Mumbai: On January 22, as right-wing students at the Indian Institute of Population Studies (IIPS) in Mumbai organised themselves to celebrate the consecration of Ram Temple in Ayodhya on campus, several Bahujan students feared that the frenzy could cause communal tension. As a result, a letter seeking the institute’s immediate intervention in restoring peace on campus was submitted to IIPS direct S.K. Singh. The letter, submitted on January 20, was confidential with around 35 students had signed it. This has been reported by Sukanya Shantha of The Wire today, February 2.
The institute shockingly, failed to intervene. Even worse, the names of the signatory students who had signed the letter was made public. One masters’ student, who was among those instrumental in getting students together to sign the protest letter, has even been arrested!
It is a 23-year-old student belonging to a Dalit community from Latur district was arrested on January 22. This arrest took place after a senior student filed an FIR against him for putting out a status on WhatsApp against the frenzy created all around on the consecration day. In this post, the student took a critical view of the “celebration.” This was a copied post from another fellow student. In fact, many students had put out social media statuses in protest of the ongoing celebrations on the IIPS campus. However only this one student was singled out and arrested
Some students that The Wire spoke to say that the post was a mere excuse. “The said student would have become a target anyway. Many students and even the administration were not happy with the student and his friends’ endeavour of organising students against the Ram Mandir celebration,” said one of the students, who too had signed the letter sent to the director.
In the letter, the students have written: “IIPS is a multicultural campus annually organising various celebrations which includes Ganesh Chaturthi, Dussehra, Christmas, etc. which epitomises the promise of grooming a secular young generation who can contribute prosperity to a diversified nation-state like India. But the celebration of Ram temple consecration is a pure act of political agenda orchestrated by the various outfits, which can harm the secular sentiments of students while celebrating in an institute like IIPS, where such celebrations cannot be done.” In the letter, the students sought restrictions on celebrations on campus and said the celebration had the potential of “further deepening the divisions among student fraternity by spreading hate and fear”. The Wire has a copy of the letter.
The letter was overlooked. But after the student’s arrest, those who had submitted the letter were even forced and bullied into writing an apology. Quite contrary to the concerns raised in the earlier letter, the students this time round were made to apologise for “hurting sentiments of those celebrating the Ram temple consecration.” Both the letters were addressed to the director.
Not only is such an arrest of a student from campus is unusual as normally, the police never enter the space without the institute administration’s permission. Instead of immediately criminalising the issue, whenever there is such a dispute between students, a complaint is made first with the institute before escalating it with the police. But here, the complainant from a second-year master’s student, went directly to Govandi police station. It was also entertained. The student was booked under Section 153 (A) and 295 (A) of the Indian Penal Code for “creating enmity between religion”.
The police in the remand application claimed that the student had offended “Hindu students with his WhatsApp post.” The student was arrested and kept in police custody for two days. On the third day as he was sent to Arthur Road central jail, a local court granted him bail.
The student is back on campus. The Wire even reached out to him for comment but he did not want to speak.
As an aftermath of the Ram Mandir consecration ceremony, students’ organisations like the Ambedkar Student Association (ASA) have been disbanded. A student, who was a part of the association, said that soon after the arrest, students dropped out and their WhatsApp group was deleted. “We are being targeted for our political understanding and assertion. Most of us come from poor family backgrounds and we don’t have the wherewithal to fight the right-wing forces. So, students just decided to dismantle the group,” a student who was earlier associated with the ASA said.
Apart from this institute, even the prestigious Film and Television Institute (FTII) saw violence break out over protests against the January 22 Ayodhya event. Though the issue there was some of the students wanting to show Anand Patwardhan’s documentary Ram ke Naam, here too goons from outside somehow got to know, were allowed inside the campus and in fact indulged in violence against FTII students.