The “Secular” Ganesha and the “Communal” Asura: From the Trenches of the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad
Struggle Committee, EFLU
The English and Foreign Languages University has filed a criminal case (dated: 11/09/13) for which six students (four students from the SC/ST/OBC communities and two women students) have been sent summons by the Osmania Police Station (Case Details: Crime No. 350/2013 U/S 153 (A) IPC) on the charges of “Promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc. and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony…”. What really happened–we may inquire–in this central university that such a grave and a non-bailable offense has been lodged against these students, mainly from dalit, adivasi and other minority backgrounds? To know that, we need to delve deeper into the incidents that led to this police action; to do so, we hope, will unveil the new ‘turn’ the state secularism of of our Republic seems to have taken.
The memo that the police has served the students do not mention any specifics of their ‘offense’ but orally it has been intimated that the students have been booked following a complaint by the University administration, that held these students responsible for ‘communal disharmony’ because they organized an ‘Asura Week’ as a counter-discourse to an ABVP-organized Ganesh Chaturthi within the university campus! This ‘Asura Week’, arguably quite a critical and academic endeavor, consisted of face-painting competitions, open canvas (theme: Memories of Oppression), art installations (Theme: Surpanakha), open forum (Resisting Dominance: Articulating Cultural Resistance) and a seminar (Title: Reinterpreting Indian History: Redefining Secularism in University Spaces).
Do note that the administration had communicated no objection to the organizers about either the form or the content of these events. Note that by the statutes of the university, if such incidents did take place, and if any student body did file a complaint, it should first have been communicated to the accused, and then a certain procedure should have been initiated by the office of the Proctor. In other words, the police complaint filed by the administration is a clear violation of the law and the spirit of the law of the university1. Also note that this event did not lead to any physical or otherwise heated altercation between student groups.
We await a written intimation from the Registrar and the Proctor describing the exact nature of the “provocation” that led the administration to approach the police. However, the university has refused to take any responsibility of the complaint. Reliable sources inform us that the complaint sent to the police station on the university letterhead, undersigned by the infamous Proctor Harish Vijra implicate the organizers in the depiction of nude Gods and Goddesses, in a deliberate attempt to “antagonize” a “large” section of the university students. We are in the process of filing an RTI to verify this information. We would like to assert that whatever cultural representation was produced, was produced by the artist’s free will, and was for all to evaluate exactly in what manner the organizers are responsible for provoking communal disharmony.
To unveil the dark and nasty mystery of these events, we need to take a look at the history of the current EFLU administration, and realize the systematic way in which they have been destroying the secular, democratic, and procedural structure of this renowned university.
The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad has been a relative oasis given the meteoric rise of Hindutva we have seen in most Indian university campuses. Although statues of Brahminical goddesses adorn many of the office buildings and rooms, the presence of ABVP and other communal forces has been recent and only nominal. In 2008, when a section of the office-workers attempted to hold a Durga Puja within the campus, the then-Vice-Chancellor Abhay Maurya himself came out and led the rally opposing the staging of such a religious event within the secular sphere of the campus, noting publicly how the threat of the coming of the Hindutva forces into the campus poses a threat to the democratic and academic health of the campus. The campus has a strong tradition of Dalit and other progressive and radical politics, and has generally been at the forefront of critical student movements within the central university campuses of India. Consequently, the Hindutva forces have found it difficult, even now, to create a stronghold within the campus.
Such critical student politics also meant that they have been unwaveringly critical of the conservatism, corruption and feudalism of some of the faculty in powerful positions, and resentment against the student voices has been there with a certain conservative sections of the university. The decisive moment came in this history when, after a long struggle for the appointment of a permanent VC after Abhay Maurya left, Prof Sunaina Singh came in to occupy the helm of Vice Chancellorship. The conservative section, and a few opportunists, of the administration saw this as the novel chance to transform the university into their uncontested suzerainty.
The student body woke up to this disturbingly totalitarian tendency within the administration at the aftermath of the death of Mudasir Kamran, a PhD scholar from Kashmir who committed suicide when the brutal and homophobic administration broke every rule of the Proctorial body and took him to the Osmania police station for “counseling”! In wake of his death, the university had been transformed into a ‘police campus’, running solely through intimidation and violently authoritative threats. In the last six months, at least three times students have been targeted and charge-sheeted by police on various trumped-up charges [see in detail – this article, published on 23rd May, 2013. Also see this and this].
The administration has even been surveilling the Facebook comments of students—using teachers to this effect—threatening them with ‘guardian calls’ if found to say anything remotely critical about the administration! Security cameras, and other modes of spying, now rule the roost of administrative activities on this campus! Even the campus security guards have been given authority and cameras to record through photograph or video any activity of the students which they deemed fit (which includes putting up posters, banners etc.which is not allowed as per the university rules). Various amendments are being made into the ordinances and other statutes of the university without proper consultation, concentrating more and more power—entirely undemocratically and in violation of the very spirit of the university—into the hands of the Vice-Chancellor and a few of her innermost circle. Reportedly, even the faculties of the university are in mortal fear of the retribution of this fascist administration, given the way unilateral power is getting consolidated by a few.
It is in this context that we have to perceive the recent event: the Ganesh Chaturthi festival held within the perimeters of the campus as a personal attempt by the Vice Chancellor, to take the next step forward, and transform the university into her own private backyard, decked with gods and goddesses and run according to the ideologies of absolute Hindutva. The severity of the charges brought against the students is an indication of her exasperation at being opposed in this ‘noble’ attempt!
The meaning of the Sunaina Singh Administration
But it must also be realized that the events of the EFL University are not taking place in seclusion, but is a part of a general trend in higher education of India. From the FYUP fiasco to the mob lynching at FTII, Pune, a few trends stand out in stark clarity for any attentive observer–
a. A brand of neo-conservative authoritarianism being imposed extraneously to seemingly leash in the ‘unruly’ behavior of Social Science and Humanities in India. This authoritarianism is the ideological counterpart of the general devaluation of—in the state’s and its surrogate, the corporate’s gaze—these less money-and-policy-generating disciplines, and a push-and-shove towards an inoculated ‘corporate’ version of it. Rampant corruption and violation of long-standing democratic norms are some of the most important symptoms of this.
b. As the political supplement to this, new draconian strategies to counteract, legally or ideologically, the cutting edge of critical student politics of India, namely Dalit politics. As the recent essay on HCU’s rustication of 10 Dalit students (see here) by the Anveshi Law Centre demonstrates, the ‘criminalization’, marginalization and overall explicit violence against the Dalit movement in these central universities has now reached an unprecedented but at the same time well-coordinated high. An immediate transformation of the ‘student-being’ into an inconscient ‘student-machine’, ideologically absolutely docile, is essential for the aforementioned ‘transformation’.
The Sunaina Singh administration clearly is an integral part of this general trend. In a re-invention of Thatcher-ism, absolute faith and trust in the unilateral good-will of this self-appointed ‘mother of the campus’ is coaxed out of students and teachers. Like Narendra Modi, she also hides the terrible history of many student deaths caused chiefly by the callousness of her administration by proposing the illusion of an “efficient” (read unilateral, and corporatized, moving towards privatization and an abandonment of all social responsibility) administration! The already-fragile corridors of communication between the student’s body and the administration have been rolled back with the steady determination of a bulldozer.
Reportedly, attempts are being made to put in place changes that will reduce any elected student’s body into a mere puppet, without any authority or autonomy whatsoever. The air is filled with the fear and anxiety about already-enacted and coming-in-future changes determined by a Fascist few that will close down every single legal-constitutional opening the students and the teachers have for redressal and even the voicing of their concerns and dissent. This is a classic ‘inoculation drive’. And the bacteria here are that of politics, of the honest and progressive sort.
It logically follows that the hardest to kill in this scenario are the dalits, adivasi-s and the minorities, that fantastic group of first generation learners, brimming with the confidence of a full and determined life, who constitute the very heart of the spirit of this university. This new slapping of ‘communal disharmony’ charges against the conscientious dalit and other progressive students by the administration is a desperate but ideologically significant ploy: if the legal-constitutional bounds of the Indian state and the university statutes does not allow enough arsenal to butcher the Dalit voice, they will subvert the very meaning of the Indian constitution to destroy their freedom!
Dalitism as Communalism: New Hindutva and its servants
While casteist prejudice and destruction of the democratic space of the university has always been the explicit agenda of the administration, it did not initially show any signs of being militantly Hindutva. Which begs the question: what changed?
One needs to realize that despite all the struggles by the students of the EFL University against the arbitrary and autocratic functioning of the administration, the main perpetrators of this administrative crime—the Vice Chancellor, the Nodal Officer, and few others—have already succeeded in transforming much of the university into their fertile grazing ground. The result is also out there to see: the five-yearly budget of the university has been reduced from 600 crore to some 161 crore, the proposed Mallapuram campus has vanished into thin air, etc. The side-effect of all of these has been that the administration is fast losing the initial political support it had within the university and outside.
One should not be surprised: with the speed at which they are dismantling the university and with such singularity of purpose, it becomes very difficult for any publicly accountable political group to support such endeavors. Consequently—and given the political scenario of India at the moment—the VC had to come out to find other fishes in the pond. She found—not to anyone’s surprise—ABVP and in general the Hindutva forces, and her enthusiastic endorsement of Ganesh Chaturthi is her ritual obeisance to her new-found masters. Since the Hindutva forces could not find enough foot-hold amidst the student body, it was the ‘holy duty’ of her administration to make the space by crook and crook!
The administration’s eagerness to please these new masters—is this a result of anticipation of the coming of Modi in the center?—has been so strong that originally the organizers were allowed to build the pandal right in front of the gate of the VC’s lodge, and right across the Administrative Block! After receiving protesting calls from concerned students, the pandal was shifted, but the puja continued on campus premises with explicit support of the administration. As some students, claiming to be eye-witnesses, alleged, the Vice-Chancellor even went to the pandal to pay her respect to the Ganesha idol!
While one member of the administration defended the idol installation saying — “If you can install Ambedkar’s photo, they can install Ganesh idol!”, another defended its legality saying– “No professional priests came to perform puja”! The section of students were even given permission to take out an evening-long rally, accompanied by loud drum beats, colour-playing and other explicit marks of revelry, full of the usual masculine intimidation and chauvinism one expects from ABVP, that went around the campus. Some of the students decided to oppose this in a constructive and critical way, and through the Asura week, planted deep disturbance within the Hindu hegemonic memories of upper-caste dominance. If it has created any disharmony, it must have been in the unconscious of the casteist Hindutva administration!
Such new-found Hindutva allegiance allows the EFL administration to give up the last vestiges of their pretension of being ‘just’ caste-wise. In a subversion that mocks the secular spirit of Indian constitution, they are now hell-bent on branding the real soldiers against Hindutva hegemony in India—Dalits, Adivasi-s, and minorities—as the ‘communal’ force! What is secular now is the Ganesha idol, what is secular now is the absolute right of upper-caste Hindu-s to continue their ‘religious’ practice of oppression and humiliation of the cultural memories of the marginalized even in government spaces!
The ‘new’ illegality is to question the norms of upper-caste Hindutva in public. The new ‘communal’ are the “Asuras”, the Dravidians, the dalits, the ‘criminally political’ caste; the new fundamentalist is Baba Saheb Ambedkar (whose flex hoarding the administration has been attempting to bring down for months now in the name of ‘campus cleaning’, with the Dalits heroically resisting each attempt)! Not only this corrupt EFLU administration, we hold the entire political class of India, including its academic counter-parts, accountable for actively helping and/or silently making the path for the triumphal march of these casteist neo-conservatives, that has resulted in this day!
We call on everyone to actively resist this uprise of casteism and fascist authoritarianism within Indian academia. If we do not stop this surge now, it might already be too late.
~ Struggle Committee.
1. The Supreme Court of India also explicitly orders “…that acts of indiscipline and misbehavior on the part of the students must primarily be dealt within the institution and by exercise of the disciplinary authority of the teachers over the students and of the management of the institutions over the teachers and students. Students ought on to ordinarily be subjected to police action unless it be unavoidable. The students going to educational institutions for learning should not remain under constant fear of being dealt with by police and sent to jail and face the courts. The faith in the teachers for the purpose of maintaining discipline should be restored and the responsibility fixed by emphasizing the same.” (Supreme Court of India, 4th May 2001; Equivalent Citations: AIR 2001 SC 2814, 2001 (3) SCALE 503, (2001) 6 SCC 577).
Please sign and share this petition: The President of India: Ensure that the EFL University administration withdraws the false police case filed against 6 students under Sec. 153(A) for peacefully conducting a secular cultural festival