On February 6, Pinjra Tod – a woman-led collective against discriminatory hostel rules – organised an open-air screening of Nisha Pahuja’s documentary, The World Before Her, outside Delhi University’s Faculty of Arts. As the organisers were busy making posters and setting up the projector, the police kept an eye on them from across the road – intermittently glancing at the slogans written on the posters and strolling around the area. Nevertheless, the screening as well as the discussion after the movie went off uninterrupted.
— Pinjra Tod (@PinjraTod) February 6, 2019
However, that’s not the case all the time. A few weeks ago, on the eve of Republic Day, Delhi police asked Pinjra Tod members to shut down their screening of Anand Patwardhan’s film Father, Son and Holy War after receiving complaints about the content being “deshdrohi” (anti-national), the Indian Express reported. Although the members had taken permission in advance, they alleged that the police cut off electricity supply and shut down nearby shops when they were half-way through the screening.
Police has come and shut down the screening of 'Father Son and Holy War'. They have shut down all the shops in the market to cut off the electricity. We are resuming the screening on laptop.@sardesairajdeep @ravishndtv pic.twitter.com/dUtlSJADI3
— Pinjra Tod (@PinjraTod) January 25, 2019
The police also initially denied permission to the organisers of the Young India Adhikar March – a student-led protest against the Modi government’s education and employment policies – to march from the Red Fort to Parliament Street.
Besides forcefully shutting down film screenings and denying permission to hold protests, the state – with the help of university administrations – is turning academic institutions into war-like zones by deploying police forces on campuses, installing army tanks on college premises and telling colleges to celebrate Surgical Strike Day and so on. All in the name of instilling patriotism among students.
Police forces in universities
In July 2017, Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) vice-chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar requested Union ministers Dharmendra Pradhan and V.K. Singh to install a military tank inside campus to inculcate love for the military in JNU students. The Times of India quoted the head of Veterans India B.K. Mishra, who commended the step, as saying, “We will create a situation where people will love the nation. And if they don’t, we will force them to love it.” Along the same line, the University Grants Commission, on September 19, 2018, sent a letter to university vice-chancellors across the country to observe September 29 as surgical strike day. The letter directed the vice chancellors to organise a special parade on the day, invite ex-servicemen to sensitise students about the sacrifices the armed forces make and encourage students to write letters and cards for army men.
Last year, JNU spent a whopping Rs17.38 crore on security and only about a fourth as much on its libraries – Rs 4.18 crore. The student union said the the budget for security includes spending on guards, CCTV cameras, video-recording of protests and the like. Speaking at the Young India Adhikar March’s press meet, JNU professor Nivedita Menon said, “The government has militarised educational institutions by investing more in security and less on academics. If you go to JNU or Hyderabad University, you feel like you’ve entered a war zone. They think patriotism is equal to militarisation.”
Apart from JNU, the University of Hyderabad also saw increased armed state presence when students held protests against the vice chancellor Appa Rao Podile after Dalit rights activist and PhD scholar Rohith Vemula committed suicide in 2016. The alumni wrote an open letter describing how the police brutally assaulted students with lathis and barricaded the campus. Three years later, the university is still under police surveillance.
Recently, on Vemula’s third death anniversary, over 50 security personnel were deployed at various entry points of the university leading to mild unrest in the university campus, the Times of India reported.
Wall of heroes in schools
Lately, the government has started promoting a monolithic idea of patriotism in schools as well. In July 2018, union HRD minister Prakash Javadekar directed 1,000 schools and colleges across the country to hang portraits of Param Veer Chakra awardees on a separate wall called ‘Wall of heroes’, the Economic Times reported. The initiative was part of the Centre’s Vidya Veerta Abhiyan and was conceived by BJP leader Tarun Vijay, who called “it a humble attempt to inculcate patriotism among students,” the paper quoted.
As per the initiative, the institutions will set up walls measuring 15×20 feet with portraits of 21 soldiers as well as the Param Veer Chakra, the highest war-time gallantry award.
While army men deserve all our respect for their contribution to national security, this forced mixing of academia and armour will only ossify our collective idea of patriotism.
Dissent – especially when it comes from young Indians who want the best for themselves and the country – is not separate from patriotism and cannot be replaced with a singular idea of nationalism.