Vox: Don’t Communalise the Peaceful Gathering at IIT Kanpur | December 21, 2019

Vox Populi means voice of the people. On December 21, 2019, this article was shared by the campus newspaper of IIT Kanpur. Reproduced here without permission, this article shall hopefully persist until the original is restored.

Vox Populi strongly condemns the blatant communalisation and misinformation being circulated in digital media around the peaceful march on 17th December at the IIT Kanpur campus. This is an attempt to put forth the events of the day and factually counter any misrepresentation of the facts.

Here is what happened: On Saturday, Swarajya published an article reporting a complaint filed by a faculty at IIT Kanpur to the Institute’s director “objecting to purported anti-India and communal statements made in a recent ‘solidarity with Jamia students’ event held in the campus.”

The evidence? A video was shared with Swarajya where a student is seen reciting the poem “Hum Dekhenge” by Pakistani Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The headline of the Swarajya article, and the bone of contention in this controversy, is literal—but misleading— translation by the complainants of two lines of the poem, which read: “When All Idols Will Be Removed…Only Allah’s Name Will Remain”

This is proof, according to the complainant, that “gathering was orchestrated by certain nefarious elements and aimed at radicalizing innocent students, spreading hate against India, the faith of billions, and communally vitiating the atmosphere of the institute,” as quoted in the Swarajya article. “The lines are an integral part of anti-India militancy in Kashmir and used by terrorists and protestors.”

Nothing can be farther from the truth.

This is exactly how propaganda is manufactured to create ruckus in an otherwise peaceful community: lines were taken out of context, the events of the march were grossly misrepresented, the publication did not contact the students to cross-check the claims made by Sharma, and half-truths are being circulated to drive an agenda.

To grasp the full picture, two things need to be understood. First, the backstory of the march and its purpose. Second, the meaning and context in which Faiz’s poem is recited. Here are the facts.

The events of 17th December

Note a few things first:

  • Did students of IIT Kanpur march against the Citizenship Amendment Act? No.

  • What did they stand against? In solidarity with students of Jamia Milia Islamia University, Delhi University, Aligarh Muslim University, and other universities across India in light of extreme and continued brutality against students.

  • Who organized the march? Our friends, folks with whom we attend lectures, eat food and compete in Gymkhana events. Not some fictitious “nefarious elements and aimed at radicalizing innocent students” as complainants would like the world to believe.

How the march was planned and conducted

On 16th December, one day before the planned event, students briefed the Dean of Student Affairs (DoSA) about the logistics and purpose of the planned march. The dean agreed. He promised the support of the security section for the march—as is usually the case.

On 17th December—the day of the march—the DoSA called student representatives to office. Section 144 has been imposed, the students were told, meaning public gatherings were not allowed. Deans had received an of􀁽ce order from the Directorate to not grant any permission for such an activity. DoSA advised the students to shift the gathering to a closed door arena.

The organizers were in a fix. Students were asked to gather at the Open Air Theatre (OAT). It would be difficult to inform every participant about the new location. Let the students assemble at the OAT, the organizers decided, and they will float the proposal of the dean.

At 2 pm, the crowd assembled. Organizers asked the students to shift to Yoga Room in the New Student Activity Centre (SAC). The crowd rejected. They wanted to go ahead with the march, as was planned. The dean later arrived on the spot, but the gathered students were undeterred. More people from the administration joined, including the Deputy Director and Dean of Academic Affairs.

The SSP office had asked the administration to stop any such gatherings, students were told. Students, as they should have, demanded a written office order. Administration agreed. The order was read out. But alas, the order was three weeks old, dated 25th November. It had no significance.

While these deliberations with the administration were ongoing, which students believed were nothing but hurdles to exercise their right to peacefully march, a UG student—again, our friend, no nefarious outsider—decided to read out a couple of nazms to keep up with the aura of such a gathering to engage the crowd.

Anybody who has attended any such gathering—where people challenge authorities—knows this is the norm. People shout slogans. They sing songs. They celebrate great poetry.

The UG student did nothing different. And that’s when Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s Hum Dekhenge was read out in the gathering.

This poem has been recited across multiple marches across multiple universities in India before. It is a popular poem written by Faiz against the authoritarian Pakistan Government. It is not a poem promoted by Islamists. It is a classic poem of dissent against authoritarian governments. Faiz’s poem is used in a particular context and should be interpreted accordingly.

“Faiz was a proclaimed atheist,” one alumni pointed out, and the poem talks about shattering all religious symbols like idols and rituals, and “to believe in only truth, which is a god. Here Allah means only god. Not a muslim god, but accidentally god of a muslim poet.”

That’s it. There is nothing to create a controversy about.

Still, we understand that some may interpret the poem differently, and they have all the right to. IIT Kanpur has always appreciated diversity of views and opinion.

But that doesn’t mean one should draw inferences about the group’s motivations and label it Islamic propaganda, and give it a communal angle. But alas, that is exactly what was done.

While the students were reciting the verse, four people—including the complainant—created a ruckus: they would not tolerate this, Sharma and others shouted, and the students could not complete the poem.

The group had come to the gathering right in the beginning. They did not want the march to be held in the first place, as they did not agree with the students at the OAT.

By then, the administration failed to provide official documents to convince the students that the march was not permitted. There was nothing illegal about the plan.

The crowd understood it and went ahead. Two lines were formed, and the march began. The whole process was peaceful. The route was decided. The campus security, SIS, accompanied the students as they walked across the campus.

The organizers were clear about the motive: it was not to support or oppose the citizenship act. “The campus is yet to be completely educated on the matter before coming out and taking a stand like this,” one organizer told Vox Populi, and so, the march was “only to stand in solidarity with the university students who faced brutality, were deprived of their constitutional rights to protest and had suffered.”

That’s what happened.

It is outrageous this incident has been given a communal tint. The students were referred to as “a pro-Pak hate mob of hundreds”. Such narratives are common in contemporary Indian politics.

Who is pro X and anti Y—you can’t know. There is not enough information. But this is our campus. We are a small community of around 7,500 people. We know these folks. And there are no shades of grey here, it’s black and white: these are students who gathered to show solidarity with fellow students in another central university. Period.

A handful of fringe elements in the campus community, for their own end goals, have deliberately spread misinformation about the events of 17th December in an attempt to malign the student body and delegitimize a march in which hundreds of students—across communities—participated. Everything else is noise.

Vox Populi stands against any attempts by a few individuals to create needless controversy—whatever be their aim—over a gathering of peaceful students.

Author: Ayush

I love writing, and this blog serves as a slow growing collection of all my writing endeavours.

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