On the 31st of January, the Social Justice Forum, pushing for a full-fledged caste census of the university since last year, organised an online meeting with Ram ke Naam (1992) director Anand Pathwardhan at the Atrium.
Among the slogans recited by the Social Justice Forum’s Anil Bahariya and the small gathering of students and professors who attended the event, was “Ashoka ko political banana hoga” (Ashoka has to be made political).
What is peculiar about this statement is that it responds to the supposedly ‘apolitical’ environment the University finds itself in. That is, its silence against a Caste Census not being viewed as a clear reflection of the political environment in which it finds itself embedded, but rather a ‘neutral’ stance, an actionless step to keep the university’s hands clean the world outside (that is, in the stereotypical Ashokan imagination, to prevent the ‘bubble’ from bursting). But neither is the Social Justice Forum nor the university’s administration apolitical. The former proudly exclaims it, as it should, and the latter’s silence chooses to be the yardstick of the new normal, making anyone who crosses this line a break from the ‘usual chain of events’.
The administration’s language remains ambiguous in matters it deems ‘too political’ in a twisted attempt to balance the scale and ‘depoliticise’ the issue at hand. My room (Insha Husain) was barged into and I was called in for a tweet wherein I posted about the student body’s apathy towards Palestine, in reference to an abhorrent hate crime. I was asked whether I felt personally victimised or bullied. The matter had nothing to do with me: I am not Palestinian, and my only real stake was that I am part of a community that would allow and even cheer at a blown-up condom meant to look like a missile with the words “I cum in peace #freepenistine'' stuck on a student residence’s bathroom wall. If anything I was the perpetrator of such violence, not the victim. I was also asked to report such instances of “bullying” rather than posting about it on my X account and tarnishing Ashoka’s image, which is quite hypocritical on the administration’s part.
If the Ashoka student body is to be imagined as a community of distinct individuals and not a homogeneous one with similar interests, then in what capacity does calling out an individual’s actions mean tarnishing the university’s image itself? This indicates the administration's awareness of the act serving as a reflection of the majority that comprises its student body - upper-caste upper-class Hindus who not just remain apathetic but actively perpetrate violence against marginalised communities inside and outside the campus.
“Diverse”, “peaceful”, “apolitical”, “casteless”, and “meritorious”, are all vague terms that have been used to death by the administration to dodge critical questions and demands. However such ambiguity of language is no ambiguity of purpose. The purpose remains clear - to keep marginalised students out of spaces like Ashoka, where if you assert the marginalisation of your identity or your peers’, and if the identity in question is political enough to have to be ‘depoliticised’, you will face pushback in a very targeted and intentional manner.
The question remains: Where do we go from here, if anywhere at all? Cynicism turns into apathy turns into compliance, and the student body and faculty alike are complicit in the making of this unique Ashokan model of saffronisation. They can keep their hands clean by being “appalled” and “disturbed” over email from time to time, at their convenience, without ever making any effort to be looped into campus politics, let alone agitate for important and immediate demands. To hold a mic and speak to a crowd of starry-eyed students about changing the world is not alone going to change it, so more than anything, the faculty’s latest response to the administration’s actions is comical.
It is comical because, in the face of all the dissent against the suppression of voices, this country has seen, what we have done for our stake in this dissent could only be described as the most comfortable protest ever held. On February 1st, the Social Justice Forum invited the All-Indian Independent Schedule Caste Association (AISCA) president to talk on post-ideologist popular Dalit discourse. However, the talk was not addressed to the majority of the 30 or so caste students who gathered at the mess lawns that evening, but rather to the few Dalit and Adivasi students who were speckled in the bunch. It brought to the fore the one thing no caste student in this university would wish to hear — that it indeed does not matter whether you are a “good Brahaman” or a “bad Brahaman” since the image of the Dalit self cannot be made into a perfect victim to merely exercise Savarna guilt upon. That is precisely what a Savarna cannot execute while enjoying the comfort that they possess.
Faculty and students have been consistently comfortable, and have taken solace in ‘doing the right thing’, as long as that right thing can be put on a resumé. The essence of almost all that is done in Ashoka — whether an academic pursuit, whether a festival to showcase the ‘diverse’ voices of the country, whether a social service club — is weighed against an ‘investment’. That investment could be the egregious fees most pay for this ‘product’, the hours we put into our day, or the ‘experience' we would later mention in your job interview. If this is all this University is good or ‘pragmatic’ to the majority of us, then it is clear that this establishment is not a first-of-its-kind, ‘philanthropic’ institution but simply a haven for the stagnant Savarna. And if that is the service we are currently availing, then the onus is on us — faculty and students alike — to respond to it.
Note - This piece has been co-authored by an Edict staff writer, and a guest writer not part of the organization.