Thought Box



by HUMRA QURAISHI December 2 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 51 secs

We are going through difficult times, where the voice of academics is being stifled and snuffed, writes Humra Quraishi.  

The ‘official stand’ has become like a noose around the neck for all those who’re a part of the system, especially in the government institutions and universities – what they are to say is scripted for those at the frontlines and either do as they’re told or else the person with contrarian views is punished.

Last week, OP Jindal Global University asked Professor Achin Vanaik to express regret over a teaching session on the history of Palestine. And, IIT Mumbai cancelled his proposed talk on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Why? Is it because this retired professor of international relations and global politics at the University of Delhi is well  known, in India and internationally, for his forthright views on the Israeli occupation of  the Palestinian territory?

Why should people be deprived of hearing frank-undiluted-honest views and opinions of a respected and rewarded man? Earlier this year I had contacted Professor Vanaik, requesting him  for his comments on the Israeli- Palestinian issue, with regard to the assaults on the Palestinian civilians by the Israeli forces in the holy month of Ramadan, and also the storming of the Al Aqsa mosque by the Israeli forces. He informed me that the assault on Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque differs from similar past actions at the holy site. He said, “For the first time, Israel has a far-right coalition that includes Jewish religious extremists in government. This section has always wanted to destroy the mosque and replace it with a Jewish temple.”

Vanaik had also commented that very large numbers of Jewish citizens have been protesting against the Israeli government’s attempts to erode the independence of the judiciary. “However, the overwhelming majority of these citizens routinely support brutal anti-Palestinian actions in Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories…therefore the Israeli government hopes that the latest round of brutalities against worshippers at Al-Aqsa can serve as a political diversion and enable the wider Jewish public to rally behind it against the natural Palestinian anger as well as retaliatory actions, given what has happened.” Then he added, “The settler-colonial apartheid regime is out to extend illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Terrorising Palestinians through armed actions will make this effort that much easier.”

With academics facing a rough time, can the students be unaffected! In these recent years, college and university students have also been facing tough times because politics has invaded campuses. Students I’ve been meeting and interacting with have told me, categorically, that they are cautious before getting involved in political discussions. Why? Because it becomes easy to lob anti-national charges upon them with a ‘terror angle’ thrown in.

They say that for a Right-Wing establishment there can be many definitions of terrorism and terrorists. They pointed out instances of the ‘disappearance’ of the JNU student Najeeb Ahmad who has been ‘missing’, after he picked up a fight with Right-wing students on the campus.

What has already happened at the Hyderabad, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, Allahabad University, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and the Jamia Millia Islamia campus’, are grim reminders of the level to which the State machinery can be used to crush dissent and silence young voices. “Where is that democracy, which promised each one of us that we will be heard”, ask students today.

It was after Rohith Vemula’s suicide at the Hyderabad Central University that the Right-Wing intrusion in university campuses started. Students protesting outside the RSS headquarters in New Delhi were assaulted by cops and also by ‘unidentified men’. In 2019, it became obvious that the Right-Wing faction will create ‘mischief’ at AMU. Having failed to open a RSS shakha on the campus, they created mayhem on the grounds of the alleged misbehaviour of a ‘nationalist’ television channel with the staff - the list of State interference in educational institutions is long. One is aware of the illegal detentions of students; some even arrested.  

Students are dealing with anxiety and insecurities like never before. The latest news reports coming from the Kashmir Valley, where seven students of the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST) have been arrested under UAPA for raising objectionable slogans and celebrating the defeat of the Indian Cricket team is worrying. The leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI), Kashmir, M. Y. Tarigami said, “It is wrong. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act should not have been slapped on the students because we are a democratic country…sports should not be politicized. It is not a good thing to link sports and politics. Are they (students) terrorists? If the government has an objection, there are other laws. But why slap UAPA on students.”  He’d also said that “just like Indian sportspersons are popular outside the country, cricketers from other parts of the globe are popular in India.”

It is time we realize that our youngsters, school, college and university students, are counselled, given guidance and interactive sessions are organised where their fears can be addressed. This holds out especially for students in conflict zones where they have witnessed violence and strife.

I’ll end my column with Pramod Subbaraman’s verse from Amity Peace Poems, Hawakal Publishers:

Which road should we take?/It is that time again/To think about options/Which path lessens the pain?/I hate these decisions/To think about options/In this time of crisis /I hate these decisions/No God here to help us/

In this time of crisis/Twenties’ Thirties’ full fury/No God here to help us/Which is this century?/

Twenties, Thirties full fury/Thought it was in the  past/Which is this century?/Do not think it would last/

Thought  I was in the  past/They even told us so/Did not think it would last/Painful to see them go/

Thy even told us so/We were fed with those lies/Painful to see them go/Watch as another dies/

We were fed with those lies/For this country we bled/Watch as another dies/Rivers of blood, he said/

For this country, we bled/In so much fear, we shake,/Rivers of blood, he said/That blood, is in a lake/

For  my  family’s sake/It is that time again/Which road shall we take?/Which path lessens the pain?’

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.