Delhi: “The most basic thing that we all know, Islamic philosophy is expressed very well through the azaan that you hear five times a day…Allah o Akbar, Allah o Akbar (God is the greatest). Which god? You will think of your god. No. Allah,” said a bearded speaker on the National Law Institute University (NLIU) campus in Bhopal on Saturday.
“This is what is said five times a day with a loudspeaker in thousands of places at the same time. The sound of it is nothing that brings any happiness,” the speaker said to cheers and applause from the audience.
Referring to the 13-century Muslim poet Amir Khusro and his famous poem on the Hindu festival of Holi, Aaj Rang Hai, Free bashed the line: “Gokul dekha Mathura dekha Par tosa na koi rang dekha (Nizamuddin)".
(Free believes this means a preference of a Muslim site to Hindu ones—Nizamuddin is more beautiful than Gokul or Mathura).
“Why are you not saying Mecca ‘dekha’, Medina ‘dekha’,” he said referring to holy spots for Muslims, once again to applause.
The speaker, one Almosow Free, who said that he was not a “scholar” on Islam but a “student”, was speaking at the two-day event organised over the weekend by the Bhopal-based Young Thinkers’ Forum, inaugurated by Bhupender Yadav, the union minister for the environment, employment and labour, with S Surya Prakash, the vice-chancellor of the university, present.
There are 26 national law schools in India, as per Careers360.
Though many students protested, NLIU, a state government university recognised by the University Grants Commission (UGC), permitted Islamophobic remarks, hate-filled literature about Muslims and Christians, and posters deriding academics and intellectuals, on the campus.
Protesting students said they tried attending the event, but there was a "menacing air" around the campus for the two days, and the organisers only let in students who had registered earlier. But they heard religious sloganeering from inside the auditorium.
A session called Unravelling Wokeism: Examining the DNA of Social Activism, most of which was leaked, was against feminists, transphobic and offensive to the LGBTQ community.
A poster called The Ten Heads of Ravana included caricatures of academics and intellectuals and who have been critical of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and Hindu majoritarianism in the past ten years.
They included Irfan Habib, Audrey Truschke, Ramachandra Guha, Kancha Ilaiah, Wendy Doniger, Devdutt Patnaik, Michael Witzel, Sheldon Pollock and Romila Thapar.
Habib was captioned “Hood Winking History”, Doinger, “Quest for Eroticism”, Guha, “Anarchic Fibral Distortian, and Illaiah, “Bharat Vikhander (fragmentation)”.
The books on display included the following titles: The Concept of Hindu Rashtra, Tipu Sultan: Villain or Hero, Jihad: The Islamic Doctrine Of Permanent War, Islam and Communism: Three Warnings, Negationism in India: Concealing The Record Of Islam, Jesus Christ: An Artifice for Aggression, Catholic Ashrams: Sannyasins or Swindlers, and Why I Killed Gandhi by Nathuram Godse.
When buying books being sold at the event—books a cousin wanted for research—a Muslim student said Muslims and other minorities were scared.
“It was very scary,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “I didn’t want to tell them my name. I told my friend to pay because I didn’t want my name to pop up.”
‘I Didn’t Expect Things To Be Like This:’ Vice Chancellor
Prakash, a law professor and the vice-chancellor of the university since June, said he agreed to the event because an alumnus of NLIU, who was running the local chapter of the YTF, asked him to. They had organised events in other state-run institutions, such as the RGPV (Rajiv Gandhi Proudyogiki Vishwavidyalaya) and LNCT (Lakshmi Narain College of Technology).
“Looking into the profile of the other events, I said okay. Even in my remote imagination, I didn’t expect things to be like this,” said Prakash, who had the poster of the Ravana removed after the students informed the alumni and the matter was written about on social media.
“NLIU is not part of the event except for the venue,” said Prakash. “NLIU neither shares the ideology nor endorses these ideas. Our fault was giving them the space.”
On the Islamophobic remarks made at the event, Prakash said he attended the event briefly on the first day when it was inaugurated by Yadav.
“I thought this may help the university and elevate it. The reverse has happened,” he said. “NLIU only believes in ‘We the people of India.’ NLIU won’t recognise any other identity, Hindu, Christian, Muslim…We are Indians till the end.”
Islamophobia Allowed Inside NLIU
Of the handful of video clips from the sessions on the first day that we saw, the most Islamophobic one was From Dogma to Dharma: Hindu view of Prophetic Monotheism, with Almosow Free, who was described as an “ex-Muslim, scholar of comparative religion”.
An Internet search threw up a YouTube channel that said, “This channel primarily attempts to educate, normalise and foster conversation on Islam and its various aspects” and has a video about “punishment for apostasy in Islam” by “Almosow Free Productions”. His LinkedIn profile said he had an MA and MPhil from Savitribai Phule Pune University.
“If I tell my friends the truth about Islam, they say look at Sufism, the dance, the music, the poem. Don’t confuse art and literature with religion,” Free said at NLIU on Saturday.
“Good poetry does not mean Sufism is correct. This confusion, this subtle conditioning that this aspect of Islam, Sufism, there is no problem. It is moderate. But what is the main idea of Islam?” he said.
The other speaker was Neeraj Atri, a “scholar of comparative religion”, as per the poster. Atri’s Twitter timeline is filled with anti-Muslim hate speech.
“The organised religions are a system to take away all your rights,” said Atri.
In a letter to the vice chancellor after the first day, the students said, “We are writing this mail on behalf of the student community to respectfully draw your attention to a matter of great concern regarding the YTF event, which was initially proposed as an ‘academic event’ has raised serious apprehensions among us. It appears that the event has deviated from its academic focus and is now being used as a platform for disseminating religious propaganda.”
Who Did This?
On their website, the Young Thinkers’ Forum said they are “a group of young intellectuals and thought leaders formed in 2018, based in Madhya Pradesh.”
They “aim to muster and nurture the bright, young and intellectual thinkers of the [sic] India.” Their “objective is to condition and harness the immense untapped potential of the youth of societal, environmental and national development by creating holistic solutions through their national perspectives”. They “believe that initiating brainstorming on contemporary challenges at each socio-economic level will align us towards our goals”.
Their previous discussions have included “Islam: As It Is”—“For the first time understand the fundamentalist doctrine & history of Islam from a real specialist.” The course was for “Intellectual Kshatriyas who are actively on SM debates, TV panel debates or academic debates”. “Or for those who are plainly curious to understand Islam as it is, not what some people want it to be seen as.”
The Muslim student, who asked us not to write their name, said, “NLIU was their second home”. They were devastated, they added, when the event was held despite protests from many students, and senior faculty members dismissed how they felt.
“Seeing this divide in my home makes me very sad,” they said. “Seeing people, I considered my friends saying all this about the religion I belong to, even if they have not been open, supporting this event implies something. They do believe in this ideology.”
Students said they had read out tweets of some of the speakers to faculty members, but it made no difference.
As for their safety, the student said, “I and other students, not just Muslims but Christians, felt unsafe. It is very emotional for us. Our friends and professors support this and justify it as free speech. It is scary.”
A recent Muslim graduate said she was shy and retiring when she first came to college, but NLIU changed that. The event over the weekend had shaken her to the core.
“I found people who could freely debate while respecting each other’s opinions and agree to disagree,” the former student said. “I found the confidence to embrace my views fearlessly.”
“What I see happening in the university today is the exact opposite because this isn’t just some students expressing their opinions,” she said. “This is something initiated and consented to by the college administration, and it is extremely political and targeted against one community.”
The student said her heart went out to Muslims and Christians living on campus.
“I cannot imagine what a minority student on campus must be going through right now. The kind of thoughts they must have, the feeling of being targeted, the constant urge to defend yourself, your identity, your community,” she said. “College campuses become home to so many. This is revolting, but more than that, it is extremely sad.”
Transphobia Behind A Lecture
One speaker, Ram Sharma, director of the Centre for Indic Studies, Indus University, Ahmedabad, spoke on Unravelling Wokeism: Examining the DNA of Social Activism.
Sharma said, “Sabarimala case, interfering with sacred tradition. This is an example of radical feminism.”
Referring to Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud’s observation—“There is no absolute concept of a man or absolute concept of a woman at all. The biological definition is not what your genitals are. It’s far more complex—Sharma said it was “strange to hear”.
“Those coming from woke training and ideology, for them it is quite easy—‘yeah, it is ok. There are no two genders, no binary and all that.’ But ask any common person, and you will find what we are saying.”
Slides in the background said, “Who is a real women (sic)?” and “Battles of Pronouns.”
A student at Sharma’s talk told him, “Biologically, many people will be very straightforward, and they will say this is a man, and that is a woman based on their genitalia, but when it comes to the mental state, you cannot simply look at a person and determine whether that person is healthy or not.”
Sharma said, “Let’s move ahead. We will come to this when we discuss, ‘Woke ka yeh argument kyon hain.’” (Why is this an argument of the woke).
More from Sharma: “Transgender education in schools is getting a lot of funds, big money, big support, and a lot of moral superiority and authority. Sex education was okay. I understand that you should teach it at a certain age. But using the background of sex education, they have moved to gender education. Does anyone know what gender education is? They tell a seven or eight-year-old that you don’t need to be sure about your gender. If you are not certain, please explore your gender identity. And you, your parents and teachers cannot decide your gender identity…there is such a big racket behind it of pharma, doctors.”
Sharma said that the Black Lives Matter movement in the US was the “latest manifestation” of woke ideology that started “long back” with “25 to 50 years of preparation” and was a reaction to failed communism.
“Wokesim that we are seeing today is through and through an academic project,” said Sharma. “It was born, brought up and nurtured in academia and from academia, it was exported to other parts.”
Theology Over Constitution
Shortly after the news of a hate-filled event at NLIU trickled out on Saturday, Apar Gupta, a lawyer who founded the Internet Freedom Foundation and speaks on legal matters, tweeted that the national law schools “were fertile grounds for communal indoctrination and then attacks on the constitution”, and shared a plan for lawyers to create clubs and societies based in constitutional values.
Gupta told Article 14 that a national law school called him for a debate where the other speaker did not have a law degree but was an influencer who peddled hate speech. When he refused to go, they replaced the influencer with a speaker from a conservative background.
“Law schools are being targeted as venues for theological reasoning rather than constitutional reading,” said Gupta. “Law read on the basis of religious values and practices decides the character of this country, secular country, or monotheist country.”
“There has been the rise of the lawyer influencer,” said Gupta. “Those who seem to be more popular are those challenging core constitutional beliefs.”
(Betwa Sharma is the managing editor of Article 14. She is an alumnus of NLIU Bhopal.)
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