Millennium Post

Civility, law and order

Civility, law and order
The exposition of stark ideological faultlines across India's college campuses has become a recurring theme under the current ruling dispensation at the Centre. On Tuesday, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-backed students group, protested against the participation of Jawaharlal Nehru University student, Umar Khalid, at a literary festival in Delhi University's Ramjas College. For the uninitiated, Khalid was accused of sedition early last year. The protest was marred by violence, as ABVP supporters pelted stones at the windows of the seminar hall while another session was in progress. In fact, some speakers and students were also reportedly beaten up outside the campus. The college was eventually forced to withdraw the invitation to Umar Khalid and cancel the two-day event.

On Wednesday, a protest march led by students and teachers against the ABVP's alleged use of violence devolved into full-scale clashes, and even journalists covering the event weren't spared. Once again, at the centre of this entire fracas, is the role of the Delhi Police. Similar to their partisan conduct in the protests at JNU last year, the police once again became a party to campus politics in India. For long periods, the police did little to contain the violence, as they unsuccessfully tried to segregate the ABVP members from those belonging to the Left-backed All India Students Association, and teachers. It is not as if they weren't aware of the tensions on Tuesday, and how they might boil over the following day. Following complaints that many students, teachers and even some law enforcement personnel had been injured in the ensuing clashes with the ABVP members, the Delhi Police filed a First Information Report against unnamed persons. It is unfortunate that instead of controlling the mob, they beat up many news reporters and women who had nothing to do with Umar Khalid or rabble rousers of the Left.

One of the fundamental ideals on which this Republic stands is the freedom of speech and expression. Many are seemingly forgetting it. The RSS-affiliated ABVP and the CPI ML-affiliated AISA are entitled to their views, but it is deeply unfortunate that members of the former resorted to violence instead of debating with their counter-ideologues. The language of violence is inherently unhealthy, and students should learn to discuss freely and civilly. But this ideological intolerance is not merely limited to violent ABVP members. In December 2015, members of AISA went on protest against a move to invite Yoga guru Ramdev to deliver the keynote address at JNU, resulting in its cancellation. Earlier this year, students from the Aligarh Muslim University closed the door on former JNU students' union vice-president, Shehla Rashid, for allegedly making 'objectionable' remarks against Prophet Mohammad in a Facebook post. Have student unions from both the Left and Right lost all means of respectfully engaging with each other?

Going by Wednesday's events, any attempt at civil engagement between both sides is not bearing fruit. Evidently, the police have also learnt little from recent incidents. Last year was replete with incidents of right-wing mobs attacking ideologues on the other side of the divide, without any fear of legal action. The Delhi Police, which is responsible for the maintenance of law and order in the national capital, is under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Instead of taking action those indulged in acts of violence, the police seem more concerned about targeting those who stand opposed to their bosses in government. The ABVP has every right to protest against inviting the likes of Umar Khalid, but it cannot resort to violence. The custodians of our universities must ensure a free space for public discourse, irrespective of outlook. The police must get their act together.
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