Over 51 days after he last took classes at the University of Allahabad, Vikram Harijan returned to campus on 17 October, accompanied by two armed policemen. The gunmen had been assigned to him the night before, by the Uttar Pradesh Police. Harijan is an assistant professor of medieval and modern history at the university, and is Dalit. He told me he had been “on the run” since 26 August. A few days earlier, a student had approached Harijan in the campus and warned him that his life was under threat, he was in danger of being “lynched,” and advised the professor to “be careful and alert.” That day, a group of students accosted Harijan and told him that they were under great “pressure to take action against” him. Unnerved, Harijan fled the campus, and locked himself up in his house. Two days later, he fled the city.
Harijan was in the eye of a storm over a video that was recorded in April 2017, and which resurfaced on the internet on 20 August this year. The video is of a speech Harijan delivered at a hostel in Prayagraj on 14 April, during a private event commemorating the birth anniversary of BR Ambedkar. The speech was centred on the importance of rationality and critical inquiry. In the course of arguing against superstitions, Harijan narrates how, as a sixth-standard student, he had defaced a Shiv lingam. He then says that the act did not cause him any misfortune—according to Hindu lore, desecration of an idol invites divine wrath.
The video went viral across the campus and was soon being discussed on WhatsApp groups and Facebook posts, in extremely strident tones. Within days, Harijan’s own students started coming up to him, expressing concerns for his safety. On 27 August, even as Harijan stayed barricaded inside his house, a delegation of student activists of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad—the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s student arm—lodged a complaint against him with the university authorities. They claimed that their “sentiments” were hurt by Harijan’s “anti-Hindu” remarks in the video. The next day, the university administration issued a show-cause notice to Harijan, based on the ABVP complaint. In my conversations with the offended parties, the university authorities and Harijan, it became amply clear that his identity as a Dalit man is central to the complaint and opposition against him.