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.

This is a brief account of what happened in the IIT Madras campus in the last two days. The central govt’s notification…

Posted by Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, IIT Madras on Tuesday, May 30, 2017

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.

Threatening comments made by perpetrator Visen Manish a few days before the incident.

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.

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.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Nicely written & balanced articled. Neutrality in this time and place will lead to destruction of the secular fabric of our country.

    India has already lost its secular outlook and the educated, the intelligentsia & thinkers have to accept the blame for they have maintained silence & did not have the guts to speak out at the appropriate time. They were only worried that they will be degraded. Those who voice their opinions are accused with personal slurs. My comments on a recent blog on the Beef fest by a student of IIT Madras obtained reactions against me of having a “sick Mind” and being a “crypto xtian” without addressing the actual points raised in my comment…

    Wish more educated youth with the power of rational thinking will not hesitate to call a spade a spade. That is what India needs at this moment…

  2. “Where were you People When They Announced to conduct Such Inhuman Festival, LEFT could have Protest in any other way or Out of Campus to show is political view,
    If Institute is for Education then Both have to make a Note, One one Fails to Follow Other will definitely do the same”

  3. Please note, Centre hasn’t banned cow slaughter or beef sale, only mass sale. To me, this does not affect the food habits of beef eaters. So why have an open protest with a clear intent of hurting the sentiments of Hindus, Jains? Clearly, this so called “peaceful” protest was done to incite strong reaction followed by a big tamasha to garner attention. I do not see any intent of non-violence or ethical behavior in this protest. This was a publicity stunt, hence loses credibility (in my opinion). The fact that you had ample opportunity to protest,clearly shows that this government is not a despot of fascist. Perhaps you could direct that term to the present and past governments in Bengal or Congress governments. I agree with IIT-D alumni’s letter. There are more important things the students could focus on. Please learn from your colleagues at IIT-M, who have done tremendous work in coming up with technology solutions aiding the poor and disadvantaged, automation in day to day life. These add more value to the society. Holding Beef fest and that too to protest mass sale of cows seems like priority number 99999999 to me.

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