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After JNU, BJP’s Next Target Is Allahabad University

By Shubhda Chaudhary

06 March, 2016

What prompted Rohith Vemula, a Dalit PhD Candidate to commit suicide in Hyderabad University? How did JNUSU President feel when he was rebuked by the lawyers, charged under the draconian laws of sedition and criminal conspiracy without any evidence? How did DSU’s Umar Khalid feel when within ten days, his identity was reduced to being a Muslim, so aptly a terrorist just because he chose to voice his dissent? All these students faced treacherous amount of vitriolic attack on their identity, individuality and ideology. The high-handed manner in which the current fascist regime is functioning, they were victims of a totalitarian system, in which they were reduced, rebuked and harassed, causing tremendous amount of personal agony.

But on one hand, if we are rejoicing over the interim bail of Kanhaiya, BJP’s next victim Richa Singh, the Allahabad University students’ union president, is being harassed and perhaps, on the brink of facing expulsion. Richa, the first ever woman president of the University since Independence is facing the flak, but why? Her first ‘sin’ was that she launched a massive agitation against the entry of Yogi Adityanath, BJP's Member of Parliament from Gorakhpur in November 2015 to inaugurate a new building in Allahabad University. So, that is where it all started. The ABVP, which has been finding it tough to come to terms with a female winning the post of president, has been up in arms against her right from day one when she got elected.

In January, the university cancelled permission for a seminar that she had organised on campus after ABVP members protested her decision to invite Siddharth Varadarajan, former editor of The Hindu, as chief guest. Varadrajan was called a “Maoist” sympathiser and anti-national.

“I was attacked the next day. Many men, mostly from ABVP, stormed into the hostels and started calling us names. The proctor was standing there frozen, watching the tamasha while ABVP went on verbally abusing us,” Singh recalls. In spite of her being the President, she was not answered by the VC RL Hangloo to probe the incident to probe the incident, even though she wrote him four letters.

“There is no space for a neutral woman in politics. Either she has to be yielding like Smriti Irani or be autocratic like Mayawati or Mamta Banerjee,” Singh says. “The message to me in the first few months is clear: as a woman you can come out of your home, you can even go to work, but you are definitely not allowed to claim power.”

On 4th March, the same VC has set up an internal committee to probe the validity of her admission in 2013-14. “My centre of studies is Institute of Inter Disciplinary Studies (IIDS), but they never consulted my dean. Cherry on the top, I haven’t been even given a notice and it's flashing in every local newspaper,” exclaims Singh.

According to Singh, the probe has been brought in by Rajnish Singh, an affiliate of ABVP union. “Our V-C never set up an internal enquiry on his own proctor. The proctor has been accused of IPC 354 but his position is still retained. The OSG of the university has a case of sexual harassment and Dalit atrocity registered against him, but he is safe. It's all about pushing me on the ground and ceasing my power,” Singh adds.

On top of that, she has also accused the University’s VC of forwarding a letter that claims she is a Maoist. The letter, originally written by another student, questions Singh's timing of entering and leaving the university's premises.

The inquiry against Richa Singh following a complaint by a rival (Rajneesh Kumar, an unsucessful rival candidate in the union elections) that she was granted admission as a research scholar to a seat earmarked for a candidate from the reserved category. While the report concludes that Singh’s seat — one of two available that year for a PhD in Globalisation and Development Studies at the Faculty of Arts — should have gone to a reserved candidate, it makes clear that the “mistake” was committed by university staff involved in the selection process. According to a university official, if the V-C decides to scrap one of the two admissions, Richa would lose her seat because she was placed at second position on merit.

“This puts my academic career under threat. I am depressed. The university is harassing me. And I’m beginning to wonder how bad it must have been for Rohith Vemula,” Ms. Singh told.

Singh has written many times to Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani on the “repeated harassment” by the administration and the alleged inaction against ABVP students who, she alleges, sexually and physically intimidated her. But she has received no response so far.

“They are questioning my admission two years after I was admitted. Why was no question raised during the scrutiny of papers in the election,” Ms. Singh asked.

A senior professor, who is aware of the case details, supported Ms. Singh’s cause and said on the condition of anonymity: “Why is the VC acting merely on the complaint of an M.A. student who has nothing to do with the department? It is a clear case of settling scores.”

Ms. Singh said it was a scheme to “disturb” her and reflected the “patriarchal attitude” of the administration and the ABVP, who are “not ready to accept a woman as student union president.”

In the patriarchal pastures of the Hindi-belt, student netagiri follows the trajectory of mainstream politics: submerged in money power, caste equations and muscle-flexing; candidates openly flaunt party colours with little regard for norms. A culture of kattas (country-made pistol) and crude bombs, and incidents of attacking rivals and teachers, with the invocation of the Gangster Act is a common phenomenon.

An M.Phil. gold medallist, Singh has been involved in activism since 2008 when she founded the Stri Mukti Sangathan for women’s welfare. In 2012, she founded the Students Friends Union, a portal to help students find accommodation and books, in a city where students, especially outstation scholars, jostle for living space. In 2015, she decided to contest the student union elections independently. “It was more of an experiment,” she says.

Amid all the glory and celebration, however, the road has had a steep learning curve. She says she is often subjected to personal and sexist remarks. “I am made to feel like a ‘woman,’ something I did not feel in the 27 years of my life.”

Usually student leaders become inaccessible as they go on to pursue their political dreams — Allahabad University is home to some of the tallest leaders in Indian politics — Chandra Shekhar, V.P. Singh, N.D. Tiwari, Shankar Dayal Sharma, Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna, Madan Lal Khurana, Janeshwar Mishra, G.B. Pant are part of that illustrious brigade.

“We are ordinary students. Toh waise hi hamara load kam hi lete hai (The babus don’t give much weight to our voice since we don’t bear any political affiliation),” Singh says.

Swaraj Abhiyan, a group formed by civil society leaders Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan, on Saturday condemned the “harassment” of Allahabad University students' union president Richa Singh, alleging it pointed to a “clear design of stifling the freedom of expression and muzzling of democratic rights of thinking individuals”.

In a statement, the Swaraj Abhiyan said the “harassment” of Singh is “unfortunately, not a one-off case. A clear design of stifling the freedom of expression and muzzling democratic rights of thinking individuals can be seen. Be it the case of Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad or Kanhaiya Kumar in JNU, a clear pattern of furthering a dirty political agenda in educational institutions has come to the fore.”

Swaraj Abhiyan has condemned this high-handed attitude and warned the Allahabad University administration as well as the Central government against any undemocratic and unconstitutional steps in the campus. Richa Singh has written a letter to the President of India complaining against the harassment by Allahabad University on the behest of ABVP and the ruling party.

It is quite treacherous how BJP’s student wing ABVP has mustered indomitable and audacious courage after the party has come into power in 2014. The victimization of institutional bodies, along with berating and rebuking the students has become a convention. In the case of Richa, it is a shame that in spite of India treading towards woman emancipation, a female is being reduced to her identity just because she opposes dominant politics. Her entire career can be jeopardized with one decision and the silence of the echelons of power. She needs our solidarity and support just as much as Kanhaiya Kumar or Rohith Vemula did.

Shubhda Chaudhary is a PhD Scholar at JNU. She can be reached at [email protected]



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