Seventeen students of Himachal Pradesh University (HPU) were injured in a clash between members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) near the university campus on Sunday, March 24.
The clash erupted over sharing of a ground in Potter’s Hill where RSS activists converge for ''shakha'' and SFI members and other students play cricket at around 6 am.
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Jeewan Thakur, unit secretary of SFI in HPU, told NewsClick, “We have been going to that playground since a long time for morning runs and to play cricket. Yesterday, around 6 am we were attacked by people from RSS and ABVP who came in six cars with sticks, (iron) rods and sickels. They came and asked us to empty the playground because they wanted the RSS shakha to take place there. There was no resistance as such but we just suggested that they could use the other half of the ground and we could continue playing on one half. This is when they attacked us.”
He further told NewsClick that the district RSS chief who is nearly 65 years old was one of the men who attacked the students. Nine out of 17 students have suffered severe injuries on their heads.
Following this incident, nearly 200 students from ABVP gathered at the campus, destroyed SFI banners and stripped off all the posters and raised slogans like “jab communist kaatein jaaenge to ram ram chillaenge” (When communists will be cut, they’ll shout Ram Ram). Both the groups have filed FIRs and nearly nine students from SFI, including the SFI state General Secretary Vikram Kaith, have been arrested. No arrests have been made against the RSS yet. Both groups have accused each other of initiating the clash in their complaints to police.
Students claim that ever since the SFI protested against the backdoor entry of people from RSS into the outsourced departments with the help of Education Minister Suresh Bharadwaj, the RSS has continuously tried to hamper peace and show dominance in the area.
The press release by SFI stated, “The intention behind this attack was clear. SFI had opposed the illegal appointments being made at the behest of Education Minister Suresh Bhardwaj, University authority, Jai Ram Government and ABVP. To prevent this from coming to the students and the public, therefore, on the morning of March 24, students were attacked in a highly organised manner. It was done so that no student raises their voice against them and public attention is shifted.”
Along with the university hostels, the RSS and ABVP have created an atmosphere of stress and fear with heavy police force deployed throughout the campus. The press release further stated, “This did not end here. After this, around 4 PM , after the arrested SFI students were released from police custody, Yograj Dogra of ABVP, Vishal Verma, Naveen Suryavanshi, Manmohan and others have again assaulted our comrades with sharp weapons, in which about six of them have suffered serious injuries. However, instead of arresting them, our police administration and our government is standing with them and trying to shelter them. SFI. demands the police to arrest the RSS and ABVP goons immediately so that students studying in the university can continue their studies in a safe environment.”
Shimla Deputy Superintendent of Police Pramod Shukla confirmed to the local media that SFI activists were again attacked by members of ABVP on Monday afternoon. “Today (Monday) afternoon, ABVP members beat up SFI members at the Boileauganj Chowk. SFI members claimed that they were beaten up with lathis. Four SFI members who were injured have been taken to the hospital for a medical check-up,” he said while addressing the media.
Sporadic clashes have been known to erupt between student organisations – SFI, National Students’ Union of India and ABVP. Many students and people believe that the reason behind these clashes is the frustration and anger of successive governments of the Congress and the BJP and their students’ wings as they have been unable to defeat the SFI-led Students’ Central Association (SCA) from 1979, when the elections were first contested.
Ever since then, students believe most cases of violence have been sponsored by political parties like the Congress and the BJP through their goons to attack leaders of the SFI, and on occasions, to attack general students to break their unity and create an environment of fear, so that students can be stopped from joining the SFI.
According to Dr. Vikram Singh, most of the time, the police does not act according to the law and instead of taking action against culprits they arrest leaders of the SFI. There are many incidents when the ABVP or NSUI goons had attacked SFI leaders and police arrested the victims.
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One such incident happened in Sanjauli college, when Congress goons attacked SFI leaders who were agitating against authorities. In this attack, the then state secretary of SFI Dr Onkar Shad was severely injured. A similar case repeated in October 2013 when ABVP leaders attacked SFI leaders with sharp edged weapons when they were coming to campus. The members of ABVP carried out violence in the campus for hours, with the police not taking any action. Only after a persistent students’ struggle, were the culprits arrested and even then they got bail after nine months.
Interestingly, Chief Minister Jairam Thakur has opened the pandora’s box again by terming the clashes as “unfortunate”. Even though he has assured that his government will not let Himachal- known to be the Land Of Gods (Devbhoomi), turn into West Bengal, this reference to Bengal again hinted towards a potential bias in the inquiry.
The state Communist Party of India (Marxist) organised a protest demonstration outside DC office in Shimla on Monday to condemn the violence against SFI students in the university. They believe that the clashes that erupted were completely sponsored by the state government and is part of an attempt to saffronise the University. CPI(M) state Secretary Dr. Onkar Shad while condemning the CM over his statement, has urged the government to conduct a free and fair inquiry into the matter as well as help in maintaining peace on the campus.