Friday, April 15th, at 7:00PM, in room 7000, SFU Harbour Centre.
Panel Discussion: “Targeting Universities in Authoritarian India”Organized by SFU Institute for the Humanities.
Co-sponsored by Indian Summer Festival, MARU, SANSAD, SFU’s J.S. Woodsworth Chair in the Humanities, SFU’s School for International Studies, SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement, and UBC’s Asian StudiesIndia is often referred to as the “world’s largest democracy,” and its economic promise has made it an attractive target for foreign investment. Recently, however, India’s democratic legitimacy seems to have come into question.On February 12, 2016, Kanhaiya Kumar, President of the Jawarhalal Nehru University Students Union was arrested and charged with sedition according to a law dating back to the British Raj. Kumar and several other students who were subsequently arrested and similarly charged have been widely proclaimed “anti-national” because slogans at a meeting held at the university to commemorate the third anniversary of the hanging of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri convicted of attacking the Indian parliament in 2001. The speakers had questioned the justice of this execution as well as the justice of the more recent execution of Yakub Memon, who had been convicted of involvement in bomb blasts in Mumbai in 1993. The meeting had also protested the summary expulsion and eviction of some students engaged in a similar event at the University of Hyderabad that had led to the suicide of a promising Dalit student, Rohit Vemula. Some at the meeting had shouted slogans in solidarity with the people of Kashmir.
The event at JNU is part of a growing authoritarianism overseen by Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), politically represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Indian society at large going back to the destruction of the Babri Masjid (Mosque) in 1992, and with roots in the nationalist movement itself in the early twentieth century. This Forum seeks to examine the historical context of the rise of Hundutva in general, consider the targeting of leftist students opposed to the Modi government’s neo-liberal project (the so-called “Gujurat Model”) and to draw the connection to parallel processes in Canada under the aegis of “authoritarian neo-liberalism.”
Ajay Bhardwaj, JNU Alumnus, PhD candidate at UBC, and filmmaker (The Punjab Trilogy).
Dionne Bunsha, Journalist, author of “Scarred: Experiments with Violence in Gujarat,” and SFU.
John Harriss is a social anthropologist and Professor of International Studies at SFU. He has lived and done research in India for long periods over the last forty years, and he is the co-author of ‘Reinventing India: Economic Liberalization, Hindu Nationalism and Popular Democracy’.
Gurpreet Singh, Journalist, author of “Fighting Hatred With Love: Voices of the Air-India Victims’ Families,” and host of Spice Radio.
Moderated by: Samir Gandesha, Director, Institute for the Humanities at SFU.
In the meantime:
From Dilip Menon:
Please send name and affiliation to email@example.com if you would like to add your name to this expression of support and call to action on the part of the VC JNU STATEMENT AGAINST VICIOUS CAMPAIGN AGAINST FEMINIST SCHOLAR
We, the undersigned, wish to express our shock and indignation at the vicious right wing media campaign has been conducted over the past few days against well-known feminist scholar and Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Nivedita Menon. This media campaign mischievously decontextualizes her lecture at the public teach-in programme in JNU with the use of selective clips and inflammatory commentary. The television channel Zee has led the main campaign by branding Professor Menon as ‘anti-national’ and instigating viewers to take action. Such branding is tantamount to a television channel acting as both judge and jury, and directly placing an individual’s rights and safety under threat. The use of television media to attack intellectuals and instigate vigilante action is a feature of authoritarian regimes worldwide. Similar tendencies are visible in recent months in India. Singling out individuals and creating a mass-frenzy against them by using the medium of TV is a dangerous trend that directly incites and encourages violence. This is a deep disregard for any process of law. We saw Zee TV do this earlier when doctored videos became the basis of arrest and harassment of JNU students. In this case, Twitter and social media campaigns have thus followed that personally attack Professor Menon, demanding the framing of sedition charges against her and wielding open threats of rape. Most disturbingly, there are media reports of police complaints filed by interested parties demanding ‘action’ against Professor Menon. Professor Menon is a renowned scholar and feminist thinker; her texts are used in university syllabi worldwide. As a prominent scholar and activist she has intervened in academic and public debates for decades. Professor Menon has also been known as an inspiring teacher for thirty years, guiding generations of students who now work in India and abroad. She has never shied away from intellectual debate in academic and public forums, passionately intervening in debates on feminism and social theory. This is the first time that her own freedom to articulate her ideas have been so viciously attacked in an orchestrated media campaign. The freedom to articulate ideas is the basis of a university. When opinions voiced in a public lecture by an academic are made part of a selective media campaign that seeks not to debate but simply to malign, both democracy and the university are under threat. What is under question are not just Professor Menon’s ideas but also the very freedom for academics and citizens. We condemn this media campaign and associated threats, urging all academics and intellectuals to stand with Professor Menon at this time. We call on the Vice Chancellor of JNU to swiftly defend Professor Menon from such attacks and protect the sanctity of university debate. The JNU administration must stand by its faculty’s right to hold individual opinions and condemn all efforts to diminish this. The university must immediately ensure that freedoms that form its very academic basis are not eroded in this moment. We call further on every censure and action against the unlawful actions of the television channels in question. Finally, we urge all well wishers of a democratic India to stand by Professor Menon for their own freedoms, and not just hers.