India: Resisting the onslaught of right-wing violence in Pune 

Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (‘ABVP’), a students’ wing of the ruling party BJP, hold a conference, 2022

In the past one and half months, Pune, in India, became an epicentre of right-wing violence, with series of attacks on education institutions and public places. The first one took place on 23rd January 2024. A mob of youths belonging to a fringe right wing group crashed the gate of FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) by shoving aside security personnel. Once on the campus, they shouted slogans, and went on rampage, pulling down banners and installations and attacked FTII students, specifically targeting office bearers of the FTII Students Union, beating them severely. This ransacking was in response to FTII students putting up the banners with the slogan, ‘Remembering Babri; Death of the Constitution” on the campus earlier day on 22nd January.  This was the day when the consecration of Ram temple was carried out at Ayodhya, a religious ceremony that was made into a day of chauvinism by today’s ruling party, the Hindu nationalist, BJP, and its ally, the paramilitary RSS.  

Not falling for chauvinism, FTII students remembered the demolition of Babri mosque carried out by right wing mobs earlier in 1992 and cited it as the death of the constitution. The attack on FTII, which is an institution run by central government, invited lot of attention, publicity and perpetrators of such attack were expected to be arrested. But police authorities, acting at the behest of right-winged the complaints against students under the claims of ‘hurting religious sentiments’ and arrested them. The FTII Administraiton, on its part, played quite a poor role. Both right wing groups and police authorities acting with such an absolute impunity, and in close coordination, shocked the city. Little did people know it was merely a beginning. 

 Savitribai Phule Pune University (‘SPPU’) of Maharashtra, on February 2, 2024, witnessed yet another incident of a barbarian attack on its students by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (‘ABVP’), a students’ wing of the ruling party BJP. The incident immediately after FTII was the fourth assault by right-wing Hindutva mobs in numerous college and university campuses in Pune, thereby shattering the once proclaimed city of education’ recognition of Pune. On February 2, 2024, amidst the performance of a play by students of Lalit Kala Kendra Department (Department of Performing Arts), as a part of their university examination, a mob of ABPV students aggressively entered the theatre and abused, thrashed, and flogged the performers, causing grievous injuries while alleging the play hurt Hindu religious sentiments. Prior to incident, on November 1, 2023, and November 3, 2023, SPPU witnessed similar incidents wherein ABVP and BJP goons have assaulted students.  

Organized and pre-determined attacks 

All these incidents have been committed in an organized and pre-determined manner. This shows the structural and systemic functioning of ABVP, supported and permitted by the state government, police authorities and the administrations of these educational institutes. The administration of SPPU, in response to the assaults on its students on November 1, November 3 and February 2, 2024 by ABVP goons, have betrayed its students by allowing lodging of FIR/Criminal Complaints against the students who were assaulted (including members of New Students and Youth Federation; which is affiliated with New Socialist Alternative) while indirectly and behind the scenes, backing the members of ABVP. A similar response was shockingly received by the students of FTII who were assaulted. The administration folded its hands and made no efforts in prosecuting the outsiders who illegally entered the campus and assaulted the students.  

The police in lieu of detaining and arresting the assaulters against on Lalit Kala Kendra students on February 2, 2024, surprisingly arrested and charged the students who performed the play under the Indian Penal Code, claiming that the play promoted enmity among some religious groups. This act of apprehending the students outrightly indicates the complicity of the police authorities and the administration’s apparent collaboration with ABVP. Pune has been transformed into a city of horrendous terror of Hindutva mob attacks, which historically has been a place of radical reformation, pioneered by reformers like Mahatma Phule and Savitribai Phule. 

While the city was still grappling to come to terms with the assaults a third attack came on 9th Feb. A rally was organized by a forum called Nirbhay Bano (Be Audacious) comprising liberal intellectuals against recent attacks by BJP. A senior journalist and key figure behind this forum, Nikhil Wagle, has been vocal against the BJP for the past decade. When the rally was announced, the BJP city president threatened to thwart the rally and issued open threats to Mr. Wagle. Police acting on the hints of BJP slapped ridiculous cases against Wagle to prevent the rally taking place but to no avail. On the day of the rally, when Wagle’s car travelled to the venue, it was chased by BJP goons. As the car drew closer to the venue, scores of goons carrying sticks, stones and iron rods surrounded the car, attacked it, thrashed windshields, and attempted to thrust iron rods into the car. All this took place under the watch of cameras. Fortunately, the passengers had a narrow escape.  

Such attacks and the way in which both right wing mobs and police have acted with absolute impunity was shocking. Consequently, we saw sections of the progressive, left going into inaction. While many expressed indignation there was reluctance to publicly protest the attacks. We, New Socialist Alternative (NSA), played a key role. We organized multiple meetings to discuss these issues. Subsequently, delegations from progressive, left forces met senior police officials urging them to act against such violence. As both FTII and Lalit Kala Kendra have their alumina active in the theatre and movie industry, few of those artists came forward later opposing such attacks. The public protest was still lacking. Eventually, after consistent efforts, we could organize it on 5th Feb. It was an important event, as it was first time after 23rd January attack on FTII that people came out in public and expressed their anguish, as well as resolve against such attacks. Faculties of SPPU too took a firm stand later and what initially appeared as a retreat eventually saw the opposition to such right-wing assaults consolidating. New Socialist Alternative has played a crucial role in this process. We will continue to further consolidate the broad front formed to defend the democratic rights of students and the working class against such attacks. 



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March 2024