New Delhi- In the corridors of one of Delhi University's esteemed colleges, a sense of apprehension hangs thick in the air. Students, who once freely expressed their views, now find themselves navigating a labyrinth of intimidation and censorship. Against the backdrop of the recent consecration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, tensions have escalated, raising pertinent questions about the sanctity of democratic spaces within academic institutions.
The 22nd of January marked a pivotal moment in the nation's religious landscape as Ayodhya witnessed the ceremonial consecration of the Ram Mandir. However, this momentous occasion also catalyzed a wave of fervent celebration that swept across educational institutions, including Delhi University. Yet, amidst the jubilation, a discordant note reverberates as students grapple with the implications of this saffron surge.
Within the hallowed halls of Delhi University, the festivities were palpable, with saffron flags adorning campuses and religious rituals punctuating the day's proceedings. However, beneath the veneer of celebration lurked a sense of unease, as dissenting voices found themselves marginalized and silenced.
Delhi University students Aksh and Stuti Paul present an exclusive ground report for The Mooknayak.
This ground report delves into the intricacies of this complex narrative, shedding light on the experiences and perspectives of students who navigate a landscape fraught with ideological tensions and threats of reprisal. From instances of intimidation to the erosion of democratic principles, the report offers a comprehensive analysis of the challenges confronting Delhi University in the aftermath of the Ram Mandir consecration.
On the 22nd of January, Ayodhya witnessed the consecration ceremony of the Ram Mandir, marking a significant moment in India's religious landscape. The event reverberated across the nation, prompting several central government offices, schools, colleges, and industrial establishments to declare a half-day to commemorate the Pran Pratishtha ceremony. Social media platforms were inundated with posters detailing various activities to honor the occasion, which for many, rivaled the festivity of Diwali.
Notably, educational institutions, including Delhi University, actively participated in the saffron wave of celebration. Despite varying degrees of official permission, campuses across the country adorned themselves with saffron flags and religious posters.
At Delhi University, the Arts Faculty became the focal point of a day-long celebration, where the Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) President, Tushar Dedha, a member of ABVP, proudly hoisted a saffron flag atop the university building, proclaiming, "DU Bole Jai Shree Ram."
The university administration's notice of a half-day closure until 2:30 pm added to the fervor, with the entire area draped in saffron flags and illuminated by diyas. Images depicting "Hindu Rashtra" adorned with diyas circulated widely on social media, underscoring the magnitude of the celebrations.
Despite the enthusiasm surrounding the Ram Mandir consecration, dissent simmered among students who questioned the appropriateness of religious celebrations within academic institutions. Some expressed their dissent through strikes, boycotts of classes post the half-day declaration, and by vocalizing their objections through public readings of the preamble.
As the specter of communal tensions loomed, Delhi University found itself at the epicenter of a contentious debate surrounding the intersection of religion and education.
Amidst the celebratory fervor surrounding the Ram Mandir consecration, Delhi University finds itself embroiled in a web of intimidation and polarization, allegedly orchestrated by a nexus between the ABVP and the administration.
According to a student's testimony from the Delhi School of Journalism, ABVP members conducted a Sunderkand without proper authorization. When questioned about their permission, they responded with slurs and derogatory remarks. In a disturbing incident, a minority student was disparaged as "ashudh" for touching the diyas during the ritual. These incidents exemplify the erosion of democratic values within university spaces, where dissenting voices are met with threats and hostility.
Following the consecration, students faced violent reprisals for merely expressing their views, as illustrated by an incident involving the sharing of an Instagram story. Despite no further intimidation, the affected student remains perplexed by the disproportionate targeting, questioning why their expression on the "wall of democracy" warranted such retribution.
The student poignantly asks, "What for, for merely expressing our views that too on the ‘wall of democracy’?"
Furthermore, " Jai Shree Ram is not merely a religious slogan today but rather a political slogan, a war cry' ' exclaimed Avanti, another student from the School of Open Learning where a sculpture of Lord Ram was inaugurated along with a Puja ceremony. The administration along with members of ABVP were present in the same.
Amidst these challenges, the fundamental principles of democracy and free expression hang precariously in the balance at Delhi University, casting a shadow over its academic integrity and commitment to inclusivity.
In theory, secularism stands as one of the pillars of democratic spaces, fostering inclusivity and respect for diverse beliefs. However, many students lament that Delhi University's professed commitment to democracy exists merely on paper, devoid of tangible manifestation in reality.
Traditionally envisioned as a haven for intellectual growth and the cultivation of new ideas, universities serve as crucibles where democracy thrives through the exchange of perspectives. Yet, students bemoan the shrinking space within Delhi University to engage in such democratic discourse.
The university's failure to translate its democratic ideals into practice raises fundamental questions about its role in nurturing a truly inclusive and pluralistic environment.
"Indirectly, ek darr ka mahaul banaya jaa raha hai," remarked Lipi, a second-year student at Miranda House College, capturing the pervasive atmosphere of fear and apprehension prevailing among minority communities. She recounted how her friends received calls from their parents, urging them to stay indoors on the 22nd, wary of escalating communal tensions across the country.
Khaled Munawer, a student from the Department of Social Work, echoed Lipi's sentiments, asserting, "When people from a certain religion or caste will only progress then we cannot say we are practicing secularism rather it just exists on paper not on the ground." His words underscored the stark disparity between the professed ideals of secularism and their tangible implementation.
Within the confines of Delhi University, dissenting voices face stifling censorship and control, particularly within classroom spaces. This pervasive surveillance has effectively silenced discussions on pressing issues such as hate crimes and the marginalization of minority communities. Hanan, a minority student from the History Department of Hindu College, expressed her sense of alienation, emphasizing that true inclusion is a prerequisite for addressing such concerns.
The curtailment of freedom to express dissent has become alarmingly apparent, with students noting that those who question the government are swiftly detained even before articulating their grievances. Lipi added, "Police is backing all this," shedding light on the complicity of law enforcement in perpetuating this climate of fear and intimidation.
In the current milieu at Delhi University, the very concept of secularism has taken on a negative connotation, leaving students perplexed and apprehensive about the future. Despite the university's reputation as a melting pot of diverse backgrounds and aspirations, the erosion of secular values has cast a shadow over its once-cherished inclusivity.
A third-year student lamented, "This is not the kind of education my parents had been paying for." The absence of robust classroom discussions and the pervasive influence of a majoritarian ideology have left many feeling disillusioned. The suppression of dissenting voices and the imposition of a singular narrative have led some students to question the very essence of being secular.
Another student from Hindu College mentioned, “Never thought India as a nation would come this far behind in it’s time that we would have to have discussions about what even ‘secularism’ means in a country like this where the basic foundation or binding force of the country ’s genesis was such principles in its first place.”
“As an identical Muslim girl, in the campus, I have been alienated from my class. No one talks about our mental health. But only about political stance and religious beliefs”. She asks, What benefit does this celebration give to the student community? Except for the polarisation of religion inside the campus. DU has just turned into an “experimental laboratory” of today’s leading government.
For marginalized students, such as the Muslim girl mentioned, the university environment exacerbates feelings of alienation. Mental health concerns take a backseat to political and religious debates, further marginalizing those already on the periphery of campus discourse.
Avanti, the student at the School of Open Learning, aptly summarizes the dichotomy within Delhi University: "They are bringing in Savarkar and removing Ambedkar while all these poojas happen in the university." This juxtaposition highlights the university's struggle between fostering genuine education and succumbing to majoritarian agendas.
Education, once hailed as the bastion of innovation and critical thinking, now seems confined to prescribed syllabuses that cater to the preferences of the dominant ideology. Delhi University, once revered as an institution of learning, is now seen by many as a mere conveyor belt for producing literate graduates, devoid of critical thinking and intellectual curiosity.
For minority students, this erosion of educational values translates into heightened insecurity and instances of harassment that often go unaddressed. Despite possessing some semblance of power, teachers find themselves silenced by the prevailing climate of fear and intimidation.
Moreover, there is a discernible intellectual takeover by the right-wing, cloaked under the guise of "decolonization." Professor Jenny Rowena of Miranda House notes the increasing thrust of right-wing ideologies, exploiting the discourse of decolonization to further their agenda.
The events of January 22nd serve as a harbinger of more intense attacks on intellectual freedom and academic autonomy. As students brace for the challenges ahead, the fate of Delhi University hangs in the balance, torn between its founding principles of education and the encroaching tide of ideological hegemony.
- Aksh & Stuti Paul