Last week’s events at Delhi University, where the ABVP, the BJP’s student affiliate, disrupted a seminar on “protest cultures” and initiated a campaign of violence and intimidation that is yet to die down, signals that we are passing through a disturbing phase when anyone can cite nationalism or patriotism to inflict violence, with the police standing by. The pity is that top government figures have virtually given cover to trouble-makers by arguing — falsely — that free expression is sacrosanct but criticising India is intolerable.
These events are not a Right versus Left matter, although this is the picture some sought to project, endorsed by Hindutva cronies, in light of the fact that Leftist students did come out to protest against the ABVP’s excesses.
Indeed, the standout image in this period was of a young woman from Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College, who posted her picture on social media saying she was not afraid of the ABVP. Right-wing trolls threatened her with sexual violence. Students, including women, not linked with politics, leave alone Leftism, have been out on the streets speaking up for guaranteed freedoms and their right to speak out and protest.
To begin with, the seminar was disrupted as the organisers had invited as a speaker Umar Khalid, the JNU Ph.D. scholar studying tribal India now out on bail for a year in the sedition case brought against him, in which the police haven’t moved much. The ABVP’s case is that inviting someone charged with sedition, even on an academic issue, is anti-national.