Hany Babu: An epitome of intellectual activism

Farah Rafeeq

Hany Babu, a professor, and an anti-caste activist is the 12th person to be arrested in connection with the Elgar Parishad violence.

Elgar Parishad Case

On 31 December 2017, Elgar Parishad, a conclave of Dalit leaders, lawyers, human rights activists, and academicians gathered at Shanivar Wada in Pune, ahead of the march to BhimaKoreogon, scheduled on 1 January 2018. It was to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon. Though essentially a battle between Marathas and the British, it holds much higher significance for Dalits, who identify it as a victory against the caste oppression faced by Mahar soldiers during the Peshwa rule.

Every year thousands assemble in Pune to march towards the Bhima Koregaon war memorial but the march on the 1st of January was disrupted by extremists leaving one dead and several others injured. Subsequent incidents of violence were reported in neighboring villages. The initial reports of the two-member judicial committee set up by Maharashtra State Government and multiple other independent fact-finding commissions had pointed out that the violence was pre-planned and orchestrated by right-wing activists.

But the police claim that ‘inflammatory speeches’ made during Elgar Parishad triggered the violence. Consequently, the Maharashtra Government police arrested several eminent activists including Anandteltumbde, GautamNavlakha and Varavara Rao for alleged links to the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), and for an attempt at ‘destabilising and overthrowing the Government’, and accused left along with Dalit organisations for creating an “anti-fascist front’. But the chargesheet fails to mention as to how exactly the violence broke out in the first place and is also silent on the earlier accusation against right-wing activists for inciting anti-Dalit sentiments.

Hany Babu

Hany Babu, an anti-caste activist and an Associate Professor at the Department of English, at the University of Delhi, is a vocal advocate of Dalit rights and the Reservation Policy. He is the 12th person to be arrested in the Elgar Parishad violence. Hany had repeatedly denied any connection to the case.

On 10 of September last year, police personnel raided Hany’s house in Noida and seized his laptop, mobile phone, other electronic devices, and books associated with the G.N Saibaba Defence Committee. The police had not given them the hash value, he had been apprehensive of tampering since then. On 24 July, while the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak, National Investigation Agency (NIA) summoned Hany to Mumbai for interrogation. After 5 days of serious interrogation, he was arrested on 28 July and sent to NIA custody for a week and later to Judicial Custody till August 21.

Why should Hany be silenced?

An advocate of Ambedkar’s thoughts, he is a pro-reservation activist and has openly criticised the manipulation and poor implementation of Reservation Policy in top institutions like IITs and DU. The diversion of seats from the reserved category to general, using cut-off and a cumbersome admission procedure as a tool was exposed by Hany with the data acquired through RTI petitions to colleges. He also voiced the hurdles in the admission process for SC/ST students. He along with his wife, Jenny Rowena, who is also a faculty at Delhi University, were active members of Ambedkar Study Circle at Delhi University.

Through the Academic Forum for Social Justice, of which he was also the secretary, they spread the concerns of the reservation sabotages to other central universities and stood against the privatisation of Education. He raised questions against policies like the 200 Point Rooster system or SC/ST Atrocities Act and published detailed articles on the colonial-era Sedition Law (Law of Sedition or Sedition towards the Constitution) and its violation of Freedom of Speech and Expression.

In his article, for The Hindu in 2013, he along with Dr. Udit Raj had pointed out the loopholes in the Four Year Undergraduate Program as it will be a burden on a large number of SC/ST/OBC students, who will not be able to complete all the four years and will be left with incomplete degrees, strengthening the social stratification.

His colleagues argue that he is being targeted for his pro reservation endeavours, and that the recent arrest is a stain on our democratic and constitutional values and an attack on academic spaces. In an interview with Caravan, he had openly talked about being targeted upon opposing state policies in a University.

Apart from questioning the power hegemony, he is a staunch proponent of social justice, his actions traversing academic research and publications. He came out to protests and talks, but as his students claim, he never ‘imposed’ his political outlook. People like Hany are a relief to marginalised students getting into University, only to find their political and academic interests hijacked and appropriated by liberal, upper-caste entities. He persistently voiced against the ‘othering’ and institutional discrimination faced by marginalised students in campuses.

When top universities like Hyderabad University and JNU were in a state of turmoil with the suicide of Rohith Vemula and arrests of JNU students in connection to the protest against Afsal Guru’s hanging, he wrote about the internal politics and exclusive nature of student organisations. The perceiving of class-based discrimination as ‘identity politics’ and its side-lining from mainstream political discourse was issued only a few people talked out.

In his essay, “The Convergence of unequals: Struggle for rights in the university space”, he criticises the in-active, or pseudo-active role the dominant upper-caste led groups take to make universities a more inclusive space. “And till the time universities begin to represent social diversity proportionately in all the rungs of their hierarchy, they will only continue to replicate social inequalities and prejudices.”

Hany was also the convenor for the Committee for the Defence and Release of G N Saibaba. Books related to the committee were particularly confiscated from his house.

G N Saibaba, also a professor of English at Delhi University and a Human Rights Activist, was abducted and arrested in 2014 under the stringent UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act), for alleged links with Maoist groups, while returning home after exam duty in Kirori Mal College. Wheel-chair bound and 90% disabled, international organisations including the United Nations had requested for his release. He was an active voice against the draconian laws like UAPA, POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act), AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Protection Act), and persistently raised concerns over the anti-academic and anti-people policy structure within the university. He was also a member of the International League of People’s Struggle (ILPS), an international body that coordinates people’s pro-democracy and anti-imperialist struggles.

Solidarity

The arrest has met with criticism from multiple spheres, for its ‘arbitrary’ nature. Many Dalit activists and scholars including prominent leaders like former MP and Congress leader Dr.Udit Raj, Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani, writer Arundhati Roy have expressed solidarity. Other forums such as The Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), Human Rights Forum of AP and Telangana, Social Democratic Teachers Front, University Teachers Association of Delhi and Hyderabad and International Labour Network of Solidarity and Struggle and numerous former and current students have also condemned the act and extended solidarity.

The inquisition and incarceration of activists in connection to the Elgar Parishad case without a judicial settlement is an attempt to intimidate resistance. As Hany said, ‘a process that is a punishment in itself’. India has witnessed a series of arrests of activists, academicians, writers, and student leaders; a subtle attempt to demonise and suppress dissenting voices. 

Farah Rafeeq is a B.A (Hons) Economics student at Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi.