In the late hours of 9 October, the Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya, in Maharashtra’s Wardha district, issued an order rusticating six individuals—five students and, oddly, one alumnus, all from Dalit and Other Backward Class communities. The central university expelled the students after they held a demonstration earlier that day to commemorate the death anniversary of the Bahujan ideologue Kanshi Ram despite being denied permission for the same. The students said that the MGAHV administration’s vehement opposition was on account of an act of dissent during the event—around one hundred and fifty students came together to write postcards to the prime minister Narendra Modi about various issues plaguing the country. “When they could not stop us from raising our voices, they removed us,” Chandan Saroj, one of the expelled students, told me.
According to Saroj, who is Dalit and pursuing his MPhil in the university, students have organised tributes to Kanshi Ram in previous years as well, and never needed to seek prior permission for such events. “We wanted to organise this programme on his death anniversary as all the lynching incidents are targeted against Dalits and Bahujans,” Saroj said. “Those who tried to stop our event did so because they are under pressure from the Sangh and the government to control the students.” The current head of the university administration is affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The circumstances of the students’ expulsion invoke grave questions about the motivation to deny permission for the demonstration, as well as the functioning of the university.
The five students—Saroj, Neeraj Kumar, Rajneesh Ambedkar, Pankaj Vela and Vaibhav Pimpalkar—had organised the protest after the Bihar Police booked 49 celebrities for sedition, in early October, because they wrote to Modi about the growing incidents of mob lynching in India. The students decided to write similar letters en masse in protest. “When the administration heard about this, they told us that they will not give us permission to hold the event,” Saroj said. “We said that it is our fundamental right to write a letter to our prime minister. They responded that we will have to formally request for permission.”
On 7 October, the students sought permission to hold the demonstration. They were promptly denied. The registrar’s office issued a notice stating that demonstrations were prohibited in the university, but did not provide any reasons for this decision. Two days later, on the morning of Kanshi Ram’s death anniversary, the students formally requested permission again, but received another notice restating that demonstrations are not permitted. Later that day, around one hundred and fifty students gathered at a public space within the university, known locally as “Gandhi Hill,” to go ahead with the protest. They attempted to enter a gated park—the spot at which they had sought permission to hold the demonstration—but were denied entry by security guards. The students then decided to stage their demonstration outside the gate, on Gandhi Hill, and sat down to write their postcards to Modi.
Among other issues, the postcards highlighted the lynchings of Dalits and Muslims, the ongoing lockdown in Kashmir, and the arbitrariness that has marred the process to update the National Register of Citizens. Rajesh Sarthi, an alumnus who graduated as a media-management student in 2018 and was present in the university at the time to collect his migration certificate, joined the demonstration in solidarity with the students. Later that night, the administration issued the notice expelling Sarthi and the five students, citing a violation of the model code of conduct, which had been in force in Maharashtra since 21 September, ahead of the assembly elections scheduled for late October.