Are our campuses under siege?

More than Left versus Right, what we are witnessing is an outright attack on the very freedom to think, writes Apoorvanand

The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) as well as the ruling party at the Centre, both children of the RSS, are trying to take over universities across India irrespective of who is in power in the States. The ABVP enjoys immunity because its government is in power at the Centre and that makes it emboldened.

It also enjoys an advantage over any other ideology as the default setting of the mental make-up of Indian police and administration or even the political class is pro-Hindutva.

Reaction to Left hegemony

It is often argued that this is a reaction from the right-wingers as the ABVP, for long confined to the margins by the Left which enjoyed supremacy in the educational institutional life of India, is acting with a vengeance. Many also see it as a battle for hegemony in the educational sphere between the Left and Right. The Left is a very broad category inhabited by diverse ways of thinking. Can a Trotskyite live peacefully with a Leninist? In India, historians R.S. Sharma and Romila Thapar, both historians of ancient India, are considered Leftists but have very different methodologies to understand the past. Knowledge is very fluid. Existentialism impacted Marxism and got changed in the process; similarly Freud helped Marxists see human nature in a very different light. Do not forget feminism, environmentalism, etc.

It is true that the Left, when in power, has displayed a tendency to hegemonise all social and cultural spaces. It destroyed the intellectual life of West Bengal. When knowledge-seeking is made subservient to what is thought to be politically correct, it flounders. Today the RSS variety of nationalism defines this political correctness. Nationalism in India has a Hindu overhang, and it has become easy for its advocates to present their variety of nationalism as the nationalism. If you question its universality from the standpoint of women, Dalits, Adivasis, minorities or the dispossessed, you are immediately branded an anti-national. It prevents any enquiry into its claim.

To not allow knowledge to grow in directions the powers dislike is dangerous. We saw an interesting and novel effort to frame a curriculum framework for schools in 2004 which sought to provide an anxiety-free and egalitarian atmosphere for learning for children. The effort was attacked viciously by the Left then as it thought that it was not serving explicitly the aim of secularism. But the rightist RSS outfits did not spare it either. Petitions were filed, books attacked in Parliament, court cases were lodged against the National Council of Educational Research and Training for ‘hurting’ nationalist sentiments.

Targeting of the free mind

What we are witnessing now is not a clash between Left and Right. It is an outright attack on the very freedom to know, to think. It is very crucial for political parties having authoritarian tendencies to gag universities. Stalin did it; painters, artists, scholars had to flee Hitler’s Germany; Mao unleashed terror on universities in the name of Cultural Revolution, the student militia of the Islamic government of Iran policed universities, reported on students and teachers. What do all these cases tell us? Marxists were eliminated by communist regimes; people who could not be remotely called leftist were destroyed by Islamic or Nazi regimes. The target is then a mind which thinks freely.

(All views as told to Anuradha Raman)

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