Several academics have strongly condemned the “death threats” and abuses against Ravi Kant Chandan, a well-known dalit intellectual and associate professor of Hindi at the Lucknow University, for commenting on the ongoing dispute over Gyanvapi mosque-Kashi Vishwanath temple in Banaras.
Members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) threatened and heckled Chandan on the campus for his comments, made during an online debate hosted by Hindi news platform Satya Hindi, The Wire reported.
Quoting a story from the book Feathers and Stones, written by late independence activist Pattabhi Sitaramayya during his imprisonment at Ahmednagar, Chandan had said during the debate that Mughal emperor Aurangzeb was allegedly enraged when he heard a queen in his entourage passing through Varanasi had been raped within the temple and ordered its destruction.
Though Chandan added that he could not independently corroborate the incident mentioned by Sitaramayya, an edited clip of this debate, without showing this statement, went viral on social media. Soon, several Hindu outfits alleged that he had disrespected Hindu deities and ABVP members stormed the campus, shouted inflammatory slogans and threatened him.
Condemning the incident, the academics said that Chandan had only narrated a story from the book. “Ravi Kant said that he is calling it a story because Pattabhi Sitaramayya had not quoted a source.”
The ABVP members had “surrounded the department of Hindi while Ravi Kant has had to take shelter in the office of the proctor of the university,” the academics and writers said and demanded that the culprits are brought to book immediately and protection provided to the professor and his family.
Demanding the restoration of the atmosphere of debate and dissent, which is so crucial for an institute of learning and essential for a democratic society, the academics said that the “aggressive display of the ABVP is yet another example of the intolerance, majoritarian sectarianism and violence, which are increasingly becoming the norm all over the country, especially in BJP-ruled states”.
In a video statement, Chandan said that his voice is being suppressed because he is a dalit. “I made a statement quoting a story from a book about how the mosque came to be constructed in Varanasi. That statement and the reference to the book were edited out and a clip was shared suggesting I was hurting Hindu sentiments. I had no such intention. I was merely referring to a story, not even a factual account,” he said.
Chandan said that ABVP members entered the campus and “raised objectionable slogans”. “With the help of the police, I spoke to the students and asked them to watch the whole clip and expressed regret if anyone’s sentiments were hurt. I did post the incident on Facebook. I am a dalit and follow the values of Baba Saheb’s Constitution and I feel my voice is being suppressed because I belong to this community,” he added.
While Chandan was being threatened and heckled, a video shared on social media purportedly showed the mob chanting: “Desh ke gaddaron ko… Goli maaro s***** ko (Shoot the traitors)”. The slogan was popularised by Union minister Anurag Thakur ahead of the 2020 Delhi riots.
An ABVP leader filmed during the protest said, “Chandan has a communist mindset. He used his post to comment on Hindu traditions. He commented on the Kashi Vishwanath temple yesterday. What is this mentality that tries to divide society?” NDTV reported. Another ABVP leader Pranav Kant Singh demanded Chandan’s sacking. “Such a person spreads poison in society and we will certainly not allow that,” he said.
Instead of taking action against the mob, the police lodged a first information report (FIR) against Chandan based on the complaint of a student Aman Dubey for allegedly hurting the sentiments of Hindu students on the campus, according to The Wire.
Chandan was charged under Sections 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, etc.), 504 (intentional insult with the intent to prove a breach of peace), 505(2) (statements conducive to public mischief committed in a place of worship) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 66 of the IT Act.
Sandeep Singh, an Ambedkar activist, alleged that it is a political conspiracy against Chandan. “An FIR has been registered against professor Ravi Kant of Lucknow University. Ravi Kant Ji continues to raise the voice of Dalits,” he told The Wire. “They are scared of educated people who are becoming vocal. The first target is Muslims and the second is dalits. Narendra Modi is scared; he does not want the dalits to raise their voice.”