Sorrows of Aligarh

February 16,2019

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For the last five years, the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) has been under a continuous and vicious assault from right-wing Hindutva groups. Their main motivation, according to various Muslim and Dalit groups, is to erase the historic Muslim character of the institution as well as stoke hatred to garner support for the forthcoming national elections.

With more than 35,000 students from across India, the majority of them Muslims, the AMU is an essential part of India’s Muslim heritage and symbol of its progress and promise. It has produced many top Muslim public figures, intellectuals and politicians since 1947 and is ranked 10th in the central Indian government’s latest ranking of public universities.

Because of the AMU’s position as being central to India’s Muslim intellectual identity, Hindutva groups are increasingly targeting it for its symbolic value as well as for the public and media attention that any controversial activity around it garners nationally. Since it is a central university, it is funded and managed directly by the federal government.

The latest incident seems to be more alarming than what happened in the recent past as this is aimed at creating widespread discontent and provocation with direct help from a media outlet. Early this week, 14 AMU students were booked for sedition after they challenged the crew from a private television channel, Republic TV, for hurling abuses and innuendos at the students and calling the institution a “factory of terrorism” per eyewitness accounts.

Headed by a well-known right-wing journalist notorious for his pro-Hindutva and anti-Muslim rhetoric, Arnab Goswami, the television network has a BJP-affiliated politician and parliamentarian, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, as the major financier. Goswami along with his team was filming for an unauthorised show on the campus. Talking about the incident, AMU student’s union president, Salman Imtiaz, said the crew was “asking farcical questions and labelling the AMU with (sic) terror and anti-national activities”. According to him, when the students challenged the journalists about their style of questioning and advised them to seek proper permission for filming from the authorities, “the reporters heckled the students and the female reporter threatened to frame false sexual harassment charges against the students.” As per Imtiaz’s account, this led to disruption in the campus, “followed by a reaction from a well-armed gang of BJP terrorists who started beating AMU students”.

In what has now become a classic Hindutva response in such situations, Mukesh Lodhi, one of the leaders of the Yuva Morcha, one of several youth groups associated with the ruling BJP, filed a complaint with the police accusing the students of having shouted pro-Pakistan and anti-India slogans. Lodhi, in his FIR, also claimed that “hundreds of AMU students” surrounded his vehicle and assaulted him and fired at him.

The complaint by the Hindutva leader resulted in the filing of nine charges – including sedition – against 14 students but no action has been taken on the two separate complaints filed by the university administration. The administration filed a complaint each against the journalists for entering the campus without permission, and the unidentified miscreants for indulging in arson and unlawful activities. This is not for the first time that the police have displayed an openly partisan and pro-Hindutva approach.

Early last May, in the first incident of its kind, more than a dozen Hindutva men invaded the AMU campus equipped with firearms and sticks and started shouting incendiary slogans when the former Indian vice-president, Hamid Ansari, was inside the campus. Ansari had been on the receiving end following a bitter controversy provoked by the local BJP parliamentarian, Satish Guatam and supported by many other Hindutva leaders across the country, on removing the portrait of Jinnah from the university that hung there since 1938.

According to some AMU students quoted by the media at the time, “goons first burnt an effigy of Mohammad Ali Jinnah at the AMU’s Bab-e-Syed gate. After this, they started shouting slogans against [the] AMU and the university administration. Later, they went on to assault another student”. Some among the posse started waiving pistols and country-made revolvers in front of the building where the ex-vice president was staying. Incidentally, Ansari who is an alumnus of the university was to deliver a talk on India and pluralism and receive a life membership of the students union. The event was cancelled due to the violence. The police refused to register an FIR against the perpetrators, who allegedly belonged to the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a militia established in 2002 by Yogi Adityanath, the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, the province in which the AMU falls. Besides, the six members of the violent mob who were overpowered by the students and handed over to the police were released without ascertaining their role in the violence.

Later, the police also attacked a peaceful student demonstration being held against the Hindutva violence inside the campus. According to reports, they were mercilessly beaten by batons and attacked with tear-smoke shells. The police also snatched the mobile phones of several students who had recorded the violence. More than 30 students were critically injured, including the president and the secretary of the students’ union. A university spokesperson had shown ‘deep concern’ over the police behaviour while one teacher, Najamul Islam, remarked the students were treated as enemies.

The latest provocation by Republic TV and its chief-architect-of-hate, Arnab Goswami, is a renewed attempt by Hindutva forces to provoke hatred to justify vigilante violence against the premier Muslim education institute, and more so for some quick electoral gains. Several academic studies suggest that after every riot and incident of anti-Muslim violence, the BJP has always gained electorally. Earlier in the week, the BJP’s local parliamentarian for Aligarh, Satish Gautam, had demanded the removal of the word ‘Muslim’ from the university because it caused offence and provocation.

The latest CIA report fearing widespread anti-Muslim violence in the run-up to the forthcoming national elections in India suggests that we are headed for some very grim times.

Twitter: murtaza_shibli


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