Sunday, February 28, 2016


These are depressingly bad times for higher ed institutions in India. If administrators were the victims of authoritarian excess in iconic institutions such as IIT-D and ISI-Kolkata, they also seem to be complicit in dishing it out to students at other iconic institutions such as IIT-M, University of Hyderabad and Jawaharlal Nehru University. Politicians (even "responsible" ones such as central ministers) and news anchors throw the "anti-national" mud indiscriminately at students [sometimes with such epic ineptitude -- which would be funny if only lives and reputations were not at stake]. Kafila and Smoke Signals [Prem Panicker's blog] have been my go-to places for updates on the terrible travesty that has been playing out in Delhi and elsewhere in the country.

These troubled times also offer an opportunity to learn more about nationalism and its discontents (one of whom is a Bharat Ratna!). Also about dissent, free speech, their limits. And about universities, their mission. Here are some links that have educated me on these and related issues.

  1. Siddharth Varadarajan: On Kanhaiya: It is Time to Stand Up and Be Counted.

  2. Sangeeta Dasgupta: Umar Khalid, My Student.

  3. Amitava Kumar: Hounding students is pest control? Big ‘mishtake’.

  4. Christina Daniels' response to a speech by HRD Minister in the Lok Sabha. It includes a punchy quote [“Politicians are not born; they are excreted.”] and an insightful one [“Orators are most vehement when their cause is weak.”] -- both from Cicero!

  5. And a totally doctored video featuring Kanhaiya Kumar.

Some more:

  1. C.P. Surendran: India will pay for Arnab Goswami and Swapan Dasgupta's nationalism.

  2. Gopalkrishna Gandhi: In Defence of Mother India, Students’ Movement Takes Charge.

  3. Tunku Varadarajan: Reverse Swing: The BJP versus the jholawala.

  4. Lawrence Liang: Ultra-nationalists make light of patriotism. Here's an excerpt where he quotes Mahatma Gandhi:

    In contrast to the knee-jerk declaration that any criticism of the government or the state is necessarily seditious speech, let’s not forget that Mahatma Gandhi had been tried under the same provision (Sec. 124-A) in 1921 for an article that he had published in Young India. In his statement on March 18, 1922 before Judge Broomfield, Gandhiji famously asserted: “Section 124-A, under which I am happily charged, is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen. Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote, or incite violence.”

    Gandhi was prescient in his sharp legal understanding of the provision and it is not surprising that his interpretation of the law is what the Supreme Court in the postcolonial context has also reiterated, consistently holding that mere words and criticism do not qualify for sedition and it has to be accompanied by an incitement to imminent violence. [...]


  1. iitmsriram said...

    It is rather unfortunate that you choose to describe events at IITM as authorities dishing it out to students. I have first hand knowledge of what is happening here and this is the reason I have chosen to sign a letter from IITM faculty to the President (as reported in many places, including I have no interest in the politics of nationalism and sedition but what is happening in our universities has nothing to do with that.

  2. Raj said...

    Clubbing all three incidents (JNU, IITM and U of Hyd - when did this become iconic Univ, I must have missed the news) as authoritarian excess is factually incorrect. JNU is clear case of free speech suppression and students deserve support.
    OTOH, IITM incident seems to be a case of violation of rules by the students. Instead of correcting it students decided play victim (loudly), got a lot of attention and put down any resistance in the admin.
    Hyd case was more complex. Though the Dalit students may be facing issues including discrimination, a group of students descending on a student leader's room in the middle of the night to persuade him to apologize by roughening him up is hardly free speech. In fact, it is the opposite of free speech.