Students in more than 100 universities in the US are protesting against their government and the administrations of their institutions. They are protesting against the support being given by their government to Israel, which has been emboldened to wage a genocide of the Palestinian people.

The US students are demanding that their universities break ties with institutions in Israel and divest from the country. They are aiming to create pressure that they believe will end the violence against Palestine.

The administrations of their institutions and their government have responded with ferocity. Rubber bullets, tear gas and batons have been used on students protesting peacefully. Many have been arrested. Many have also been given expulsion notices by their universities. Teachers supporting them have also been beaten, arrested and punished in other ways.

Watching all this on her phone, my daughter said that it reminded of what happened in her own country, India. The response of the police in the US is similar to how our own police acted against students in Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University protesting against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act in 2020.

It is not just the police in India who have attacked students. Students opposed to government policies have also faced assaults from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is the parent of the BJP. The Parishad has also committed violence against teachers.

Similarly, in America, supporters of Israel have attacked students. Just as the police in India were silent, the police in the US also watched the protesting students being beaten up. In addition, a section of the US media is not only unsympathetic to the protests, it is actively criticising them.

The pretext for suppressing students in America is that the demonstrations are anti-Semitic. This ignores the fact that the protesters include a significant number of Jews.

Israeli author and columnist Gideon Levi has noted that the lie is being propagated that the protests are spreading hatred against Jews. He noted that Columbia University student Nova Obrock, who is Jewish herself, had written in Haaretz that she felt no fear at the demonstrations.

This reminded me of the 2020 protests at Jamia and Aligarh Muslim University and later at Shaheen Bagh, which were similarly accused of inciting violence against Hindus.

As I was writing this piece, I read something that made me think about the similarities between US President Joe Biden and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath. Biden said that protests were fine but destruction of property could not be allowed. He is for protest but against disorder. He knows well that protests are meant to disturb the order of injustice.

Despite the crackdown, America’s students and teachers have continued their protest against the genocide. In the face of threats of losing their jobs and being expelled from the university, they are standing firm. Some who were students in the 1960s are reminded of the way they had raised their voices against the US government demanding an end to the Vietnam War. Some of them are taking part in these protests today, offering their support by attending the demonstrations.

While the students have been standing firm, the university authorities have shown how petty and cruel they are. The idea of American universities being an abode of free expression has been shown up for what it is: an illusion. The claim that freedom of expression is America’s most sacred principle has been exposed as a big lie.

Amidst the gloom, it is uplifting to learn that the Evergreen State College of Olympia in Washington has ended all relations with Israel. Twenty-one years ago, a student of this college named Rachel Corrie left home to support the Palestinians in their struggle for their rights. Corrie stood in front of a Palestinian home to save it from an Israeli bulldozer. An Israeli bulldozer crushed her to death. Having decided to stand with the Palestinians today as Israel massacres them, the Evergreen State College can now proudly say that it is Rachel Corrie’s college.

The universities of America are doing their duty. What is a university but its students and teachers? Universities are the heart of society and its moral compass. When power or authority are in conflict with justice and society loses its way, universities show them the path ahead.

America’s educational institutions can say with some satisfaction that during the Vietnam War and the genocide of Palestinians by Israel, they rang the bell for justice. That their administrators compromised with injustice is another matter.

Along with campuses in America, students in Europe and other countries are also protesting against Israel and their governments. This is a politics of sympathy, a politics of unconditional solidarity with those who are different from us, with whom we do not share anything but our humanity.

Many friends are asking why Indian campuses of India have been silent. They have missed some campus responses. At the end of April, the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University protested against a planned visit of the US Ambassador to their campus. They hoped to convey their disapproval of his country’s involvement in the genocide of Palestinians. As a result, the ambassador had to cancel his plans.

Similarly, at Jindal University, students and teachers organised discussions against the genocide of the Palestinian people. They faced punitive action from the authorities. We heard about similar attempts at the IIT, Bombay, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Hyderabad Central University.

But these have been exceptions. It is true that Indian campuses are mostly indifferent to the question of Palestine.

For now, most Indians are focussed on the general elections in our country. Despite this, there should be no conflict between our concern for ourselves and our solidarity with others. We do not need to solve all our problems before we worry about others. India’s freedom movement is a living proof of this.

There is still time for India’s students and teachers to prove that their commitment to the values of justice and equality is not a mere formality.

Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University.