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Pro-Palestinian demonstration at Young India Fellowship Convocation; admin does not object

Image of the YIFs wearing keffiyeh during the convocation

During the convocation ceremony of the Young India Fellowship (YIF), on June 29, several graduating fellows wore keffiyeh, scarves symbolic of the Palestinian liberation, Pro-Palestine stickers and raised banners to demonstrate solidarity with Palestinians.

This significant development comes after the university administration previously prohibited any demonstrations and banned students from wearing Pro-Palestine stickers during the undergraduate and Ashoka Scholars Program (ASP) convocations on May 24. Despite the stringent warnings, many faculty members and some students wore keffiyeh to mourn the lives lost in the Gaza Strip.

Later, the Student Government (SG), in a joint statement with Democracy Collective, a student-led political organisation, alleged that the administration threatened individual members of the SG and attempted to stifle dissent.

Over the last three months, many faculty and students have demanded that Ashoka University cut ties with Tel Aviv University (TAU). On May 4, the SG circulated a petition, which received more than 600 signatories, calling for Ashoka to divest from TAU. However, the administration rejected the petition, citing that such a petition represented a ‘political statement’ it was unwilling to take.

Before the convocation, the graduating YIF batch released a statement urging the administration to reconsider its relationship with TAU. With more than 50 signatories from the YIF batch, the statement mentioned that the “fellows were appalled by the administration’s actions”. The signatories maintained that they “stand unwaveringly with the student government in their urgent call to sever all ties with Tel Aviv University”. 

The Edict interviewed a few YIF students from the graduating batch who wore stickers, keffiyeh and held placards at the convocation to know more about the protest and its implications. Sources, who wish to remain anonymous, have been given pseudonyms. 

Events at the convocation

Speaking to The Edict, Rajesh Azad recalled that “about 25-30 people wore keffiyehs and about 30-40 students wore stickers.” The stickers had slogans such as ‘Free Palestine’, ‘Divest from Tel Aviv University’ written on them.

This is an image of the stickers the YIF students wore

During the procession, “10-15 students raised placards with slogans such as ‘Free Palestine’ and ‘Divest Now,’ written” he said. Some students also raised posters on stage while receiving their degrees.

Students who received the academic excellence award and the Spirit of YIF award also mentioned the genocide in Gaza in their speeches, acknowledging Tel Aviv University’s (TAU) complicity in perpetrating violence against Palestinians in Gaza. 

The Spirit of YIF awardee asserted that while Ashoka University provides scope for debate and discussion on global politics, it must take a stance and demonstrate what an academic institution can do when the fundamental values of humanity are violated.

Unlike the undergraduate convocation, where the students faced resistance from the administration, Chancellor Rudrangshu Mukherjee, formally began the ceremony by requesting the gathering to observe a one-minute silence to “mourn the victims of the violence being perpetrated in Gaza, Ukraine and nearer home, in Manipur.”

Such a statement from a member of the University Board of Management “changed the tone of [the]  protest,” said Rajesh. He maintains that faculty members wearing keffiyeh at the undergraduate and ASP convocations helped the students proceed with the protest. Rajesh mentioned that during the YIF dinner, which was held three weeks before the convocation, many students wore stickers. 

Anna Davis, who was involved with organising the protest told The Edict, that a few YIFs had been planning the demonstration at the convocation since May 2024. “Genocide has been going on for more than 9 months now and especially after seeing the administration’s response to whatever was planned for the undergraduate convocation, we were determined to use the space to push the university to cut ties with TAU,” she said.

Media Response

Maktoob Media shared a video from the YIF convocation ceremony on their X (formally Twitter) account on June 30. The video highlighted students wearing Keffiyehs and raising pro-Palestine pamphlets with quotes like "Stop Genocide", "Free Palestine" and "Cut Ties" (with Tel Aviv University).

The incident reignited the political discourse surrounding Ashoka University's “hyper-liberal” image. While many lauded the YIF students for their bravery to stage a protest on their convocation day, many factions of Twitter targeted them for this very move.   

The video was picked by many Twitter accounts and news agencies, who moulded and rebranded the protest's purpose to highlight a completely different meaning. Amongst them was OpIndia, a news website based out of New Delhi. Notably, OpIndia inaccurately reported the shared video to be from the undergraduate and ASP convocation on May 24, where such demonstrations were banned.

In an interview with The Edict, some graduating YIFs shared the importance the protest held to them. They were unanimously of the opinion that staying silent and distancing themselves from Palestinian genocide was not an option. Taking inspiration from the recent global boycott of establishments associated with Israel, Rajesh stated that, “Academic divestment and boycotting [....] is the least we can do”. 

Tanay, a graduating YIF, acknowledged that protesting was a risky option for a lot of YIFs. He points to the fact that the university does provide world-class post-fellowship opportunities like the MLS program, and great research and employment opportunities for many graduating YIFs. He fears that, “by protesting we might not end up being in their good books [....] In a way we are putting our future on the line”.  

Talking about the importance of the protest, Anna said that students have some power in terms of the university platform and are “collectively bound to use that power to work toward ending the genocide”. While she does not believe that isolated instances will stop the genocide, she is hopeful that “together, undeniably it has its effects”. 

Note: The Edict reached out to members of the administration for a comment on the protest at the YIF convocation. We will update the report as and when we receive a response.

(Edited by Keerthana Panchanathan)

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