Indian universities at the center of an ideological war | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 08.01.2020
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Indian universities at the center of an ideological war

The recent attack by masked assailants at a university in New Delhi has alarmed secular and liberal Indians, who see it as part of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's scheme to push the country toward Hindu supremacy.

Indian students are protesting against a violent attack by masked assailants at a university in New Delhi. Videos circulating on social media show "gang members" beating Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students and teachers with rods and bricks in an assault that opposition lawmakers say is linked to the government.

Sunday's violence was particularly blamed on the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Protests against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have spread across many parts of the country, with liberal and secular Indians slamming the Hindu nationalist leader for enforcing a new citizenship law, alleging that it discriminates against Muslims.

Student organizations are at the forefront of these anti-government protests. But the attack on students has alarmed many in the South Asian country.

Many students and organizers at JNU have protested Modi's policies in recent years. Protests against the fee hike, which students said would make education too expensive, kicked off in November.

Read more: Indian state shuts down internet ahead of protests

Growing violence in campuses

Violence at the university campuses is not a new phenomenon in India, but the situation has worsened since BJP came to power in 2014. Critics say the Hindu nationalist party is using its student arm to target left-leaning teachers and pupils.

Activists also accuse the BJP of unleashing police violence to crush dissent.

Watch video 02:20

Attackers beat protesting students at Indian university

On December 15, 2019, police raided the Jamia Millia University (JMU) in the capital and used force against the protesting university students. On the same day, the security forces launched a crackdown against the students of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).

"Students' rights are being curbed [in India]. The students are angry and they are not going to accept it anymore. That is why they are protesting. The government wants to silence them," Yousuf Saeed, a documentary filmmaker, told DW.

Human rights activists and civil society campaigners say the government has been using various tactics to intimidate the students.

"Students have refused to surrender. That is why we see that authorities have become more brutal in handling them. The violence at the universities is a proof of that," Prabhat Patnaik, a JNU professor, told DW.

JNU is known for its active left-leaning and secular student groups. Deepak Nayyar, a former vice chancellor of the Delhi University, believes it was "not a coincidence" that the ABVP activists targeted the students.

Read more: India's Modi says new citizenship law is not against Muslims

Secularism vs. nationalism

Clashes between liberal student organizations and the BJP's student wings have spiked in the past few years. Analysts say it is a sign that university students are increasingly resorting to violence instead of indulging in healthy political debates.

"Whenever we raise secular slogans in campuses, the ABVP counters them by Hindu nationalism chants. They call us anti-state Maoists," Mayank Gupta, a doctoral student at the Jamia Millia University, told DW.

Rajeev Pandey, a former student activist, says the universities must be free of the government's influence to ensure a vibrant academic environment.

"Universities prepare future political leaders. That is why they need to be free and independent. The BJP does not want it," according to Rajeev Pandey, another former student activist.

Modi's BJP, however, denounced the attacks in a tweet. "This is a desperate attempt by forces of anarchy, which are determined to use students as cannon fodder, [to] create unrest to shore up their shrinking political footprint. Universities should remain places of learning and education," the party said.

Read more: German student asked to leave India after joining student protests

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