The tension in Pondicherry University between student groups over the publication of a campus magazine by the students council has in the past week led to a series of protests by both groups, accusations of violence, and a mention in Parliament.
The university, meanwhile, has decided to play safe by stopping the distribution of the magazine until further notice.
The magazine, called Widerstand, which means resistance in German, was released on July 28 by the students council that is an alliance of the Ambedkar Student Association and the Communist Party of India-affiliated Students’ Federation of India.
It contains a few articles critical of the central government.
One article, titled Turning into Saffron Concentration Camps, written by Pramod Meena, an assistant professor in the department of Hindi, criticises the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre for “openly advocating its anti educational policies and saffronisation of the Indian education systems” and refers to Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s death at Hyderabad Central University as an “institutional murder”.
The article also denounces the BJP’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, as it “has been an instrument of atrocities and violence against the Dalits and suppressed community students and teachers all over the country”.
Other articles in the magazine discuss the protests at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi and the Occupy UGC movement.
On August 1, the Puducherry wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party staged a protest outside the university demanding a ban on the magazine as it was “divisive” and could “incite communal tensions.”
The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad soon joined in and staged another protest.
Among other things, the BJP affiliate has objected to the use of the communist salutation, Lal Salaam, in the magazine, saying it was a term associated with Maoists and Naxals and had no place in a college publication.
“The inside cover of the magazine also has the lines ‘Punjivad se lenge Azadi, Manuvad se lenge Azadi, Brahmanwad se lenge azadi, sanghwad se lenge azadi’ these are the kinds of political statements that have the potential to further divide the campus,” said Manish Mahapatra, working committee member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.
The lines Mahapatra refers to are from a chant for freedom from Kashmir that was adapted during the Jawaharlal Nehru University agitation earlier this year to call for freedom from capitalism, the caste system and communalism. The chant eventually went viral.
Sharad Awasthi, president of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, said that the magazine was not a fair representation of the views of all the students. “…nowhere in the University magazine is there any mention of any of the achievements of the university,” he said.
The BJP affiliate also objected to the way in which students were asked to contribute to the magazine. “There was no e-circular, or official circular from the university authorities asking for articles,” said Awasthi. “Instead, there were handwritten posters in the canteen and the mess, which meant that day scholars were excluded from contributing because they rarely enter the canteen or the mess.”
But Jishnu EN, student body general secretary and member of the magazine’s editorial team, contested both these points.
‘Freedom of expression stifled’
He said that after a debate, the students council had decided that the magazine needed to reflect the issues faced by marginalised students. “While we have taken a decidedly Leftist stand in the magazine, we also called for articles from all students,” said Jishnu. “But there were no contributors from the ABVP or any other right-wing organisations, even though they had over a month to contribute.”
He added that the student body had struggled to come up with articles for the magazine, and that the one by Meena had previously been published in another magazine, and was translated from Hindi so that it could be included in Widerstand.
The students council has also been staging protests to demand that they be allowed to distribute the magazine freely. The students say that the ban on its distribution curtailed their right to the freedom of expression. The idea of the magazine is to promote healthy debate, and by banning its distribution, the university has stifled all such debate, council members said.
“There are over 4,000 copies in the Students Council Office, but we are not allowed to go there, or to distribute them,” said Jishnu.
“We do not say that the views shared in the magazine are those of the student body at large, but they are the views of the students council,” said Anjali Ganga, editor of the magazine.
The protests at Pondicherry University come after a year of relative peace. The university had seen extended turmoil earlier due to protests by students and staff to remove the previous vice chancellor, Chandra Krishnamurthy.
During those protests, the Left and Right on campus had joined hands to demand Krishnamurthy’s removal. “As we showed during the earlier protests, we are not against the SFI as such,” said Mahapatra. “We believe that we can all work together towards a common cause.”
Widerstand was released by Anisa Basheer Khan, the vice chancellor in-charge, along with P Moorthy, the Dean of Student Welfare, who is also the magazine’s chief editor.The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad has demanded that a search committee be formed as soon as possible to appoint a new Vice Chancellor.
Following the protests, the university released a statement saying: “The views expressed by the authors and artistes in their articles and creations are purely theirs, and the university administration has absolutely no role in the same.”
Attempting to explain how the Vice Chancellor happened to release the magazine, the statement said that Khan had been invited to inaugurate a workshop and “the release of the magazine was an impromptu act of the organisers”, implying that she was unaware of the plan to release the magazine.
The most recent protests were held on Wednesday after which both the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and the Students Federation of India accused each other of threats of violence.
A decision by the university on the fate of the magazine is awaited.