Resistance and truth-speaking

Interview with Professor Mukul Manglik, teacher at Ramjas College of Delhi University.

Published : Mar 15, 2017 12:30 IST

Professor Mukul Manglik.

Professor Mukul Manglik.

PROFESSOR Mukul Manglik taught history at Ramjas College of Delhi University from 1984 to 1986 and has been teaching there again since 1991. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) claimed that he shouted anti-India slogans and called for his suspension. He denied all such charges in an interview with Frontline . Excerpts:

How did you get involved in this controversy?

The conference was organised by the Department of English and the Literary Society of Ramjas College. I teach in the Department of History and played no role in organising the conference. At 11 in the morning of February 21, I happened to accompany Dr Vinita Chandra of the English Department to the Principal’s office. We were informed that the ABVP was mobilising against the conference. We tried to reason with the students and the police that organising seminars is part of our work as teachers and students. Besides, no court in the land had debarred Umar Khalid from moving around or being invited to speak at conferences. But the police said they apprehended large-scale violence and would not be able to guarantee security. So, it was decided to disinvite Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid. The English Department, which was doing nothing unconstitutional in organising this seminar, was forced by the diktat of an abusive, intimidatory, slogan-shouting mob to bow before illegality. As I walked out of the Principal’s office and went past this group of ABVP students, around 1 p.m., they abused me filthily and openly threatened me. In fact, roughly from noon onwards, there was continuous and increasing intimidation faced by the organisers, in the Principal’s office in the presence of responsible police officers.

How did the slogan-shouting happen?

When people were informed in the conference hall that the department had been forced to disinvite Umar and Shehla, there was a feeling that everyone’s freedom to do what is constitutionally right and what each of us is meant to do in a university was being forcibly snatched away. Disbelief mingled with disappointment, leading to a spontaneous non-violent procession through the college. The protesters were not seeking a reversal of the decision regarding Umar and Shehla but wished to say, as responsible citizens, that what had happened was wrong. This feeling of being terribly wronged drove me to do some lead sloganeering. I began by shouting “ yeh manmaani, gundagardi, dadagiri nahi chalegi ”, [domineering, hooliganism, bullying will not do] but felt that these did not address the enormity of what had happened. The slogans that then came to me, almost organically, were “ hum kya chahte? Azadi: meethi, pyari, sundar azadi; gundagardi, dehshatgardi, aatankwad, hinsa, pitrisatta se azadi; JNU, HCU, Ramjas, DU mange azadi ”. [What do we want? Freedom: sweet, lovely and beautiful freedom; freedom from bullying, terrorism, violence, patriarchy; JNU, HCU, Ramjas ask for freedom]. I did not raise slogans related to Bastar and Kashmir, nor do I know who did. Each of the slogans raised by me sought to oppose, through the powerful and legitimate art of sloganeering, the brawny, hyper-masculine intimidation that some of us had experienced that day. There are so many different, beautiful meanings of azadi. I don’t understand why anybody should object to slogans of this nature. Do they not want azadi [freedom] from gundagardi [bullying] for the people of this country? Do they want everyone to live in slavery and unfreedom? As citizens of the Indian Republic, is it not our duty to fight for deeper, more meaningful freedoms without assuming that azadi refers only to secession and destruction?

What happened on day 2?

After taking my class, I went to Patel Chest to get some posters made for the upcoming History Society annual academic festival. By then ABVP supporters had already started collecting in groups and shouting slogans on the premises of Ramjas, while some students and teachers had begun gathering just outside the gate in response to a late-night call given by AISA [All India Students’ Association] against the huge violence unleashed by the ABVP inside Ramjas the previous afternoon. While I felt that the ABVP violence certainly needed to be protested against, I also felt that such a protest action should have been widely discussed and prepared for rather than announced unilaterally by any one political organisation. Anyway, while at Patel Chest I got a call from a colleague persuading me to stay away from Ramjas for fear of being personally targeted by ABVP supporters. I was forced to go underground. Through the day, I kept hearing of unimaginably brutal assaults by ABVP supporters on unarmed students, teachers and protesters. The memory of it sends a chill down my spine.

What was different about this violence?

This was rampant hooliganism, sheer terror unleashed inside Ramjas and outside over two consecutive days. Never before has any college or the streets of North Campus been taken over by rampaging mobs attacking, threatening and abusing students and teachers at will with such barbaric impunity, even as they revelled in causing dire physical hurt and pain. This violence was planned, organised and executed with precision, while the police acted ineffectively, if not in complicity with the attackers. Everyone was fair game: men, women, students and teachers. I have lived and worked with an implicit faith that no matter how much disagreement there might be between my students and me, or even amongst themselves, intimidation, abuse and violence would never fracture these relationships. This faith stands shattered today and I really don’t know how to go about healing this breach.

Why Ramjas?

While terrorising Ramjas is part of a wider Hindutva agenda to terrorise, occupy and control institutions of higher learning to serve ideological and material goals, it is likely that within DU, Ramjas more than some other colleges has come to symbolise, over time, a rare intellectual boldness, sticking out like a sore thumb for the likes of the ABVP. If Ramjas could be targeted and pacified, other colleges would, perhaps, or so they imagine, automatically fall in line.

Do you feel safe going back and teaching?

I don’t feel completely safe and I don’t think many other colleagues and students feel completely safe either. Let’s be clear. If something like this can happen so openly over a two-day period and if no effective action is taken against the aggressors, all of whom are roaming around freely on the campus, then anything can happen to anyone at any time. We are living with a very new and deep sense of insecurity.

How do you see this panning out?

Large-scale violence might have stopped for now, but there is no certainty that various other forms of intimidation will not carry on. Even if the law kicks in—and it must, at the earliest—I feel that we as citizens cannot allow this to be forgotten because the act of forgetting will be the necessary precondition for the normalisation of the horror we have experienced.

I hope all the teachers and students of our Department can meet and speak openly about what happened to them. Unless there is open truth-speaking in the presence of all concerned, including the aggressors, who might then be willing to truly repent their own acts of omission and commission, it is unlikely that we can begin to move towards any real sense of security.

Students have attacked teachers. How do you feel about that?

Let me end on a somewhat positive note. While it is true that many of our own students have turned violently against their own teachers, for me they shall remain my students, and even as they face the legal consequences of their actions, I shall do everything possible to re-establish meaningful, critical communication with them. I cannot imagine giving up on them and I cannot bear to see them hurt others, while destroying themselves in the process.

As for all the people from across the globe and all the ex-students and current students who have reached out in a million beautiful ways, including by coming together in splendid acts of resistance, they need to know that their words, songs, silences, drawings and convictions, the non-violent rendering of their powerful protests, are like the flame of life itself, refreshing the old words of Howard Zinn:

“Human history is not only a history of cruelty, but also of compassion, courage and kindness... and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is inhuman and cruel around us, is itself a marvellous victory.”

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