|Basant Kumar Mohanty
New Delhi, Oct. 15: A Dalit and backward-class students’ group at IIT Madras has alleged a move to ban it for supporting a Ravanaleela event in Chennai, a year after it was derecognised temporarily for criticising the Narendra Modi government.
In a Facebook post, the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle has also alleged that the students’ legislative council – the elected students’ union -has banned pamphlet distribution by any student group.
A senior functionary of the students’ union said no such decision had been taken yet but the matter would be discussed again at the elected body’s next meeting.
Followers of Periyar, the late Tamil social reformer, organise Ravanaleelas and burn the effigies of Ram, Sita and Lakshman in protest at the burning of Ravan’s effigies in north India during Dussehra. Periyar had written a book berating the Ramayan as an insult to Dravidians.
Some Periyar followers held a Ravanaleela in Chennai on Wednesday, a day after Dussehra, following which the Ambedkar Periyar Circle circulated pamphlets on the campus endorsing the event.
According to the group’s Facebook post, a students’ legislative council meeting on Thursday discussed a proposal to ban all independent student bodies (those not mandated by the institute’s constitution) such as the Ambedkar Periyar Circle.
It said there was a further proposal to ban the distribution of pamphlets on the campus for “environmental” reasons.
At the meeting, the Facebook post says, a student asked in Hindi “how many strong Brahmins and Jains” were present. The students’ union leader did not confirm this.
“One student raised the subject of the distribution of posters without permission (from the dean or the department head),” the students’ union leader said.
“He cited the pamphlets on Ravanaleela and said the religious sentiments of many students had been hurt. But no decision was taken to ban the distribution of pamphlets or to ban any students’ group.”
The Ambedkar Periyar Circle says no such permission is necessary.
Once the students’ union takes a decision on student affairs, it goes to the board of students – a body picked by the institute’s senate, its highest academic authority, to assist it and which includes all the student union members. It then goes to the senate for final approval.
In its Facebook post, the Ambedkar Periyar Circle says: “The chest-thumping for Hindi, the monolithic Hindu narrative against Raavanaleela and the ‘who are all strong Brahmins’ question of this mob all perfectly fit into the Hindi-Hindu-Hindurashtra agenda.”
It adds: “This growing fascist tendency in the institute has not just led the situation towards a possible ban on APSC or other independent students groups but has led to a threat on APSC members and other progressive students in the campus with physical attacks or even worse.”
The group has accused the institute administration of supporting the Vivekananda Study Circle, a student group seen as pro-BJP that has been critical of the Ambedkar Periyar Circle.
Last year, the institute had derecognised the Ambedkar Periyar Circle after the Union human resource development ministry forwarded an anonymous complaint against the group’s distribution of pamphlets criticising the Prime Minister and caste discrimination.
Released in April last year, the pamphlet had accused the Modi government of “carrying forward its Hindutva agenda” while helping multinationals “loot Mother India”.
It also slammed the upper caste domination of jobs and castigated the Centre’s land acquisition policy as well as the ban on cow slaughter and the ghar wapsi programmes.
A ministry undersecretary, Prisca Mathew, then sought “comments” from the tech school on the “controversial posters” that were “creating hatred atmosphere among the students”.
IIT Madras derecognised the group in the last week of May last year. The charge was that of violating “guidelines prescribed by the board of students” that barred student bodies from using “the institute’s name or (that of) any of its official entities in any capacity to publicise their activities or garner support without official approval (the dean’s)”.
At the time, the Ambedkar Periyar Circle described itself as “an initiative of students of IIT Madras” – a tagline it has since dropped.
Days later, on June 7 last year, the institute lifted the ban saying the guidelines that had triggered the de-recognition had been publicised four days after the students had allegedly flouted them