Over the past nine months, several university professors and school teachers from educational institutions in Uttar Pradesh who shared anti-caste messages have been facing targeted harassment by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi. Members of the ABVP, the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, threatened teachers for talking about the Constitution, quoting historic texts and opposing superstitious practices. In most cases, Ambedkarite teachers were unable to challenge the administrative actions taken against them, and in one case the Uttar Pradesh police registered a first information report against a professor but did not register one based on a complaint he had made against ABVP members who were threatening him.
On 28 September, Mithilesh Kumar Gautam, a 35-year-old guest lecturer at the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth University in Varanasi since 2021, put up a Facebook post criticising religious practices and emphasising the importance of the Constitution. The post read, “If women read the Indian Constitution and Hindu Code Bill for nine days instead of fasting for Navratri, their life would be free from slavery and fear. Jai Bhim.” The Hindu Code Bills were a set of laws that codified and reformed Hindu religious laws to ensure more equitable inheritance and gender laws, the passing of which was spearheaded by BR Ambedkar. Gautam, an alumnus of the university, told me that he did not expect a major backlash since he had always stood for the same values. He had always been vocal about his Dalit identity and the anti-caste ideology he subscribed to.
By the next day, the post had come to the attention of students affiliated with the ABVP who organised a march to Gautam’s department. They alleged that his post had hurt their religious sentiments. Gautam told me that the students in the march were abusing and threatening to kill him, while uttering loud chants of “Jai Shri Ram.” Gautam told me that the procession was led by Ganesh Rai, an office-bearer of the ABVP. “I was not present in the department when they came,” Gautam told me. “But the head of our department Suryabhan Prakash was there. These students started abusing him. After that, he reached out to the vice-chancellor to complain.” The students had demanded that Amir Kumar Tyagi, the university’s vice-chancellor, immediately sack Gautam. Gautam was fired on the same day as the march.