An assistant professor at a Goa law college is the latest target of the right wing onslaught on free speech. Shipla Singh, has been named in a first information report (FIR) filed by one Rajiv Jha, who is affiliated with the Goa unit of a group named Rashtriya Hindu Yuva Vahini. The Indian Express reported that an FIR was registered on Monday, November 9, accusing Shilpa Singh of allegedly outraging religious beliefs with deliberate and malicious intention.

In his complaint, Jha referred to a Facebook post by Singh, who teaches Political Science at Panaji’s VM Salgaocar College of Law, on April 21 in which she had challenged the patriarchy and dogma by comparing ‘mangalsutra’ to a “chained dog”.

Singh has also approached the police for purportedly abusive and threatening messages she is receiving after “Jha’s [social media] abusive post on October 30”.

The development comes days after the college sent a written response to a complaint against Singh by ABVP, the students’ outfit of RSS, stating that it does not have a “locus standi” to raise objections about her teaching, and that no termination order will be issued against her. The ABVP had complained that Singh promotes “socially hateful thoughts about a particular religion” and had sought her termination.

Jha said he was aware of the “ABVP matter” but is not party to it, and that he filed the complaint in “personal capacity”.

Confirming the developments, SP (north Goa) Utkrisht Prasoon said FIRs have been registered on the basis of complaints by both Jha and Singh. “Shilpa Singh has been booked under IPC Section 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings). Rajiv Jha, a resident of Ponda, has been booked under IPC Sections 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace), 506 (criminal intimidation), and 509 (insulting modesty of woman).”

Both complaints will be probed, Prasoon said.

Jha told The Indian Express: “She is not my friend on Facebook but we seem to have 20 to 25 mutual friends. After ABVP’s complaint, I saw this April 21 post of her on Facebook and got angry. I first approached Panaji police on October 28 and in a written note asked that she should seek public apology. Since they (police) didn’t react…we again went with a new complaint the next day [October 29).”

Jha said he is a “practicing Hindu Brahmin” and in the video calls Singh “Hindu-phobic”. “If she has thoughts (on religion), she should keep it to herself, and not publicise on social media. She is a professor; if this is what she writes here, (I) wonder what she must be teaching her students,” he said.

He said, “Since she is a woman I went to the police station. She has filed a counter-compliant of abuse and threat to life. I could have gone directly to the college and sought action. (But) I have not.”

He also claimed to have “open support” of the Rashtriya Hindu Yuva Vahini, the women’s wing of the outfit, Parshuram Gomantak Sena, and Brahmin Parishad.

Singh maintained it is a “witch hunt”. In a letter to the chancellor’s nominee, executive council, Goa University [or the Governor], she has raised doubts on Jha filing a complaint six months after her Facebook post, and around the time her college refused to entertain ABVP’s demands to sack her.

She wrote: “As education is not merely rote learning, I try my best to impart critical tools necessary for students of political science to understand and analyse the complexities, contradictions and emergent power relations animating the realm of politics in the world. As a teacher, I would not be fulfilling my duty, if I teach them in a sterile manner without enriching my students with real life examples that supplement the theoretical content of their source…I suspect that having failed at intimidating me at my workplace and having failed to humiliate me by getting me sacked, the present day demand for FIR and police action against me on account of my opinion on social media is just another ploy in the course of a conspiracy to defame, humiliate and break me down.”

Hours before the FIR was lodged, Singh had apologised on Facebook, writing that her words from the post were clipped and taken out of context. “…I wish to express my regret to my fellow women if any of my facebook posts have caused them hurt and offended them…. Since my childhood, I have been curious on questions why we have exclusive marital status symbols for women and not for the men in various cultures practices. It is depressing to see that a false opinion has been created about myself by my detractors – that I am an ‘anti-religion’ or a run-of-the-mill ‘god-hating atheist’. This is far from the truth… I see myself as an intellectual and for me, my criticism of a set of practices and dogma has little to do with my disdain or irreverence for religion or religious believers but more to do with the inherent symbolism they represent in political and civil society of our country historically.”

She also defended the “spirit of rational enquiry and progressive thinking”.

Jha countered, saying that she “should have confronted these mangalsutra women instead of using such language in Facebook against the whole Hindu religion…we Hindus consider it very auspicious.”

Earlier, the ABVP wing of her college had demanded on October 19 that Singh be sacked within 24 hours, as she “promotes socially hateful thoughts about a particular religion, community and group of people”. Verbally, they informed the college that they had clips from Singh’s online classes to first-year law students.

Political Science teachers from different Goa institutions had subsequently backed her right as a teacher to provoke students with various political theories — as is the nature of the highly layered subject, they had stated – before the college wrote back to ABVP stating that it stands by its teacher.

North Goa SP Utkrisht Prasoon was quoted by IE stating that FIRs have been registered on the basis of complaints by both Jha and Singh, “Shilpa Singh has been booked under IPC Section 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings). Rajiv Jha, a resident of Ponda, has been booked under IPC Sections 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace), 506 (criminal intimidation), and 509 (insulting modesty of woman).”

Meanwhile Jha told The Indian Express that, “After ABVP’s complaint, I saw this April 21 post of her on Facebook and got angry. I first approached Panaji police on October 28 and in a written note asked that she should seek public apology. Since they (police) didn’t react…we again went with a new complaint the next day [October 29).”

Jha identified himself as a “practicing Hindu Brahmin” and said, “If she has thoughts (on religion), she should keep it to herself, and not publicise on social media. She is a professor; if this is what she writes here, (I) wonder what she must be teaching her students.” Jha has also put up a video calling the professor “hindu phobic” and accusing her of insulting hindus. “Mangalsutra is an auspicious thing for Sanatan dharma, what the hell is she saying, what is she trying to teach? She is insulting hindu gods and goddesses in her social media posts”.

He said, “We have complained against her at the police station. She must apologise. I request the CM, DIG to take strict action.” He told IE that he could have “gone directly to the college and sought action,” but has not as she is a “woman.” He also claimed to have “open support” of the Rashtriya Hindu Yuva Vahini, the women’s wing of the outfit, Parshuram Gomantak Sena, and Brahmin Parishad.

However, asst prof Singh has called the allegation a “witch hunt”. According to an IE report  she had written to the chancellor’s nominee, executive council, Goa University [or the Governor], and  raised doubts as Jha filed a complaint six months after her Facebook post, and around the time her college refused to entertain ABVP’s demands to sack her.

The IE quotes her letter: “As education is not merely rote learning, I try my best to impart critical tools necessary for students of political science to understand and analyse the complexities, contradictions and emergent power relations animating the realm of politics in the world. As a teacher, I would not be fulfilling my duty, if I teach them in a sterile manner without enriching my students with real life examples that supplement the theoretical content of their source…I suspect that having failed at intimidating me at my workplace and having failed to humiliate me by getting me sacked, the present day demand for FIR and police action against me on account of my opinion on social media is just another ploy in the course of a conspiracy to defame, humiliate and break me down.”

The report added that hours before Jha’s FIR was lodged, Singh had apologised on Facebook, stating that her words from the post were clipped and taken out of context. “…I wish to express my regret to my fellow women if any of my facebook posts have caused them hurt and offended them…. Since my childhood, I have been curious about why we have exclusive marital status symbols for women and not for the men in various cultures practices. It is depressing to see that a false opinion has been created about myself by my detractors – that I am an ‘anti-religion’ or a run-of-the-mill ‘god-hating atheist’. This is far from the truth… I see myself as an intellectual and for me, my criticism of a set of practices and dogma has little to do with my disdain or irreverence for religion or religious believers but more to do with the inherent symbolism they represent in the political and civil society of our country historically.”

According to a news report on Rediff, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh,  had sent a two-page letter addressed to the principal of V M Salgaocar College of Law on October 19. It was titled: ‘Instant Termination of Professor Shilpa Singh, a 31-year Goa University doctorate student who teaches political science to the students of V M Salgaoncar College of Law at Miramar, Goa’.

The ABVP accused professor Singh with ‘promoting socially hateful thoughts about a particular religion, community and group of individuals’, following an online lecture conducted by her. The Rashtriya Yuva Hindu Vahini is now citing this letter to add fuel to its ‘sacred mangalsutra’ arguments.

The professor, who has been teaching at V M Salgaoncar College of Law since June 2019, has refused to be intimidated. She told Rediff.com that in her online lecture she was discussing Rohith Vemula and Manusmriti, and the video snippets were selectively leaked to target her,  “The leaked video is just a snippet, not the entire lecture recording. If the entire recording is released they will be caught because then everybody will come to know it was spoken in a context. But the interesting thing is these people so far are not ready to submit the evidence or give concrete instances of what comprised hate speech in my lectures,” Professor Singh told Rediff.

According to Singh she was  discussing the adultery law in India (which was struck down last year by the Supreme Court) “In that context I just said if they understood the feminist perspective on such laws then it would enrich their understanding of why such anti-women legislation have been enforced for a fairly long period of time. At that time I gave the reference of the Manusmriti and how this law had many limitations to the freedom of women.”

She added that the discussions about Rohith Vemula came about when she was talking about “conservative political thought and critical political thought that comes within the purview of the nature of political thought. While discussing this we moved to Aristotle’s view on slavery, which was a bit heavy on them. Then I told them about Gandhi and Ambedkar and that Gandhi because of his views on caste is labelled a conservative political thinker, but when it comes to caste Ambedkar is considered a critical political thinker.” Then the discussion eventually moved on and she asked them if they had heard about Rohith Vemula, “ I was explaining to them how the caste system is dead today Constitutionally, but socially it still exists in different parts of India. In this context I gave the example of Rohith Vemula because he said ‘My birth is my fatal accident’,” she told Rediff.

Prof Singh has also altered the local police station near her home and sought “personal protection that I feel is necessary for my safety and security” added the news report.

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