently organized a two day seminar “Shri Ram JanamBhoomi Temple: Emerging Scenario” in the Arts Faculty of the Delhi University starting on January 8, 2016. As the Head of the Peeth, Subramanian Swamy led the seminar. The venue was booked by a member of National Democratic Teachers’ Front, the right-wing teachers’ group on Campus. On the morning of January 9, the University Campus was converted into a veritable police camp, with a large number of armed personnel. This, however, did not deter the protestors. Students and teachers of various left organisations, Congress and AAP students’ wings continued to raise slogans for several hours against the communalisation of campuses and made several attempts to break through the barricade.

Subramanian Swamy told the media that a “blueprint” for building the Ram temple will be unveiled at the seminar. In his inaugural lecture, he emphasised that the construction of the Ram Janambhoomi temple is important for the realization of Ashok Singhal’s dream. Later in the day, he tweets an offer (threat!) “We Hindus offer Lord Krishna's package to Muslims–give us 3 temples and keep 39,997 masjids. I hope Muslim leaders don't become Duryodhans”. On the second day, his tweet read “Finally today with help of police force deployment of Namo Govt we held our seminar and made left wing loonies look like pathetic orphans”. He claimed that the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya could start before the end of the year. With the recent reports from Ayodhya suggesting that truckloads of bricks have arrived there for the building of the temple, the seminar must be viewed as another step in that direction.

By holding this seminar in a premier central university, the BJP-RSS-VHP aimed at polarising the youth. Soon after its announcement, some young men on the evening of January 5, applied saffron paint to the Vivekananda Statue at Arts Faculty.

Image Courtesy: Abha Dev Habib

The Peeth, which could have organised the seminar in any paid space in the city, wanted to host it at DU to gain legitimacy, to claim later that the “blueprint” was an outcome of a seminar at a University. The Kar Seva for the Ram Janambhoomi Temple and the divisions it will create seem to be essential to the BJP’s plan for 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections in UP. They have little else to offer.

The Ram Janambhoomi seminar also seems to be part of a larger design to penetrate into Central Universities, which are centers of mass education. Yogi Adityanath was invited to Allahabad University [1] by the ABVP members on the Students’ Union. Similarly, Ramdev was invited to be the keynote speaker at the valedictory ceremony of the Vedanta Congress at Jawaharlal Nehru University [2], At both Allahabad University and JNU, students’ opposition saw cancellation of the programmes.

In order to dilute the “intolerance” debate in the country, Swamy and his followers labelled the protest against the seminar as an act of “intolerance”. They tried to equate the protests against the communalisation of Campuses to the unprecedented attack on freedom of speech and expression in the country and on its plural culture by BJP-VHP-RSS.

Universities as centers for providing space to one and all are also under threat. The termination of services of Sandeep Pandey, professor in the department of chemical engineering at IIT-BHU for his “anti-national activities” is a recent example. Professor Pandey, a Gandhian, is a renowned social activist and a Magsaysay award winner.

Ever since the NDA Government came into power in May 2014, there has been a multi-pronged attack on the education sector. The re-writing of school textbooks has begun [3] and insistence on including the Gita as part of the school curriculum has followed[4]. Both moves are part of the Hindutvawaadis and their time-tested patterns of hegemonising the education sector. The attacks on institutes of higher education began with the appointments of Heads who little known for their academic work or contribution(s).  The appointments of Gajendra Chauhan as Chairman of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), [5] Y. Sudershan Rao to head the ICHR [6] and Pahlaj Nihalani of the Censor Board [7]aare some glaring examples. The hosting of a seminar on the Ram Janambhoomi issue seems to be part this overall design: reaching out to a section of the youth with a hegemonic divisive agenda and through this, communalising the educational environment.

The Hindutva agenda seems to be closely linked with the Government’s plan of furthering the commercialisation of Higher Education in tune with the requirements of WTO-GATS terms. When the protesting FTII students met Arun Jaitley, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister, he hinted that if the students did not cooperate “they might have to face the bleak prospect of shutdown and eventual privatisation”. Weak heads of institutions find it difficult to resist the Government’s agenda, and are ready to bend backwards, surrendering the autonomy of the institution.

In the 2015-16 the overall education budget of the Centre is down from Rs. 82,771 crore to Rs. 69,074 crore, revealing the Governments priorities! In the last one year, both the IITs and CSIR labs have been told to generate their own funds (for research) and the budgets to Universities and Colleges have been slashed on one pretext or the another. The Ministry for Human Resources Development (MHRD) has also tried to stop the non-NET fellowship for M.Phil and Ph.D. students. Disregarding and violating autonomy of Universities and their needs, the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) with common syllabi prepared in the University Grants Commission (UGC) was also imposed unilaterally, without any discussions, despite agitation and protests from teachers and students.

Converting Campuses into zones of communal hatred will only help them to quickly bring down the premier public funded universities, to shoo away all those who can afford or take loans to study in private universities, domestic and foreign.

Image Courtesy: Abha Dev Habib

The Question
Leaders of independent India realized that the country needs to look forward and saw education as the means of fighting socio-economic disparity and superstition; to further and deepen the ethos of secularism and democracy. They identified education as a means of developing the scientific temper, a much needed ingredient for building a modern India. This became the rationale behind providing public funded education.

Universities, embedded in a larger social fabric, are not completely free from the ills prevalent in the society. While many public funded universities have been completely destroyed, a few have resisted the collapse and tried to generate and maintain a culture of critical thinking. Generations of teachers and students have worked hard to create an environment where young men and women coming from various sections of society can interact and partake of a meaningful education.

The communalisation of universities will lead to a degeneration of this academic environment, place faith and identity over scientific temper and critical thinking. It is important to remember that today’s Afghanistan and Syria were not created overnight. The question before us is to once again choose between faith and rationality.

The only way out (Ekhee Rasta)
As a teacher opposing the Ram Janambhoomi seminar at DU, I was invited to a television debate on the issue. Reacting to my opposition, the RSS spokesperson, Vinod Bansal was quick to throw their definition of nationalism: "अगर भगवन राम के प्रति आस्था नहींहै, तो देश के प्रति भी आस्था नहीं है "(If one does not faith in Lord Ram, then one has no faith in the nation).  His definition did not shock me. The fact that he was, however, brazenly able, to say this,  without any hesitation on a national channel brought the looming crisis home to me. The threat is real and imminent.

The only way forward is to keep resisting as we have done at Delhi University. The only way forward is also to create situations whereby a Delhi and a Bihar can repeat in other states.

(The writer is Joint Secretary, Democratic Teachers’ Front and Member, Executive Council, Physics Department of the Delhi University)


[1]  Yogi Adityanath not welcome: AU students, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/yogi-adityanath-not-welcome-au-students/article7897574.ece
[2] Students oppose Ramdev speech on JNU campus, http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/students-oppose-ramdev-speech-on-jnu-campus/article8035708.ece
[3]Dinanath Batra’s moral science and verse will enter Haryana textbooks   It was Dinanath Batra’s civil suit in 2014 that led to the pulping of American scholar Wendy Doniger’s book on Hinduism. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/dinanath-batras-moral-science-and-verse-will-enter-haryana-textbooks/; Historians slam Dina Nath Batra's books; http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/historians-slam-dina-nath-batra-s-books/story-K28lQrmoccBKPZ8s8ChnoM.html; Gujarat pushes books by RSS man in schools http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Gujarat-pushes-books-by-RSS-man-in-schools/articleshow/39203785.cms;Textbooks in Haryana to be revised, says Dinanath Batra http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/chandigarh/textbooks-in-haryana-to-be-revised-says-dinanath-batra/
[4]Teaching of Bhagavad Gita to be introduced in schools: Khattar http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Teaching-of-Bhagavad-Gita-to-be-introduced-in-schools-Khattar/articleshow/46573794.cms
[5] As protests rage outside, Chauhan takes charge at FTII: The students of the prestigious institution were on a strike opposing Chauhan's appointment since June 12 last year and called it off on October 28 and returned to the classes. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/standoff-between-police-ftii-students-amid-protest-on-chauhan/
[6]Peddler of myths http://www.frontline.in/social-issues/general-issues/peddler-of-myths/article6283276.ece No honorarium, ICHR chief Sudershan Rao quits http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/no-honorarium-ichr-chief-yellapragada-sudershan-rao-quits/
[7]Censor Board chief Leela Samson quits over ‘MSG: Messenger of God’ clearance, govt refutes charges of interference Government today refuted charges of interference in Censor Board's functioning levelled by its chairperson Leela Samson, who has decided to resign.; http://indianexpress.com/article/entertainment/bollywood/censor-board-chief-leela-samson-quits-over-msg-messenger-of-gods-clearance/; CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani in many controversies but not likely to be ‘cut’ by govt – See more at: http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/cbfc-chief-pahlaj-nihalani-in-many-controversies-but-not-likely-to-be-cut-by-govt/



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