A group of protesters gathered on Saturday, November 11, to vehemently protest against a virtual talk on the Israel-Palestine conflict delivered by theatre director and actor Sudhanva Deshpande at the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B). The protest was organised by an organisation named Vivek Vichar Manch, Maharashtra. The demonstration saw participants raising slogans and carrying placards not only against Deshpande but also targeting a faculty member from IIT-B’s Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) department, responsible for organising the event.
Deshpande, during his virtual lecture on September 6, mentioned Zakaria Zubeidi, a Palestinian activist who is currently in an Israeli prison, and designated the Palestinian movement as a “freedom struggle.” Read Sudhanva Deshpande’s statement released after the controversy broke out here.
On November 6, a lecture was held at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B) wherein a 2004 documentary film, ‘Arna’s Children’, made by Juliano Mer Khamis, an Israeli Jewish filmmaker, actor and theatre director was shown. As an introduction to the documentary, Deshpande had been invited to give a lecture by Prof. Saha. Certain students attending the lecture and otherwise have deemed the introductory lecture to be pro-Hamas and pro-violence. Furthermore, objections have been raised by some over the alleged glorification of “militant terrorists” by Deshpande. A complaint has now been registered against Prof. Saha, which questions the appropriateness of the professor’s actions in extending the invitation.
In his statement released on September 9, Sudhanva Deshpaande had explained, “ Zakaria Zubeidi is a former military commander of the armed wing of Fatah, the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. Fatah is the political party founded by Yasser Arafat. When I met Zubeidi in Palestine in 2015, he had given up arms and was advocating cultural resistance. He had highlighted the value of culture in the Palestinian freedom struggle. He co-founded The Freedom Theatre in the West Bank to fulfil his vision. I had referred to Zubeidi as a ‘visionary’, because in his conversation with me, he envisaged a future where the entire territory of historic Palestine would be a single nation, in which ALL its citizens — Arabs, Jews, Christians, and others — would have equal rights.
The protesters, which included Vivek Tidke, a leader from Vivek Vichar Manch, demanded the immediate arrest of both Deshpande and the faculty member, accusing them of “glorifying terrorists and their heinous acts.”
According to its own website, the Vivek Vichar Manch is an organisation “dedicated to constitutional values.” In addition to this, they also claim to have a wing called Sawarkar Smarak Adhyasan Kendra.
According to Sabrang India’s sources, the protest did not have more than 10 students, and the total number of protestors, including passer-bys, was about 100. This suggests, according to the source, that there is a sustained effort to designate the protest by the group as one that reflects the sentiments of the larger student community at IIT-B.
The group of protestors who have organised the protest has furthermore filed a complaint against Deshpande with the city police. Israel’s consul general in Mumbai, Kobbi Shoshani, too voiced criticism against Deshpande’s remarks.
Shocking to read about the screening of a documentary of terrorists at @IITBombay.
I am happy that alert students and office bearers of @iitbforbharat caught them red handed.
I will be happy to visit there and share the real. https://t.co/3TZCMJZQAO
— Kobbi Shoshani 🇮🇱 (@KobbiShoshani) November 8, 2023
At the protest against the event, Ashok Tidke condemned the event at the IIT-B campus, questioning why such incidents occur in a place where students have earned “global recognition”. Tidke specifically denounced the support of terrorism and spoke about “brainwashing,” especially among students from rural backgrounds who could be swayed by such perspectives.
Conversely, the Ambedkar Periyar Phule Circle, IIT-B, released a statement on X on November 11, asking if the “politics of hate” has become so “easy?” The post also alleges that slogans such as “Goli Maron Salon Ko” (Shoot these rascals) were also raised at the protest at the institute’s gate. This infamous slogan has been used by the extreme Hindutva right-wing after the February 2020 violence in Delhi, especially aimed at vilifying the minority-led anti-CAA, anti-NRC protests.
A tiny group of students, along with right wing political groups outside IITB, has been attempting to create an environment of fear in IIT Bombay campus, throughout this week. Has this politics of hate became so easy and obvious @PMOIndia? pic.twitter.com/VtXBrRb6yG
— APPSC IIT Bombay (@AppscIITb) November 11, 2023
What is this all about?
Earlier, on November 6, a programme was organised at the IIT-B which featured a 2004 documentary ‘Arna’s Children’ by Israeli filmmaker Juliano Mer Khamis. Deshpande, who was invited by a professor, provided the remarks and an introduction for the documentary, according to Sabrang India.
On November 9, 2023, in response to the escalating controversy, Deshpande has further issued a statement defending his comments and decrying what he labelled a “disinformation campaign” against him; he even decried the Times Now programme which featured his comments and described him as sympathising with “terrorists”. He further clarified in his statement that Zubeidi, formerly a military commander of Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, had renounced violence and was promoting cultural resistance during Deshpande’s meeting with him in Occupied Palestine in 2015, stating “I had referred to Zubeidi as a ‘visionary’, because in his conversation with me, he envisaged a future where the entire territory of historic Palestine would be a single nation, in which ALL its citizens – Arabs, Jews, Christians, and others – would have equal rights.”
Another lecture on the Israel-Palestine conflict by writer and academician Achin Vanaik was also cancelled by the IIT-B administration. The last-minute cancellation and the complaint against Deshpande sparked criticism from the student community, who condemned the incident as an attack on “intimidation” and a loss of academic freedom.