Kawalpreet Kaur, head of AISA’s Delhi University unit, is a vocal opponent of the way ABVP registered its protest to the scheduled seminar at Ramjas College in which JNU student Umar Khalid was to present a paper. In an interview to HT, she said it was important to challenge the ‘impunity’ enjoyed by the ABVP and every students’ body has the right to register protest but only in non-violent ways. Excerpts:
What was the significance of the protest march organized after the Ramjas seminar was cancelled?
We wanted to express solidarity with the students of Ramjas. At the same time, it was important to fight the atmosphere of fear prevailing in the campus. In 2015, ABVP stalled screening of the film based on Muzaffarnagar riots. If we would have responded back then, perhaps this time the parishad might not have felt emboldened to issue a diktat against Umar Khalid. I think that event and successive episodes in DU, JNU and universities across the country gave the Parishad members a sense of impunity. The march was important to challenge this impunity.
ABVP says it is the duty of students to come out whenever national integrity is mocked at. How would you respond?
Ramjas issue is not about nationalism or anti-nationalism. Whenever ABVP’s hooliganism is exposed, it uses the shield of nationalism. It starts branding whoever opposes its views, anti-national. It happened in the case of Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad and with Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya at JNU.
For the last 2-3 years, there have been reports pouring in from DU and other universities outside Delhi about ABVP stalling various events such as seminars and film screenings. In that backdrop, were you surprised with what happened at North campus?
If we talk only in terms of protests, this was not the first time students gathered in north campus in large numbers. I remember in 2014 around 3,000-4,000 students participated in the protest against the proposed Four Year Undergraduate Program (FYUP). Congress was the ruling party and its students’ body, National Students Union of India (NSUI), was supporting FYUP. The protest continued for almost a month but NSUI never labelled us or called us anti- national for opposing Congress’ policies.
With the support of the central government, the ABVP has got the courage to call anyone anti-national. In that sense, I was not surprised.
The role of Delhi police has been criticised. But ABVP says it has visual proof showing how police even beat its members.
After the march, ABVP members got ‘thank you delhi police’ hash tag trending on Twitter. I have screenshots of the same. They were openly flaunting their strength and thanking police for allowing them to do what they wanted to do. They have put up posts saying that we only slapped and dragged you and we should have broken your legs also.
ABVP’s stand is that it will not allow Umar Khalid to speak at any campus. Your stand is alternative viewpoints should be encouraged. How do we break the logjam?
There was always a dignity to protest. There have been instances of AISA being unwelcoming to speakers or panelists in JNU campus. We have shown black flags and held sit-in protests. But we don’t say that boycott this person from campus or we will allow his entry on when he says ‘bharat mata ki jay’.
I might have many differences with Umar Khalid. I would want to have a debate with him and criticise him. No one should be allowed to take away that right from me.