University in UP Directs Students to Sign Pledge Against ‘Anti‑National’ Activities
You must not have any “unlawful” thoughts that are against India’s national interests. You must not participate in any unlawful gathering or protest. You must not “question, threaten, or disrupt” the integrity of a nation through any inciteful activity. These are the instructions a university in Uttar Pradesh has circulated to students and parents, asking them to sign a pledge against any and every “anti-national” activity.
Bennett University, located in Greater Noida and owned by the Times Group, on March 14th sent out a mail with the aforementioned undertaking, as Scroll.in reported. Any anti-national or anti-social activity within and outside the campus is strictly prohibited — lest the student may face expulsion or other punitive action.
Anti-national is a buzzword and a red herring simultaneously. For the university administration, the phrase means something “which is unlawful in the opinion of the university,” the officials said. The undertaking goes on to describe the five pillars of defiance that make someone anti-national. In addition to the three mentioned above pertaining to protests and unlawful thoughts, the undertaking objects to any activity that incites violence against the state or among people. Additionally, any activity “intended to (a) overthrow by force the government, (b) create internal disturbance or disrupting of public services and threatens to disrupt peace, security, public order, safety, harmony amongst regional groups or castes or communities” is restricted.
Notably, the University states the instructions are the result of a directive received from the state government. According to a June 2019 Ordinance passed by the Uttar Pradesh government, private universities are required to explicitly declare they won’t be involved in any “anti-national activity.” The objectives of the educational institute, the government order noted, should be in pursuit of national integration, desh bhakti (patriotism), social harmony, and morale building. While the Ordinance applied to the university only, the current pledge is being passed on to students and parents.
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To this, Colonel Guljit Singh Chadha (retired), registrar of the university, told Scroll: “How will the university enforce [the ordinance] until and unless they are not duty-bound. There is a directive by the UP government that percolates down to the students and whoever is coming for admission. They have to abide by that.”
This is not the first time the deceptively benevolent phrase of “anti-national” activity has been used to gag free speech. In September last year, a university in Kerala issued a “gag order” preventing staff and faculty members from making “anti-national” statements. This was reportedly done after an assistant professor of international relations and politics, while teaching a class on “Fascism and Nazism,” described the Sangh Parivar organizations and the current government as “proto-fascist.” In January 2020, in the wake of fierce protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), IIT Bombay also passed a circular prohibiting any “anti-national activity.” This penalized any distribution of posters, leaflets, or pamphlets within the hostel premises, but the term was left undescribed by the university officials.
Arguably, blanket circulars like these frame “anti-nationalism” as a nebulous specter haunting Indian ethos and education. “For it is in the name of protecting national pride and heritage that textbooks and curricula are changed at will. It… serves as a dog whistle to mobilize majoritarian political sentiment and silence dissent,” wrote researcher Sruti Bala about this plaguing trend of stifling academic freedom as well as a fundamental right.
These mandates also become one of the many ways universities are curbing expression and the health of activism in the name of “discipline” and security. Student protests and activism remains a strong fulcrum of change and revolt against oppressive practices — making them integral to university spaces. “Students have now become the most disposable and must be targeted with a selection of adjectives,” explained Soham Chakraborty, who studies English literature at Kolkata’s Jadavpur University. Chakroborty referred to the rising use of phrases like “anti-national,” “urban Naxals,” “sickular libtards” among others.
To make students and parents collectively pledge against an arbitrary notion of nationalism compromises the quality of education itself. More worryingly, it bolsters a culture of fear and hesitance in a majoritarian country where institutional discipline reigns supreme over individual autonomy.