Members of the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle (APSC), banned by the IIT-Madras following an anonymous complaint that it created “hatred” against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hindus, said on Friday the group was formed to discuss socio-political issues and voice the concerns of oppressed communities.
The institute acted after the Union human resource development ministry forwarded the complaint, which alleged APSC was mobilising scheduled caste and scheduled tribe students on issues such as the ban on beef. The administration “derecognised” the APSC, which means the group will not be allowed to conduct any activity or hold any meetings within the campus.
Hindustan Times spoke to two members of the APSC – Ramesh, a research scholar in physics and Abhinav Surya, a third-year mechanical engineering student – to know more about the group, its activities and ideology, and what the ban means for them. Both are among the founding members of the group.
What is the APSC all about and what are your activities?
Ramesh: We are a small group of around 100 individuals formed on April 14 last year. We regularly hold discussions on contemporary socio-political issues like economic policies, labour laws, communalism, land acquisition ordinance, and ban on eating beef in Maharashtra and Haryana.
Abhinav: Our aim has always been to voice the concerns of the oppressed communities and we have developed the APSC as a platform where we can do the same. We have used the thoughts propagated by BR Ambedkar, the founding father of India’s Constitution, and social activist Periyar EV Ramasamy, to support our arguments about the problems in the Indian social system. We have initiated healthy discussions on issues we have felt were anti-people like the land acquisition policies of the NDA government.
Your comments on the ban.
Ramesh: We do not yet know the specific reason for the ban. We have just initiated rational discussions on the imposition of vegetarianism, ban on beef eating, caste-based atrocities and religious fundamentalism—how can that be wrong?
Abhinav: The ban, in plain language, is unconstitutional and undemocratic. I would like to clarify that we have not misused any privilege given to us by the institution—we have only tried holding a rational and progressive discussion about socio-economic policies which impact the common man.
What does the ban signify from a socio-political perspective?
Ramesh: Many higher education institutes in the country today have platforms where the religious right can propagate their view points. There will be sessions on the Bhagvad Gita and the brighter sides of the Hindu religion. But seldom will you find a platform for talking about caste atrocities or fundamentalism. Neither will you find platforms for discussing the woes of the common man – the politics on the streets, the economics or the rise of communalism.
Abhinav: When students of IIT-Madras had written to the central ministry regarding fee hike and stipend raise, it took very long to respond, whereas in case of a complaint regarding the activities of a study group, the ministry has replied within two weeks. One wonders…
Would it be right to describe the APSC as a ‘Dalit body’ as many on social media are doing?
Ramesh: Definitely not! We have members from different castes and we equivocally criticise the politics of all governments—left, right and centre. We have held discussions criticising the economic policies of the previous UPA government and so are we doing on the Narendra Modi government. And in most of our discussions the experts we invite to our session are not political figures—they are experts on the subject. For example, when we organised a talk on the imposition of Sanskrit, we called linguistic experts, and not political figures.
Abhinav: We are a group comprising diversified communities. It would be very baseless to tag us as representatives of a specific community. We have no discriminatory policies within the group about people from any community. Our organization is engaged in propagating the thoughts of Ambedkar and Periyar which we think will illuminate the marginalised communities in realising their rights.
The APSC has been accused of misusing its privileges.
Ramesh: I think the privilege refers to the “privilege of running a study centre inside the campus” which we feel is our right. Moreover, privilege can refer to the use of rooms in hostels, library, halls, etc. We have used classrooms, the stadium and even the gardens in the campus to hold our sessions, but isn't that the right of every student?
Abhinav: They mean that we have misused the privilege of running a study circle in the campus by not taking the permission of the dean for each and every activity that we used to do. But that's not necessary. That's not how things work here. Moreover, our group obtained the necessary permissions to function in the campus when it was started last year, from the previous dean. So we don't think it's necessary to again take requisite permissions.
What about allegations about receiving funds from organisations outside the college?
Ramesh: For meeting the expenses of our discussion sessions – like cost of posters, printouts, to and fro tickets of speakers – we used to collect some money from the participants who were students of IIT-M. We also invested our own money. But never did we seek any funding from any external body. For example, during the last Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations, we collected Rs 3,000 and the total expenditure came to Rs 2,700. We have kept an account book on the event which properly documents the finances and how we use it. Everyone is welcome to come and check our financial records.
Abhinav: It's a false accusation. We never took money from any other body. Mostly it was our own money with contributions from those participants who can afford it.
(The writer tweets as @saha_abhi1990)