“Birthday wishes Hany Sir. It pains me to write a birthday wish this way. I hope you are safe there. I hope you come out of this, back to your family and friends, back to the University, soon,” Nimisha Salim who studies English literature at the University of Delhi extended her wishes to her English teacher Hany Babu.
On Sunday, when Delhi University Professor Hany Babu turns 54 in a Mumbai jail where he’s been imprisoned in connection with the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case, his students tried to ensure that he’s not greeted with silence.
Professor Hany Babu M.T. from the Department of English, University of Delhi was arrested on July 28 by the NIA. He was sent to NIA custody for a week and later to Judicial Custody till August 21.
Students in Solidarity With Hany Babu, a collective composed of his present and former students, put out a call to students to send in birthday wishes and thereby express their solidarity with their Professor. The responses shared a collective understanding of Prof. Hany Babu’s persona as a gentle, compassionate Professor who not only taught his students about the exclusive nature of universities in India but also created an inclusive environment in an attempt to open the university space for all.
They have received over 250 emails, most of them recounting their personal experiences as students of Professor Babu.
“Your way of teaching with a sweet and humble voice and the way of describing things have always inspired me and yours were among the few classes I regularly attended. Sir, one day I want to become a teacher like you and I want to have the strength you have,” Babu’s student Siddi wrote.
Professor Babu has been a strong advocate for social justice and has worked strenuously in the anti-caste movement.
Another student Samiksha wrote on her Professor’s birthday that Hany Babu has been one of the best Professors she has ever come across.
“Your sincere efforts in a class taught us not just what was in the books but also about the semantics of inclusivity and equality. We take immense pride in being the students of a Professor who speaks up against the wrongs and injustice in our world. We continue to learn from you,” she added.
Jailed Professor’s student and Senior Writing Fellow at Ashoka University Jyotirmoy Talukdar said: “As I have always said if it was not for you, I would not learn to be proud of my mother language Kamrupi, use it without shame in public, and develop a lifelong academic interest in language and culture.”
As a Professor of linguistics, his classes have always been about demanding equal space for the varying languages in India and looking at English as an emancipatory language. His teachings have made, and continue to make students critically approach caste supremacy hidden within the rubric of the Indian language structure. He has always highlighted the need for equality amongst language and language speakers.
Babu is the 12th person to be arrested in the Elgar Parishad case. Eleven activists and scholars have already been arrested in the case and nine out of these have been in jail for nearly two years, as undertrials.
While some students wrote about the popularity of his classes, which they would attend in large numbers, even though attendance was not compulsory, others have written about the exposure to the contemporary and its problems that they have gained from their classes.
“Thank you for taking a subject that was one of the toughest in M.A. and making us feel heard, and aware. Your sociolinguistics classes made me understand my home more, but also made me realise how deeply language is rooted, even in caste and religion. This is what your classes do sir, they make us question,” Adarsh said.
Many students have written about the extra effort and and dedication he has shown both in his teaching and in helping them in solving their day to day issues.
“We first met regarding some internal mark discrepancies students were facing in the department. You guided us and from there, you have always been the go-to person for some of us whenever some issue related to the department or university crops up. You have been a welcoming presence in an unwelcoming space like Delhi University. You are an inspiration for students like us. Many students express their shock, anger and disbelief about the arrest and they also swear to stand with him…” Asief wrote about his beloved teacher on his birthday.
There were also wishes from students, who despite not being students of Professor Babu shared the grief and anger at the present situation.
“I am neither your student nor studying at your university. I am an Indian student who is raged and disappointed by the State’s actions against academicians. Happy Birthday my dear Professor,” said Rafeefa Parveen, a Spanish language graduate at English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad.
The students who wished their teacher on his birthday have demanded an immediate release of Professor Hany Babu.
Soon after the arrest, more than 340 students of Hany Babu had released a statement in solidarity with the jailed Professor and activist and said the NIA’s warrant against him was a “direct attack on education, activists and the academic space at large”.