A senior research scholar in IIT Madras, R Sooraj, was attacked by right-wing students in IIT Madras for participating in a beef fest that was held to protest the government’s unconstitutional ruling banning the slaughter of cattle all over the country.
Sooraj is currently hospitalized and in the ICU. The bone under his eye has been broken and he will require surgery to fix it. Sooraj, someone I personally know, has always been a kind, soft-spoken and respected research scholar in IIT Madras. I was incredibly shocked and saddened to hear about this violence done to him.
The perpetrator of the violence, Manish, has had a history of violence and has previously also disrupted peaceful discussions and meetings on campus with threats of violence. The IIT Madras administration has yet to take action against the accused, even though disciplinary punishments usually take place swiftly on the campus.
Manish is said to have attacked Sooraj on his way back from the mess, for the unspeakable crime of having attended the beef fest the previous weekend and having stepped foot in the vegetarian mess. The attack wasn’t one-on-one either. Eyewitness accounts say Manish had 6-7 friends along with him who attacked Sooraj and his friend as they attempted to leave the mess.
As per the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC) report, Manish had also threatened students before. Apart from this, I have also personally witnessed Manish make threatening comments on a Facebook post regarding the beef fest, where he promised to “take revenge” for the beef fest being carried out in IIT Madras – which implies that the attack might have been premeditated. These comments have since been deleted – thankfully we had screenshots.
The apathy of the campus administrative body is perplexing. The protestors have demanded that the administration expel the perpetrator(s) and also make the punitive action known to the general student body. Several alumni from different batches and branches, me included, have also signed a letter to the Dean demanding punitive action be taken against the perpetrators, which now has 273 signatories. The administration has so far remained mum over the issue, refusing to even comment upon it, much less take strong action against the perpetrators.
“As students, the incident has shocked us beyond belief and we are worried about the physical safety at this point. Two witnesses, both of whom with no affiliation to APSC or the events before in any way, have come forward and narrated what has happened. The accused has a history of violent behaviour, and the institute should have taken appropriate measure the last time he engaged in physical attack. And worst of all, he is supported by a gang of eight people or so. He makes unmistakeable threats two days before and executes them. This is terrifying.
“As students first and then as colleagues of Mr. Sooraj, who is a kind person, well regarded and respected by the community, we had placed our demands in front of the administration for swift action. The response, as far as we heard after the talks, is unsatisfactory. This hooliganism cannot be entertained. There is a need to condemn and take stringent action against this organized criminal behaviour before anything. IITM has enough mature students who can handle any controversial issue through dialogues and perhaps leave by agreeing to disagree. Those who cannot come to that maturity are unfit for university education. There are no two sides to this,” said Ayyappadas, a research scholar from IIT Madras who spoke with me who has been an active part of the protests against the violence against Sooraj.
There has been an opposite sentiment circulated across some sections on Facebook that holding a beef fest in protest of the Centre’s ruling was “provocative” and that such an act will “naturally” incite violence. Whatever one’s political inclinations are, let’s not pretend that organizing a peaceful protest and getting assaulted to the point of hospitalisation is a cause-and-effect phenomenon. Such a view diminishes the seriousness of the crime that Manish and his friends have committed, and the legitimacy of the protestors’ demands to have disciplinary action taken against him.
The organizers of the beef fest had the democratic right (and administrative permission) for students to organize a politically dissenting event. The right-wing students also had the democratic right to protest against such an event being held – that’s political discourse. Violence, assault, and hooliganism? That’s not.
Added to that, friends of Manish have come up with a alternate version of events (no surprise in a post-truth world), with no named eyewitnesses, to make it sound as though Sooraj attacked Manish first by twisting his arm, after which Manish acted in self-defence, and Sooraj hit his eye on a table as he slipped. The claims have gotten increasingly more ludicrous with each shared Facebook post – in one version, Sooraj is said to have screamed that he will cut Manish in shreds just as he cuts his “gau mata” into shreds; in another, he is said to have declared that just as he will open a beef section in the vegetarian mess, as well as open a “Hindu girls” section to “fuck Hindu girls”. These stories are getting taller and taller, and shared further and wider – one such article currently stands at 6000 shares on Facebook, posted on a Postcard News, a website that’s been known to mass produce fake news.
There remains a faction of students determined to take the veracity of these claims at face value in an effort to remain “neutral” and hear “both sides of the tale”. In point of fact, the campus newsletter, The Fifth Estate, reported the testimony of two neutral eyewitnesses – both of whom declared clearly that Manish repeatedly hit an unprepared Sooraj in the mess after asking him whether he participated in the beef fest the previous day. And from my personal experience of having known Sooraj – he is soft-spoken and kind and one cannot even begin to imagine him characterized in the way that these ridiculous stories claim. Further, there has been a video released of Manish and his cronies threatening Sooraj’s friends at the institute hospital immediately after the attack, where Manish’s vigorous gesticulations do not indicate any injury on his arm whatsoever.
There is a steady undermining of this violence by other, “neutral” factions who bemoan the entrance of “dirty politics” into IIT Madras. There are resounding entreaties for IIT Madras to not become “another JNU”. The IITs’ general apolitical apathy is well-documented, and this apolitical image has been shattered by the some of the political causes some IIT Madras students have aligned with in the last few years – first with the APSC controversy and now with this.
This charge of dirty politics is directed primarily at the liberal or left-wing factions. “Why did they have to organize a beef fest in IIT-M anyway?” Are Manish’s actions not dirty politics? In fact, the disdain with politics stems from a disdain with political hooliganism, which is precisely what Manish and his acolytes did.
In India’s current deeply divided political climate, remaining “apolitical” is impossible. In the IITs’ quest to remain neutral, they are dismissing the very real violence that is being carried out by members of the right-wing on those that dare to dissent against the current government. This statement by the IIT Delhi Alumni Association is a prime example of this misguided attempt at diplomacy.
We condemn the recent IITMadras incidents. Instead of hurting religious sentiments & indulging into violence, students must focus on studies pic.twitter.com/rPW97gK0E0
— IIT Delhi Alumni (@iitdaa) May 31, 2017
Politics is not violence. Politics is not hooliganism. The entrance of politics into educational institutions is not a bad thing. Awareness, discussion, debate and dissent – these are valuable and worthy pursuits in any educational institution. When our political climate is so fractured, so divisive, and so bigoted, it is a crying shame for students to keep their heads down and carry on as if nothing is happening. If the educated do not agitate, who will? If we do not protest against fascist government laws, who will? Are we going to ignore the wave of intolerance, hatred and bigotry that’s sweeping over our country right now for favour of being “apolitical”?
I can only hope that the IIT Madras administration eventually comes out with strong punitive action against Manish, and that Sooraj completely recovers from his injury as quickly as possible. And in the meantime, we rid our negative connotations with the word “politics”, and see that neutrality in this time and place is a pipe dream.
Featured Image Credit: Urmila Reghunath – another furious IIT Madras alumnus.