Tuesday, April 23, 2024

O.P. Jindal University: Students suspended for discussing Ram temple allege abusive calls, rape threats from Hindu right-wing

On 10 February, the administration of O.P. Jindal Global University, Haryana, owned by industrialist Naveen Jindal, suspended two law students for organising a public discussion on the topic ‘Ram Mandir: A farcical project of Hindutva fascism.’ The suspended students, associated with a Marxist student collective known as the Revolutionary Students League (RSL), include Mukundan, a second-year BA LLB (Hons) student from Kerala, and Ramnit, a third-year BA LLB (Hons) student from Delhi.

They were suspended on 10 February until 1 August 2024.

The disciplinary action stemmed after the pre-announced discussion of RSL was disrupted by members of the Abhinav Bharat Reading Circle, a collective associated with the think tank of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), ‘Think India’, who chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and sang bhajans in an attempt to stop the discussion.

The suspension order mailed to Mukundan and Ramnit on behalf of the Chief Proctor and Chairperson of the University Student Disciplinary Committee (USDC) says that USDC concluded that the duo were involved in acts of indiscipline and violated the O.P. Jindal Global University code of conduct for students.

The USDC alleges that they found that suspended students with others, displayed posters across the academic block containing inflammatory statements potentially offensive to Hindu sentiments within the university community. The committee also noted the absence of permission sought from the authorities for the event advertised on the posters. Furthermore, it alleged that the suspended students were found to have made derogatory and provocative remarks during the event, later posting similar content on the Instagram account of RSL.

The show-cause notice sent by the chief proctor on February 9 alleges that the duo “put up posters and engaged in conversation that involved extremely derogatory and provocative words aimed at detrimentally affecting the integrity and tranquility of the university space.”

Both students contested the allegations in the reply to the show-cause notice citing that they were only exercising their right to free speech in a democratic setup. The suspension order which acknowledged their response to the show-cause notice, specified that they failed to appear before the USDC, composed of faculty and staff members, along with representation from the student council for the hearing.

Regarding the failure to attend the hearing, Ramnit told Maktoob, “We responded to the show-cause notice within the stipulated time on 10 February. However, we missed the hearing because we did not see the mail sent at 10:34 am on 10 February, summoning us for the hearing scheduled at 11.40 am of the same day. Moreover, the time provided was too short, giving us only an hour to prepare for the hearing. Additionally, we couldn’t check our inboxes or access our phones because we were off campus and occupied with personal work. Our batteries died, and our phones were switched off.”

Narrating the ordeal of the public discussion event to Maktoob, Mukundan, who is the general secretary of RSL, expressed, “We were merely encouraging the student community of the university to participate in a public discussion on the nature and escalation of fascism in India, particularly in light of the Ram Mandir issue, which our organisation perceives as a genocidal project built on the blood of minorities within the country.”

“The discussion, which started after 8 pm, had 7 students, including 3 RSL members. Midway, around 30 Abhinav Bharat members joined. Since it was an open discussion, we allowed them to join. These students, from influential BJP-RSS families having MLAs and MPs, lost their cool when we presented our views against Hindutva fascism. Despite having a democratic space for dissent in our discussion, they failed to counter our arguments politically and democratically. They resorted to shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and bhajans to halt the discussion. We responded with ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ slogans. After a few minutes, they retreated, and we continued the discussion until 9:30 pm. They likely informed the administration after they left,” Mukundan recounted.

After missing the hearing, Mukundan and Ramnit detailed their harrowing experiences. Mukundan told Maktoob, “When we reached the university around 6.30 pm, the security guards refused entry citing a suspension order. Checking our inbox on a friend’s phone, we found out we had been suspended around 5 pm. Entry to the hostel was also denied. Despite filing a complaint on 10 February with the proctor about threats from ABVP and Abhinav Bharat, our safety was ignored, and we were forced to stand outside the gate. We told the guards and administration about notifying lawyers and journalists. Eventually, we were allowed inside but our movement inside the campus was restricted. Against our will, around 10-12 guards forcefully took us to the parents’ lounge room. 5 students, including non-RSL members, came to support us, and then we came out of the room. The 7 of us demanded the revocation of the suspension, a fair trial, and freedom to move within the campus. We protested near the front gate for hours, with guards and the chief proctor present, who had ties to ABVP during his college days.”

Ramnit added, “At 2 in the morning, Mukundan’s family friend and my parents arrived. We insisted we wouldn’t leave campus without a fair trial. Despite this, 20-30 guards forcibly removed Mukundan from the campus. When I protested, the chief proctor mocked me and said they didn’t care about the laws. He also challenged me to file a complaint. Students who tried to help me were stopped. My family, the proctor, and three counselors instructed security to place me in my father’s car forcefully. Despite resistance, female guards attempted to put me in the car aggressively. After hours of standoff, both of us were taken back to our hometown.”

*Anuradha, a student supporting the duo, told Maktoob, “Another student and I tried to stop the guards from dragging Ramnit and Mukundan. Seeing this, counselors and the chief proctor instructed the guards to restrain us physically. A female student was dragged by male guards and was locked in a room. Within 20 minutes, 4 of us, including 3 non-RSL students who protested, received show-cause notices for non-compliance. University rules prohibit guards from entering hostel rooms after 10.30 pm. However, citing special permission, to intimidate us, they barged into 2 rooms for a raid at 12:30 am, despite the students’ absence. In total, 5 students were locked in their hostel rooms with a guard stationed outside.”

G4S, the British private security company that provides security personnel to the university, was a target of the Palestine Boycott Divestment Sanction (BDS) movement. A video shared by Anuradha of guards dragging them and raiding hostel rooms corroborates the allegations.

Ramnit also told the reporter about the numerous rape and death threats directed towards them by Sangh Parivar starting from February 8. Ramnit detailed, “Students associated with Abhinav Bharat and ABVP consistently stalked us within the campus. Additionally, misogynistic, transphobic, and sexually harassing comments were directed at us, including our queer members, on our organisation’s Instagram account by students and alumni of our university. My father informed me that he received threats on Twitter as well. We had even informed the administration about Abhinav Bharat leaking Mukundan’s phone number and photo on social media. Despite this, the administration failed to take any action against them.”

Mukundan added, “I received more than 50 phone calls from various parts of the country threatening to murder me and my family. While heading to my hostel room, two members of Abhinav Bharat shouted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ directly at me. Moreover, I was stalked within the boys’ hostel by an ABVP member named Krishna. I was also singled out for being a non-Hindi speaking individual from Kerala.”

This reporter verified the threats and hate comments made by Hindu right-wing activists after checking the Instagram account of RSL.

Organiser, the mouthpiece of RSS, published a report in the aftermath of this with the headline ” Destroy Ram Mandir, erect Mosque over it, discussed at Brahmanical Hindutva Fascism talk “, echoing the false claims of Abhinav Bharat. OpIndia, a right-wing media, accused RSL as the frontal organisation of the proscribed Communist Party of India (Maoist).

Responding to the allegations made by Abhinav Bharat, Organiser, and OpIndia, Mukundan told Maktoob, “We are an independent Marxist students organization. They are trying to suppress the unionisation of students on the campus by falsely associating us with the CPI(Maoist). We never called for the destruction of Ram Mandir during the discussion. We discussed how Buddhist Viharas were destroyed to make way for famous Hindu temples in the past. Our organisation had only analysed the consecration ceremony of the Ram Mandir held on the ruins of the demolished Babri Masjid as the exposal of the fascist nature of the Indian state. The videos circulated as evidence on X against us were covertly recorded by Abhinav Bharat. Our words were taken out of context through partial and doctored videos.”

Author of ‘Ram Janmabhoomi: The Inspiration for Hindu Resurgence’, Rashmi Samant who had faced allegations of racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobic while holding the post of president of the Oxford Student Union tweeted with the photo of suspension order saying, “The Student calling for Destruction of Temples at Jindal Global University has been suspended for the semester for making anti-national and Hinduphobic remarks.”

Emphasizing the nexus between the university and right-wing forces, Anuradha added, “How come the right-wing people including Rashmi Samant got the copy of the suspension order which was only mailed to the Mukundan and Ramnit? Abhinav Bharat gets support from faculty and can hold university-approved events. They are institutionally supported by our university.”

The reporter verified Ramnit’s reply to the show-cause notice, which detailed threats from students affiliated with Abhinav Bharat. Despite Chief Proctor mentioning acknowledgment of her reply in the suspension order, he claimed to be unaware of the threats when questioned by the reporter.

Chief Proctor, Karan Latayan, told Maktoob, “I have not heard from the students. If the students are stating any problems, they need to approach the authority. Only then we can do anything about it.”

When asked about the leak of the suspension order to the right-wing activists, he replied, “I am not able to believe the fact that the order has been leaked.”

The copies of the show cause notice, reply to it by the students, suspension order and call records are with the reporter.

Criticising the administration, Shree Rishi, an alumnus of the university told Maktoob, “I am deeply concerned about the partisan nature of the university administration which has continuously paved the way for saffronisation of the university space by repeatedly favoring the right-wing narratives while penalising alternative political discourses. It is also of grave concern to some of us alumni that the university administration has made the doctored video as one of the causes of suspension for these students.”

Meanwhile, On 12 February, in light of the unrest, a mail was sent by the chief proctor warning students that they are prohibited from associating themselves with unofficial and unrecognised political organisations on the campus. The mail didn’t mention the name of Abhinav Bharat but has specially mentioned ‘Safdar Hashmi Reading Circle’ and the Revolutionary Students League, which the RSL considers as an attack only on left student organisations.

On the evening of February 15, at least 100 students protested, holding placards demanding the revocation of both suspension order and the banning of student organisations, and an apology from the chief proctor for abetting the manhandling of female students by the guards.

“Our demands are to be given a chance at a fair and unbiased hearing, allowing us to stay on campus until the hearing takes place, have the ban on RSL and Safdar Hashmi Reading Circle lifted, and take action against members of Abhinav Bharat who threatened us, especially Krishna Debar,” recounts Ramnit.

*name changed to protect identity

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