Statement of Solidarity with Student Protests in India from the academic community of the University of Chicago

Posted by sepoy on February 15, 2016 · 8 mins read

We, the undersigned, strongly condemn the arbitrary, unconstitutional, and anti-democratic actions of the BJP/RSS/ABVP/Delhi Police continuum at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus. We demand an immediate end to all police action on campus, a withdrawal of all frivolous charges against the President of JNU Students' Union, Kanhaiya Kumar, and other students, as well as an end to the campaign of harassment and intimidation against students at the university.

We believe that these actions by the Indian state and its associated groups and institutions are part of a larger campaign to stifle dissenting voices in the country, especially on university campuses which have persistently resisted the capitalist, Brahmanical hegemony of the current government. This was clearly evident in the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit PhD student at Hyderabad Central University (HCU) last month. The similarity of the modus operandi in Hyderabad and Delhi is striking: Rohith and his comrades had been accused of 'anti-national' activities for their condemnation of the hanging of Yakub Memon, and suspended from their academic positions on these undemocratic grounds. Similar charges have been framed against the students of JNU for organizing an event in solidarity with the struggle of Kashmiri people for their right to self-determination. To make matters murkier, it is now certain that at the event, which also marked the third anniversary of the execution of Afzal Guru, the ABVP was involved in raising the controversial slogans that are being cited to justify the sedition charge. We are of the firm opinion that protesting against state violence is a fundamental right that must not become vulnerable to arbitrary violation by governments, police and university administrations.

We believe that the colonial-era laws of sedition -- already diluted and read down by the Supreme Court -- are an embarrassment to India's democratic principles. The criminalization of dissent in this case reveals how India's current political leadership has been unable to respect diversity and guarantee the full legal rights of its people. Its political program imagines the citizen as upper caste, heterosexual, male, Hindu; its economic program necessitates a blind faith in neoliberalism; and its social program continually imagines an enemy - the Muslim, the Dalit, the Left. It is not surprising that a government so debilitated and blinkered by its ideological narrowness has invoked the charge of sedition and sent police forces into the JNU campus, an action reminiscent of the worst years of Emergency.

We are also distressed by views expressed in certain sections of the Indian media regarding the legitimacy of political activism in public universities. This argument claims that since central and state governments subsidize education in public institutions, it is the responsibility of beneficiaries to refrain from critiquing state policies and to solely prioritize their studies. We firmly reject this cost-benefit understanding of education as shallow, apolitical, and deeply reactionary. As the saying goes, 'education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire'. The current administration and sections of the media would prefer students to remain uncritical of the violence of Brahmanism, communalism, and neoliberal capitalism. But the Rohiths of the world will keep lighting a fire and keep burning down bigotry. We believe that both public education and free speech are fundamental rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution, rights that have been earned through long struggle and rights that we will keep fighting for in India and elsewhere as we face systematic neoliberal onslaughts on dissent and education.

To our friends, colleagues and comrades in JNU, HCU, FTII and elsewhere, we stand with you in your resistance against state sponsored violence, which curbs any form of dissent on the one hand, and on the other, condones hate speech by Hindu nationalists. We believe that scholarship and the concomitant development of our critical faculties should be used in dreaming of and implementing a better, pluralistic and just society.

Sayantan Saha Roy, PhD student, Anthropology
Ahona Panda, PhD student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Harini Kumar, PhD student, Anthropology
Tanima, PhD student, Anthropology
Sneha Annavarapu, PhD student, Sociology
Abhishek Bhattacharyya, Phd Student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations and Anthropology
Tejas Parasher, PhD student, Political Science
Jenisha Borah, PhD student, Cinema and Media Studies.
Suchismita Das, PhD student, Anthropology
Vidura Jang Bahadur, MFA student, Visual Art
Mannat Johal, PhD student, Anthropology
Shefali Jha, PhD student, Anthropology
Sanjukta Poddar, PhD student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Aditi Das, PhD student, Social Service Administration
Joya John, PhD student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Marc Kelly, PhD student, Anthropology
Eleonore Rimbault, PhD student, Anthropology
Eric Powell, PhD student, English
Patrick Lewis, PhD student, Anthropology
Romit Chakraborty, PhD student, Chemistry
Gautham Reddy, PhD student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Amanda Shubert, PhD student, English
Peter McDonald, PhD student, English
Hannah Chazin, PhD student, Anthropology
Jahnabi Barooah, PhD student, Divinity
Margherita Trento, PhD student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Peter Malonis, PhD student, Neuroscience
Zoya Sameen, PhD student, History
Sharvari Sastry, PhD student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Andrew Messamore, MA student, Social Sciences Division
Thomas Newbold, PhD student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Eduardo L. Acosta, PhD student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Uday Jain, PhD student, Committee on Social Thought
Pallavi Sirjoosingh, Postdoc, Molecular genomics and Cell biology
Sameena Azhar, PhD student, Social Service Administration
Eric Gurevitch, PhD student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Ali Abdelkader, PhD student, Anthropology
Lauren Sutherland, PhD student, Anthropology
Alejandra Azuero, PhD student, Anthropology
Claire Roosien, PhD student, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
Trish Kahle, PhD student, History
Matthew Borus, PhD student, Social Service Administration
Patrick Morrissey, PhD student, English
Kristen Simmons, PhD student, Anthropology
Agnes Mondragón Celis Ochoa, PhD student, Anthropology
Steven Schwartz, PhD student, Anthropology
Jonah Simpson, PhD student, Anthropology
Jazmine Salas, MA student, Social Service Administration
Sarath Pillai, PhD student, History
Talia Ariav, PhD student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Owen Nathaniel Kohl, PhD student, Anthropology
Zain Jamshaid, PhD student, Cinema and Media Studies
Saul Thomas, PhD student, History and Anthropology
Myungji Lee, PhD student, Anthropology
Angad Singh, Undergraduate student, History
Andrew Yale, Lecturer, Humanities
Hasan Siddiqui, PhD student, History
Alex Shams, PhD student, Anthropology
Michaela Appeltova, PhD student, History
Pranathi Diwakar, PhD student, Sociology
William Mazzarella, Professor, Anthropology
Kieran Kelley, PhD student, Anthropology
Tyler W Williams, Assistant Professor, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Kyle J. Trembley MA Candidate, Divinity School
Drew Kerr, MA Candidate, Divinity School
Srikanth Reddy, Associate Professor, English.
Kaushik Sunder Rajan, Associate Professor, Anthropology
Zoe Woodbury High, MA Candidate, Divinity School
Ashish Rajadhyaksha, Visiting Faculty, Cinema and Media Studies
Payal Kumar, Undergraduate student, Neurobiology and Philosophy
Ryan D. Heath. PhD student, Social Service Administration
Katherine Gibson, PhD student, Social Service Administration
Sabrina Datoo, PhD student, PhD student, History
Mandeep Kumar, MLA student, Liberal Arts
Shiva Chidambaram, PhD student, Mathematics


Roma Dey | February 15, 2016

Thanks for the support! Sharing it...

Kalpna | February 15, 2016

I'm all for freedom of speech and against any autocracy, as I have been a proud citizen of two free nations. I'm also NOT a member of any Political Party, Sangh, Parivar or Radical group in India or America and have many Hindu and Muslim friends worldwide; but, after being a college and university student in both India and the US, I wonder, whether these students at the university of Chicago can issue the same Statement of Solidarity in America and get away with that, if such things happen at a university campus in the US, under the same circumstances, (for an example in case of Osama Bin-Laden; from his hunt to capture and burial in the sea? And if so, how the people of the United Sates and government would have reacted to it? Would they have ignored the meetings of these students at their campus, after they had chanted "Death to America" "From Every Home a Osama Would be Born", and "We will fight till the end to Destroy America to realize Osama's Dreams? Are we then going to call America a Fascist nation? Being progressive is not a fashion, but it is a very important thing that must bear some responsibilities. Anti India slogans at JNU was disturbing and students seem to have crossed all the lines. These, students certainly owe an explanation not only to the political pundits, but to everyone who loves India. I will doubt the intentions of those who do not love their own country, but claim to be the harbinger of freedom for the rest of the world!

Shehla JNUSU | February 15, 2016

Thank you for the solidarity. Shehla (JNU Students' Union)

Rohan Sablay | February 16, 2016

Its time it ends !

Sruti Bala | February 16, 2016

Could you please put me in contact with the people who wrote the statement, we would like to use some of the text for a similar statement from the Netherlands. Thanks, SB

Shefali | February 16, 2016

As a signatory to the statement and an Indian citizen, I would first of all point out that you seem to have ignored several facts from the students' side. Since there is plenty of discussion of this on the internet and I have no doubt you will find it if you look, I will not get into it here. But I will say this: you may be disturbed by the slogans, as many of the students at that meeting were, or you may treat them as an invitation to think about things like, why are they so disturbing to us? That is certainly what I would hope universities enable students to do. Whether it happens in the US or not is neither here nor there; there isn't an American handbook of 'best practices' that we are out to sell in the statement. What do you love when you love your country? that is the question our friends from JNU are being reviled for raising. Do you love a person/leader, a symbol (flag; song; animal), a community, pieces of land? What does it mean to love these things and, at the very same time, hate/abuse/attack one's fellow citizens? I would think people like Kanhaiya are actually schooling us in asking these questions, asking where 'all the lines' they are supposed to have 'crossed' are, who drew them and what they say about us. That's what a university education is about- so it is 'everyone who loves India' that owes THEM an explanation, because they're doing what students ought to do and being punished for it.

Susanta Chakraborty | February 18, 2016

i strongly condenm the arbitrary,unconstructional and anti democratic action at the JNU.

Abhishek Rautela | February 18, 2016

Dear Team Chapati Mystery, This is in response to your “Statement of Solidarity with Student Protests in India, from students of the University of Chicago”. When you “strongly condemned the arbitrary, unconstitutional, and anti-democratic actions of the BJP/RSS/ABVP/Delhi Police continuum at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus” you forgot to mention another Party which is stunned to witness such a demonstration. “The party” is the common Indian citizen that is left stunned hearing Anti-India slogans praising and sympathising a terrorist, Afzal Guru, who confessed his interview to a private news agency. The slogans also were directed towards freedom of Kashmir from Indian occupancy and we also learnt that Kerela and West Bangal is also under “Indian occupancy” now and demands its freedom. Let me start by I assuring you that I have no formal affiliation with any of the above mentioned agencies and by appreciating your concern in the matter of India, Indian politics, social/political reforms etc. First of all I failed to understand your right to “demand” in the context. By practicing what right are you in a position to “demand” here? A Request? Yes, that you may by all means. By the way, who was this letter of solidarity was addressed to? The ruling Government or any official? Well then you need to be made aware of a certain protocol that needs to be followed when you address any government of any country with certain salutations. Would you write the same way to the Dean of your University? So in the name of basic courtesy and courtesy and etiquette kindly do use appropriate salutations. And in absence of a proper address, your letter is vague as your knowledge of the stated event and the events that has led to it. In your letter you said that “the ABVP was involved in raising the controversial slogans that are being cited to justify the sedition charge”? If you go through the video in the link below and you will know when ABVP enter the demonstration and what their slogans were all about. The evidence is right before you're here. T hat being said, when you claimed that the “Indian political program imagines the citizen as upper caste, heterosexual, male, Hindu; and is against the Muslim, the Dalit, the Left.” You, I believe will be please to know that our Prime Minister belongs to OBC caste and not even a week ago the same brigade of students protested in front of RSS' head office in Delhi and called our Prime Minister a “Bhaduwa — A pimp”, “Dalla — A pimp”, “Bhangi — a Dalit”, “Bhangi ki aulaad — Son of a dalit” and a lot more. If you talk about “tolerance”, no sedation charges were imposed upon the students then and no common public even took the matter in their own hands. The authority dispersed the crowd with a light lathi charge. And for your information, addressing someone as “a bhangi” is a non bailable offence in India as per the Indian Penal Code. We TOLERATED that, everybody did. I apologize the use of the above words, they certainly oppose my sensitivity but I had to bring the matter to your attention. Anyway, when all that failed to provoke the Government, and Authority, the JNU students along with other Afzal Guru sympathisers decided to take it a notch further and shout Anti-India and Pro-Pakistan slogans. THIS, chapatti mystery team, is beyond my sensitivity and sensibility. WE AND MY FELLOW INDIANS WILL NOT TOLERATE THIS. And most importantly Why did these guys resort to such extreme protest, I think we both know the agenda and the propaganda behind it. Don't we? If you have problem with the Government, delhi police, RSS or ABVP by all means you have the right to protest but DO NOT shout Anti-India slogans on my land. Anti-India slogans in any definition of patriotism will not make them a patriot in our eyes. Yes, we do have rights in our country and we also have set of duties towards our country and please don't forget that. And don't be afraid, the government and the agencies do not have the last word in this country. We have something called law and courts. If the crime of sedation has not been committed / proved then they will be released. We don't hang, behead or even amputate people here just on the basis of some complaint or suspicion. : ) P.S.: If you were protesting against capital punishment in the country, you could have used other examples instead of Afzal Guru. There were quite a few rapists who were given capital punishment for their heinous crimes.

Chiramel | February 19, 2016

Hi Shehla and others at JNUSU: Greatly appreciate all of your courage and determination against the malign state power being directed against you. Many of us, sitting in faraway lands, are watching you closely and wishing you the very best. I am sure you know that Kanhaiya, you and many others are fighting the good fight, on behalf of a large number of people. Also, if there are more tangible ways people can support you, please let that be known. Best wishes.

Luk Sips , performance artist | February 24, 2016

Love and Peace. and all possible mental support for all sisters and brothers over there, from Belgium. Another World is possible... We are One!