In yet another case of crackdown on dissent in academic institutions, six students of the Mahatma Gandhi Antarastriya Hindi Viswavidyalaya (MGAHV), Wardha, Maharashtra, have reportedly been sent suspension letters for allegedly violating university orders. On October 5, students and alumni of the central university organised an event for students to write postcards to Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemning lynchings in the country. They were doing what thousands of citizens have been doing in the last week – either writing post cards to the PM or issuing statements. As many as 200 students apparently wrote letters to the PM.
The FIR alleging sedition against the 49 respected citizens who wrote a letter to the PM in July was dropped on October 9th, Wednesday. Ironically, on Thursday, October 10th, six of the students were suspended. The students have been punished for ‘violation of model code of conduct’ and ‘interference to administrative process’.
"Whatever is happening in our country is not right. People in Kashmir are suffering. Little children are getting raped and innocents are getting lynched. We had to raise our voice against this," one of the students is reported to have said.
The suspension letters to the students come close on the heels of thousands of cultural community members, writers, artists and activists writing an open letter to the PM in solidarity with 49 celebrities who faced sedition charges for raising similar issues in a letter to the PM. In a victory for the solidarity campaign, the Bihar police on Wednesday decided to withdraw the charges against these 49 eminent persons, such as film directors Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Mani Ratnam, Aparna Sen, actor Soumitra Chatterjee, Kaushik Sen, author Ramchandra Guha among others.
“According to the administration of MGAHV, speaking for the rights of country’s people is a violation of their orders,” said AISA.
Demanding that the suspension letters to the students be withdrawn immediately, AISA said “the BJP Government in the Centre does not want the people of the country to know about the dangerous design of their rule. The issues that have been pointed out in the open letters to PM are burning questions of the country right now.”
Stating the students of MGAHV, Wardha were merely expressing solidarity with those who were raising there voices to save democracy, AISA termed the university administration’s action as “vindictive”, adding that it was trying to curtail the freedom of expression of students.
Two writers spoke to the Indian Cultural Forum about their response:
"As an academic and a writer, I am shocked by the news of students from Wardha University being punished for their free and natural expression of dissent. That students from a university in a place associated with Gandhi – that too in this 150th year of his birth-should be penalised for an action Gandhi himself would have certainly admired is an irony one can hardly miss. One cannot but construe this as an extension of what has been happening in other universities in India like JNU, DU and HCU. Meddling with the students' freedom of expression sets a dangerous precedent", said K. Satchidanandan.
Githa Hariharan added, "All of us in the cultural community express solidarity with these students who could teach those who attack freedom of speech an important lesson about a model code of conduct for citizens: at the heart of a democratic code of conduct, a democratic “process” is the right to question; the right to free speech."
In response to the FIRs registered against the 49 celebrities the Students' Federation of India (SFI)'s unit in Delhi University had also organised a protest demonstration in front of the Arts Faculty on Saturday, October 5th. At the protest, students sent post cards addressed to PM Modi condemning the act as a gross violation of constitutionally granted human rights. Up to 1.5 lakh postcards were sent by SFI-DYFI activists across the country including from Kerala.