Following a huge protest, at Lucknow University, over 500 activists and intellectuals demanded the withdrawal of an FIR against and protection for Professor Ravi Kant on May 11, 2022. The Dalit scholar faced severe flak from the right-wing extremists for his comments on the Kashi Vishwanath temple – Gyanvapi mosque dispute.
On May 10, Hindi Associate Professor Kant suffered public heckling and intimidation on university premises. The mob of university students and several Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) members, demanded his arrest and resignation.
The mob raised slogans against his “derogatory remarks” that allegedly hurt Hindu sentiments. As repeatedly explained, Kant had cited a story from the book ‘Feathers and Stones’ by freedom fighter Pattabhi Sitaramayya during a discussion on Satya Hindi online channel. He had emphasised that this narrative could only be called a ‘story’. Its author did not cite any source in support.
Still protesters surrounded Kant on Tuesday, until he was forced to take shelter in the Proctor’s office for several hours. When he finally returned home, the Hasan Ganj police lodged an FIR against him at the behest of ABVP member Aman Dubey. The charges include promoting enmity among two religious groups, intentional insult to breach peace and statements conducive to public mischief committed in a place of worship.
Concerned with these increasing attacks on academics, activists and intellectuals signed a joint statement condemning the attack. Signatories including RTI activist Aruna Roy, scholars and writers Prof. Ram Guha, Prof. Apoorvanand, Author Dilip Menon viewed this as an attack on the basic fundamentals to academic freedom like critical thinking, questioning, counter views to mainstream narratives. Some other signatories are scholars Sukanta Chaudhuri, Dr. Nandita Narain, A.R. Vasavi, Aditya Nigam, theatre personality Maya Krishna Rao, renowned human rights activists Fr Cedric Prakash, V. Suresh, Shabnam Hashmi, Aakar Patel and others.
“We are appalled that anyone would have to face such intimidation and abuse over remarks made on social media. We are even more concerned that such an incident should occur within the confines [of] a university campus, where free speech and expression without fear must ideally be the norm. Violence and intimidation over differences of opinion should never occur in a university,” said the statement.
Members decried the manipulation of Kant’s statements even after he clarified the matter and offered a proper context to the comments. His comments expressing fears for his life while surrounded by the mob were used against him, endangering him and kin alike. Even Kant’s expression of regret, in case of hurting sentiments, did not stop the protesters.
As such, the collective demanded that the perpetrators of the Tuesday attack be brought to book. In their statement they said, this act “would send out a clear message to those seeking to silence free speech and support those who work and live at universities, seeking knowledge.” Further, they asked the university authorities and the Uttar Pradesh government to provide protection to the family.