Why the Centre and the ABVP must take classes on citizenship and democracy

Why the Centre and the ABVP must take classes on citizenship and democracy30.3K
Total Views

There are two forms of political engagement. In one, the exchange of ideas, and even intractable disagreements, are part of the rough and tumble of democratic politics. In the other, the coercive power of the State is used to settle all arguments forever.

The battle lines between proponents of these two forms of political engagement were firmly drawn this week, when union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, responding to complaints of his party’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad or ABVP sent the Delhi Police on to the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus, with the intention to intimidate an entire University.

Plainclothes policemen entered the JNU campus. A police photographer took pictures of students and faculty gathered at the university’s administrative block to protest the police presence and the arrest of students’ union president, Kanhaiya Kumar, on February 11.

Kumar has been remanded in police custody as the police “want to investigate any links he may have with terror organisations related to Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan”.

Central intervention

Rajnath Singh said the police were acting on his instructions. He pre-empted any formal investigation of a complaint and the verification of facts with his comments a day after Kumar’s arrest. “… about what has happened in JNU… I have given the police all instructions necessary in these situations,” he said. “…strict action will be taken against them… Under no circumstances will I forgive those who raise this type of anti-Indian slogan or who question the unity, integrity…. of India.”

With the might of the State against it, the faculty and students on the JNU campus feel like they are under siege. The University has a system of complaint redressal, and a committee was set up to inquire into the events of February 9. That day, students are said to have chanted “divisive” slogans at an event organised to discuss the execution of Parliament attack-accused Afzal Guru, and the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir.

While there was some dissatisfaction with the composition of the committee, everyone agreed it was within the norms set by the university. There was no disruption of work and classes. Life should have gone one as usual. Yet, the administration caved in under government pressure and allowed the police to enter the campus to do what it “deems fit” after receiving a letter saying there was “seditious activity” on the campus.

The everyday world of a university like JNU has room for all sorts of opinions and political affiliations. Even the students’ union is composed of three different political groupings, one of which is the BJP affiliate, the ABVP. That JNU students of the ABVP themselves summoned the coercive forces of the State has shaken the world of this campus, where hot words and angry arguments are usually the most extreme form of political engagement.

The Rohith connection?

A master’s student from the Hindi department, who was standing alone on the edge of the crowd of students gathered at the academic block, told me in a quiet voice that the police should not have been brought into disagreement between students. “This is a disagreement between students, even ABVP students are JNU students, why have they sent the police?” the student said. “I don’t agree with some of the slogans that were shouted [on Feburary 9]. But how can they arrest students for a slogan? I think because JNUSU supported Rohith Vemula and the government is looking bad because of Rohith Vemula, all these things – Siachen deaths, slogans etc., are being combined to attack JNU students.”

But, this is not the first time that the ABVP has acted in what might be a less-than-straightforward and collegial manner, and the BJP government has lent it active support. When wardens in JNU shut down a “havan” in a hostel room as a fire hazard, ABVP students filed a police complaint of sexual harassment and hurting religious sentiments against a Christian faculty member present. A university fact-finding committee has proven the claims false, yet a court case continues. At IIT Madras, a letter from the Human Resource Development ministry based on an “anonymous” complaint got the Ambedkar Study Circle banned. In Hyderabad, it was an ABVP student’s complaint to the same ministry via a BJP member of Parliament, and a court case his family filed, that escalated a campus students’ dispute into a battle between the BJP and non-ABVP students. This led the university administration to take disciplinary action against Rohith Vemula and his friends. In JNU this week, an ABVP complaint to the police and a BJP member of Parliament about a students’ dispute over slogans raised on campus unleashed the wrath of the union Home Minister against non-ABVP students.

ABVP vs the others

It is indicative of what the two sides in this battle represent that the ABVP massed non-student supporters from the neighbouring Munirka colony to protest against students inside JNU. It also held a demonstration at India Gate calling for the arrest of students in JNU.

The non-ABVP students have raised concerns about the police presence on their campus and against arbitrary arrests in the public spaces of the university. For the ABVP, this is clearly part of the Sangh Parivar’s battle to redefine the idea of India in which anyone who does not agree with them is a “desh drohi” or anti-national, but for the non-ABVP students, this is a battle for the rights of students at a university in India.

By bringing its clenched fist down on a university campus the government may be winning the battle of the airwaves, but it is not winning the battle for the hearts and minds of students in JNU.

“ABVP is always trying to say if you don’t agree with them you are anti-national, that is not a good argument,” said a woman, an undergraduate student from the School of Languages. She was one of a group of first-year undergraduates who have not joined the protests on campus because their parents told them not to. But they said they supported the protests in spirit because they felt Kumar’s arrest was wrong. “He is not the type to shout such slogans. Even if someone did, how can you put him in in jail?”

JNU legacy

The BJP and a segment of the media like to portray JNU as a hotbed of subversive political activity, or in the words of a BJP member, “a Maoist production factory”. This characterisation finds favour with those who watch aggressive television anchors shout their studio guests into submission or silence every night. But there is truth beyond television news.

A young woman from Assam, a first year MA student, tried to explain to me why she and her friends were going to join a student and faculty protest at the administrative block in JNU. “Look, you must understand, it was our dream to study in JNU,” she said. “Now we are finally here, and they are telling us that in JNU they teach us about terrorism, that we support terrorists! They have sent the police to arrest students! They are saying this university we worked hard to enter is a bad place and we are bad people. That is why we are going.”

Play

There is a video now online of Kanhaiya Kumar, the students union president, who is spending this weekend in police remand. The video is an eloquent young man’s impassioned affirmation of the idea of India that was created through the struggle for independence, of democratic principles, the value of the Constitution and a denunciation of the “constitution written in Nagpur” (the home of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh).

He clearly does not need lessons in nationalism from his political opponents. But his political opponents and our central government, however, could do with lessons in citizenship, how democracy functions, and on what universities are.

In a democracy a State does not intervene in the functioning of a university where life and limb are secure. Universities are not factories where people are beaten into identikit followers of state ideologies, but sanctuaries where young people can think, argue, debate and become the active questioning citizens that make democracies thrive.

[“source-Scroll”]

The Daily Fix: Dissent and freedom in India and nine other great weekend reads

The Daily Fix: Dissent and freedom in India and nine other great weekend reads
Photo Credit: IANS
6.3K
Total Views

The Latest: Top stories of the day
1. The Delhi Police want the National Investigation Agency and the Special Cell to probelinks between Jawaharlal Nehru University and the terrorist, Afzal Guru.
2. The Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam will contest the Tamil Nadu polls together.
3. Prime Minister Narendra Modi opens the Make in India Centre in Mumbai.
4. India is “too tolerant” of intolerance, says economist Amartya Sen.

Weekend reads
1. In the Hindu, Gopalkrishna Gandhi explains how the decision to impose President’s rule usually emanates from Delhi.
2. In the Telegraph, Ruchir Joshi on everyday racism in India.
3. In the Indian Express, read Amartya Sen’s lecture on dissent and freedom in India.
4. In Mint on Sunday, Sowmiya Ashok explores the lives of two men who had escapedbonded labour.
5. In Mint Lounge, Somak Ghosal on what literature tells us about love and aging.
6. In the Guardian, Jason Burke on how it’s time for the West to update its image of Inda.
7. Also in the Guardian, Robert McCrum imagines a sequel to War and Peace.
8. In the New Yorker, Nicola Twilley gives you the inside story of how scientists finally found gravitational waves.
9. In the Independent, Alexander Lenz on why you should care about the discovery of gravitational waves.
10. In the Washington Post, Yoav Fromer on why Democrats shouldn’t fear Bernie Sanders’s talk of a revolution.

[“source-Scroll”]

Skype Group Video Calling Coming to Android, iOS, and Windows 10 Mobile

Skype Group Video Calling Coming to Android, iOS, and Windows 10 Mobile

Marking its 10-year anniversary, Microsoft’s Skype team on Tuesday announced that it has introduced the group video calling feature to everyone on Android, iOS, and Windows 10 Mobile. Skype already supported group video calls but only for those who opted for Skype for Business. The feature is now available to non-subscribers as well.

The feature can be used free of cost and will be rolled out to users in the ‘coming weeks’. However, for those who want to preview the group calling feature, they can sign-up by submitting some details.

The Skype group video calling service lets up to 25 users share a video call on desktop. However, the popular VoIP service is not the only one sporting such kind of feature. Rival apps such as GoogleHangouts also supports group video calling for up to 10 users. Line (with Popcorn Buzz), Viber, WeChat, and other popular chatting apps also have the feature. Hike in September last year introduced group audio calling feature, letting up to 100 people to talk to each other in a group call. Other popular chatting applications such as FaceTime and Facebook Messenger are yet to receive the feature.

Gurdeep Pall Singh, the Global Corporate Vice President of Skype in the company blog post added that in 10 years Skype users have generated nearly 2 trillion minutes of free Skype video calls. “In fact, with that amount of time, you can use Skype to read to every child in the world for 10 hours, every family can be together over Skype for more than 7 hours and there’s still time left for the entire world’s workforce to have an hour-long interview via Skype,” he said.

[“Source-Gadgets”]

VLC Media Player for Apple TV Launched, Brings Remote Playback and More

VLC Media Player for Apple TV Launched, Brings Remote Playback and More

The widely-used VLC Media Player is now also available for the Apple TV, which runs a customised version of iOS called tvOS. Much like its client on the other platforms, VLC’s Apple TV app offers playback of a plethora of video and audio file codecs and formats. In addition, the app can also pull videos from your local network, DLNA servers, FTP servers, and Plex.

It hasn’t been long since Apple started to sell its new Apple TV, and the platform has already attracted a lot of developers — it has over 2,600 apps in its dedicated app store as of December last year. On Tuesday, VideoLAN announced that it is bringing its popular media player VLC on Apple’s TV box.

(Also see: VLC arrives on Chrome OS)

The goal of the player is to run any media file you throw at it. This should make Apple TV customers happy as they no longer have to convert their files into a format that the Apple TV natively supports. But that’s not the only highlight of the app.

VLC for Apple TV also lets you watch your local content using SMB, UPnP and Plex protocols. But more importantly, the app offers support for remote playback, which means that you can send your file directly from a Web browser or an app to your Apple TV and it will run it.

Furthermore, the developer team added that it is working on adding support for popular cloud services such as Dropbox, OneDrive, and Box into the app soon. The feature is already available on the VLC beta app for Apple TV.

You can find the app on your Apple TV by searching for VLC in its App Store.

[“Source-Gadgets”]