|Gurmehar Kaur’s latest , Twitter profile picture|
Anita Joshua, TT, New Delhi, Feb. 28: The student stepped back and the teacher stepped forward in an uncommon show of solidarity in Indian academia today.
Delhi University student Gurmehar Kaur, taunted and targeted by those who adorn seats of power or are closely associated with the ruling establishment, withdrew from the #FightBackDU campaign this morning hours before a protest march started on the campus.
"I have been through a lot and this is all my 20 year self could take :)," she tweeted but continued to support the campaign against violence on campuses.
The march on the university campus in north Delhi drew 4,000 participants, a high turnout by the capital's standards, which prompted the ABVP, the Sangh's student arm, to describe the participants as "uncles and aunties" associated with the Left.
But in south Delhi, at Lady Shri Ram College where Gurmehar studies, something unusual was unfolding.
The entire faculty of the English department issued a statement that not only stood by the student but also declared emphatically what the "bounden duty" of educational institutions should be.
The statement by all the 17 faculty members was as unequivocal as possible and did not seek to couch the message in euphemisms. Vocal expressions of solidarity from faculty are usually associated with institutions like JNU that are known as cradles of activism and teachers' associations take the lead in issuing such statements in response to drastic action such as last year's arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar on a sedition charge.
At Lady Shri Ram, the whole department appears to have taken the initiative. "We, the faculty members of the English Department, Lady Shri Ram College unequivocally and strongly support our student Gurmehar Kaur and her right to express her opinion on issues that embroil our university.
"It is immensely gratifying to us as her teachers that she has responded sensitively, creatively and bravely to events in her immediate context rather than seek the safe refuge of silence. We feel that it is the bounden duty of educational institutions to nurture sensitive, responsive and critical thinking students without the fear of violent retaliation. We are proud that Gurmehar has fulfilled her duty as a young citizen of this country."
The faculty did not shy away from naming names - an unusual occurrence in a country where specifics are often skirted while dealing with controversies.
"The threats of violence and brutality that she faces are absolutely reprehensible. Responses on social media by public figures such as Virender Sehwag and Randeep Hooda are shameful trivialisation of the intimidation that Gurmehar faces at the hands of violent mobs whose viciousness the university has recently witnessed."
The statement concluded by calling upon the public and institutions of redress to help restore faith in law and justice and "let our young citizens think and articulate without fear of intimidation".
The statement was issued in the names of Rita Joshi, Madhu Grover, Rukshana Shroff, Arti Minocha, Maya Joshi, Shernaz Cama, Mitali Mishra, Arunima Ray, Dipti Nath, Maitreyee Mandal, Janet Lalawmpuii, Ngangom Maheshkanta Singh, Karuna Rajeev, Wafa Hamid, Jonathan Varghese, Taniya Sachdeva and Rachita Mittal.
The faculty can by no means be branded "far-Left" or "Left" - the usual "bad name" given to dissidents by supporters of the Sangh parivar before pouncing on them.
Neither can Lady Shri Ram College be called a den of "anti-nationals" or "separatists". Its brother college, Shri Ram College of Commerce, was the one chosen by Narendra Modi in 2013 to project a youth-friendly image before he set out on the campaign that made him Prime Minister.
It will also be difficult for junior home minister Kiren Rijiju to accuse an entire department of "polluting the mind of" Gurmehar. The toxic phrase was chosen by the minister yesterday to cast aspersions on the student's ability to take her own decisions. Another BJP leader had drawn a parallel with Dawood Ibrahim.
This morning, Gurmehar had said in a series of tweets: "I'm withdrawing from the campaign. Congratulations, everyone. I request to be left alone. I said what I had to say. One thing is for sure, next time we will think twice before resorting to violence or threats and that's all this was about. I have been through a lot and this is all my 20 year self could take :)."
She also changed her profile picture from the selfie with the placard "...I am not afraid of ABVP..." to one of her sitting outside a restaurant sipping a cocoa drink.
She further tweeted: "The campaign is about students and not about me. Please go to the March in huge numbers. Best of luck. To anyone questioning my courage and bravery... I've shown more than enough."
That she would not be silenced became evident some hours later when she began posting tweets about the protest. "2000 people in SOLIDARITY! All my friends. Our lovely faculty! How I wish I was there *GRINNING*," she noted in one tweet.