A grim situation

Maoism has been a persistent threat to India's internal security and any effort to contain the menace is more than necessary. But recent times, however, have seen an apparent evolution of this idea to include unsuitable rebels and questioning voices that are boldly directed at the establishment. The Bhima Koregaon case comes back to highlight with the September 10 incident when a team of Pune police raided the home of Delhi University Associate Professor Hany Babu M T in Noida for more than six hours in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence case. The raiding party was a robust police team comprising more than 12 personnel which knocked the doors of the academic's residence at daybreak. The raid is said to have been conducted without a warrant and personal belongings like laptop, mobile phones, two booklets printed for the G N Saibaba defence committee, and two books were confiscated. The two books are Yalavarthi Naveen Babu's From Varna to Jati: Political Economy of Caste in Indian Social Formation and Understanding Maoists: Notes of a Participant Observer from Andhra Pradesh by N Venugopal. Given that no arrest was made, this exercise is widely interpreted as an act of intimidation and harassment. The teachers' body of JNU came forward in solidarity, expressing that the search conducted in Babu's home is a "shocking episode in the ongoing authoritarian attempts by the current regime to intimidate and silence activists, writers, professors, journalists, and human rights defenders across the country". The phenomenon of 'urban naxalism' is back at the forefronts of intellectual and academic freedom. The police spending an inordinate amount frisking through Babu's book collection and ending with confiscating just two books that are freely available to public and not on any list of banned publications does not justify the suspicion of any criminal or objectionable intent on the part of Babu. Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers' Association (JNUTA) went further with their criticism of this incident and said that "this raid on him also foregrounds the heights that police paranoia about critique and dissent has scaled so much so that reading and writing are now seen to be suspicious activities". They see this as a deterrent to academics in general; if they are expressive about what the establishment considers impermissible, the state could come calling at them for it. They see it as a "warning to all academics to fall in line through self-censorship on what they read and write and to give up on the academic ideals of rational evaluation as the basis of critique or endorsement". Two aspects of this situation are most obvious: freedom of speech and expression and the checks on them; and the reason to make such checks necessary.

Babu testifies that the Pune Police seized his laptops, external hard drives, pen drives, and mobile phone, which contain most of his past and ongoing academic work especially when his name did not figure anywhere on the FIR in the Bhima Koregaon case. This amounts to considerably crippling a person professionally and more aspects of criticism open up with this. A faculty at Miranda House, this well-respected scholar is known for being a strong voice for academic freedom, inclusive and accessible public education, and democratic and civil liberties. Both he and his wife (also a faculty at Miranda House) have been active participants in the struggles of the teaching community against institutionalised caste discrimination, and in the defence of the human rights of the disabled colleague and activist Prof G N Saibaba. G N Saibaba was a Professor at Delhi University who has been given life sentence by a court in Maharashtra's Gadchiroli for his alleged links with the Maoists. Saibaba, who is over 90 per cent disabled, is at present serving a life term at the Nagpur Central Jail. Babu is a vocal anti-caste crusader and an active member of the committee formed for the defence of G N Saibaba. Babu's academic accomplishments include works on caste oppression, linguistics, and the government's suppression of dissent in universities. Some of his articles titled Breaking the Chaturvarna System of Languages, Converging struggles and diverging interests: A look at the recent unrest in universities and Unequal rights: Freedom, equality, life and liberty of citizens and "others" speak of his intellectual and ideological unrelentlessness which happens to be at stark variance with the current establishment which often draws criticism for its ideological bent.

As the picture emerges, we see two very contrasting entities at loggerheads for reasons that are commonly termed 'politics'. Universities and academic spaces are places not just for acquiring necessary qualifications but also those where intellectual growth and development can take place in an unimpeded manner; awareness and deeper understanding of the world and how it works are quite nearly theoretically received in the safe and secure spaces of university campuses. The government, on the other hand, is an institution with only bare minimum concern with theory as its primary function pertains to practicality and doability of things. Universities and governments, in this regard, are at the opposite ends of a locus, but they are, nonetheless, on the very same locus of public affairs. The ideal situation is also the most commonly acknowledged: that the academics share their findings with the government so that together, they may devise policies aimed at greater good. But ideals apart, it is the conflict of interest that comes to characterise unfortunate phenomena like 'urban naxalism'. There cannot be a substitute for freedom of thought and expression, and any censorship on academic pursuits will have an impact on the common people more than the government. It is necessary to remain mindful of the basic purpose of public-oriented pursuits: general welfare for all.

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