In December 2022, a controversy came to light in the Government New Law College, Indore, concerning an “anti-Hindu” book in the college library. ABVP activists caused much ruckus against the book decrying its alleged Hinduphobic overtones, which eventually led to the resignation of the Principal and action against five other professors. The incident is part of a worrying trend seen across universities in India where ABVP fabricated scandals, raised hell and subsequently had their way because of an implicit endorsement of the government.
Despite all the demonization of the West and their derelict ways of life, the concept of cancel culture has been happily co-opted by the right wing in India. Whether it is boycotting companies like Tanishq for their ads, seemingly Hinduphobic Bollywood movies, or people offering namaz in public places, the list of things cancelled by the right goes on and on. Through ideological discourses, weak institutional opposition and culture wars with specific symbols and expressions, the right-wing has engaged in widespread social pressure, publicly calling out and ostracizing individuals to create an atmosphere of fear and dread.
The Forced Scandal
An apt example is the recent scandal in Government New Law College, Indore. The student wing of the Sangh Parivar, ABVP, launched protests against six professors for promoting religious fundamentalism and negative thoughts about the government and the army in first-year students. The usual buzzwords like ‘love jihad’ and ‘anti-national’ were evoked to allege that professors performed namaz instead of teaching. Subsequently, the professors were taken off duty, and an inquiry was set up. Later, a library book titled ‘Collective Violence and Criminal Justice System‘ grabbed the attention of the ABVP activists. They objected to its content that painted RSS in a bad light and promoted ‘anti-national thoughts‘. After the protests raged on, Principal Inamur Rahman forcibly resigned. Shortly, a case was registered against the principal, the author of the book- Farhat Khan and the publication, Amar Law Publications.
An Overzealous Government
The government could not resist staying out of the drama for too long. The Minister for Higher Education, Madhya Pradesh, promptly constituted a committee to look further into the matter. The committee submitted its report, concluding that anti-national content was being taught in the college, and teachers were involved in various objectionable activities on the campus. Principal Rahman and Professor Mirza Beg were suspended, along with three other teachers. Home Minister Narottam Mishra ordered the arrest of the author of the book, Professor Farhat Khan and declared to take action by cancelling her PhD.
Not a One-off
Rising above the absurdity of this whole situation, one can see, with proper context, that this is one of the many manufactured scandals across the country which end with severe and unjust actions – a hallmark of the cancel culture. Of particular concern is the fact that such made-up controversies, whose primary aim is to establish and assert dominance, are creeping into the academic world. This cancel culture in universities is led by the foot soldiers of the Hindu nationalist movement, the ABVP activists; they are the energetic, angry young men and women who are dedicated ideologues of the Hindu Rashtra. With the full might of the BJP government behind them and buoyed by the ideological bedrock of the RSS, they are unfazed, unapologetic and relentless in the pursuit of their goals.
These protests reeked of anti-intellectualism and covert Islamophobia; they were a way to show “those” people their “rightful place”. After all, the book was not even mandatory for students and was purchased way back in 2014 under a Hindu principal. Yet the matter was popularized into the mainstream with pomp and show. The committee provided no proof that the Muslim professors were denigrating the army, luring Hindu girls, or that there was an unofficial ban on applying ‘tilaks’. It was simply about blowing a matter out of proportion because opposition must be paralyzed, and criticism of VHP and RSS amounts to gross blasphemy. It was about showing Muslims that they will be marginalized and must accept being second-class citizens in a homogenous society.
ABVP is at the forefront of ridding universities of any liberal ideology. Young and free-willed students are a grave threat to the dreams of Hindu Rashtra, and so, one way or the other, dissent must be muffled. Cancel culture not only banishes people who are deviants in a Hindu state but also serves as a warning for other people to fall in line. This culture is not just online but very much takes the ugly form of vicious physical assaults. ABVP’s tactics include raking up culture wars through emotive issues and garnering support by appealing to the identity of the neutral observer.
ABVP’s cancel culture intimidation is successful because it has the backing of the government and the police. Retaliation is almost negligible as no party wishes to defy the overton window, and civil society and student organizations are too scared or resource less to mount a defence. In the end, only one view prevails – the one that subscribes to the virulent hateful ideology.
Gunjit Verma is a student pursuing B.Sc. Chemistry from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Alisha Uvais