Mr VC, Lucknow University Withdraw Expulsion of Student Activist for Organising Talk on Women’s Freedom!

(Text of a petition against the expulsion of AISA’s UP State President Sudhanshu Bajpai from Lucknow University)

Dear Mr VC,

When the whole world is demanding the protection of freedom of expression and women’s freedom, is it not a shame that it has become a crime for a student to organize a public meeting in your University against ‘honour’ crimes and for women’s freedom?

Sudhanshu Bajpai, a bright and promising student of your University and a leading student activist of the All India Students’ Association (AISA), has been expelled by your University for organizing a talk on ‘Who is Afraid of Love’ on 15th November. Kavita Krishnan, a leading women’s rights activist and Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, was to be the main speaker at the public meeting. The meeting’s main theme was to be a discussion of how women’s freedoms to choose who they love and marry are under attack from khap panchayats and politically motivated outfits. For young people and 21st century India, can there be a more urgent and important issue, when young couples are being killed for having dared to marry in defiance of caste and creed? Yet, your University has chosen to throw out the student who organized a discussion on this subject!

It is a shame indeed that the public meeting organized by Sudhanshu did not in fact take place. It could not take place because right-wing goons of the ABVP, the student outfit of the majoritarian fascist RSS, attacked the meeting, and under pressure from them, your Proctor’s office claimed that they had not given permission for the meeting!

The facts, of course, are entirely different. On 7th November, your Proctor’s office and all other relevant authorities duly signed documents granting permission to hold the public meeting in one of the halls in the University. On 14th November, ABVP goons attacked students campaigning for the event, and they apprised the Proctor’s office of this violence. Instead of acting against perpetrators of the violence, your Proctor’s office instead claimed in writing that their ‘office had never granted permission for the meeting.’ This was false, and the students showed the documents in which the same Proctor’s office has granted permission for the meeting.

Hundreds of students of the University had gathered to listen to the speaker, even though the students were forced to hold the meeting in the open, since the University authorities had refused to hand over the keys to the hall. They were outraged at the refusal of the Deputy Proctor to allow the event to be held, while the same Deputy Proctor watched silently as the ABVP goons tore the banners of the event and claimed that for a woman’s movement activist to talk of women’s freedom to love and marry was ‘against Indian culture’ and would ‘not be allowed by them in Lucknow University.’ Students pointed out that just days before this event, some men had thrown coins at women students participating in a dance competition organized by the University itself. They asked why such insults to women were not considered an affront to the culture of the country and the University – but a women’s rights activist speaking against ‘honour’ crimes was being censored by a mob of hoodlums in tandem with University authorities?

Asked by the media about the decision to rusticate Sudhanshu, your University Proctor claimed that this was because “Despite the denial of permission, AISA went ahead with the lecture where a guest was humiliated” (http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/lucknow/for-holding-talk-on-love-jihad-lu-expels-aisa-state-chief/#sthash.8MqxXOUc.dpuf) This is strange. Sudhanshu showed respect for the guest by inviting her to address University students. Hundreds of LU students showed her respect by coming to hear her speak. The ‘humiliation’ has been at the hands of the ABVP hoodlums – and above all by your University authorities who cravenly denied her permission to address students, on the plea that a small number of violent hoodlums are ‘offended by’ women’s rights! Your University has insulted and humiliated the idea of free speech and women’s rights, by allowing the hoodlums to run the University like a khap panchayat (caste council) and act as censors for public meetings in the University.

We ask you the same question that the public meeting sought to ask – why is your University so afraid of a public discussion on the subject of women’s freedom to choose who they will love and marry, in defiance of caste and creed boundaries? India needs more young people like Sudhanshu who are willing to assert and defend these freedoms. It is a shame that his University should instead punish him by depriving him of the right to pursue his education! Holding a public talk is not an act of violence or disruption. Attacking speakers and participants is. For your University to equate both acts is deeply shameful.

We would like to remind you and the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh that the same variety of hoodlums have attacked and threatened cinema halls where the film PK was being shown. PK was the target of the ire of these fascist outfits because it too had defended the right of Indian Hindu women to love and marry Muslim and even Pakistani men. The Chief Minister had responded by standing by PK and making it tax free. Was that merely political posturing? If the CM wants to give the message that hoodlums of fascist groups will not be allowed to curb freedom of expression, he needs to ensure that a student in the State capital’s leading University is not expelled for organizing a public talk on women’s rights.

We demand that you withdraw the expulsion order against Sudhanshu Bajpai. We demand that the University take steps to ensure that the public meeting that was shamefully disrupted in November, be organized again on the premises of Lucknow University, in a hall where all students are free to come and discuss and debate without fear of violence.

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