Why Modi’s thugs attacked my university


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is engaged in a wide-ranging campaign to damage, discredit, and reduce access to higher education. It is a strategy straight out of the authoritarian playbook, and it will impede the innovation that is vital to human progress – and to India’s future.

On January 5, masked men and women stormed the New Delhi campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), where I am a professor, and attacked the students and faculty they found there with sticks, iron rods, and scythes. The university administration, security guards, and local police not only failed to protect the innocent victims of this rampage, which included vandalism and trespassing, in addition to the violence; they watched and were complicit in the assault. This is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s India.

JNU is a highly respected institution. But with India’s leadership promoting an aggressive form of Hindu nationalism – including by enacting the blatantly unconstitutional Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which has rendered millions of Muslim Indians stateless – the university has come to represent the enemy: the liberalism and tolerance that is supposed to underpin Indian democracy.

This is not an accident, the result of some small group of zealots misinterpreting the Modi government’s message. On the contrary, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has been actively cultivating this narrative for a long time, and, since coming to power in 2014, the BJP’s government has been using pliant media to vilify universities, especially those like JNU whose faculty and students have criticized the ruling dispensation.

In fact, just one week before the attack on JNU, Indian Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah called for those behind public protests against the CAA to be “taught a lesson.” With that, he effectively announced open season on minorities and anyone who defends them, and confirmed that Hindu-chauvinist “hunters” have the implicit support of the highest levels of government. He has also linked these protests with ongoing demonstrations at JNU, where students have been resisting an arbitrary fee hike that would force many of them to abandon their studies.

During the attack on JNU, security guards and police allowed the aggressors in, turned off streets lights to enable their violence and vandalism, and stopped anyone, including media, from entering or leaving the campus. Faculty close to the JNU administration and members of the BJP’s student wing helped to co-ordinate the armed goons. They then stood by while the goons, hollering Hindu-nationalist battle cries such as “Hail Lord Ram,” carried out their violence, often targeting – and, in some cases, severely injuring – women, including the president of the students’ union and some faculty members.

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