Students of a state university have come under fire from Akhil Bhartiya Vidya Parishad, for staging a play by Mahasweta Devi as a tribute to the recently deceased writer and activist.
The play, ‘Draupadi’, staged by students of Central University of Haryana (CUH), attracted the ire of the right-wing student group, who objected to certain parts of the play as being offensive to soldiers of the Indian Army.
Draupadi, the play that was staged by the English Department of CUH, is set in the backdrop of the 1970s Adivasi rebellions against the zamindari system, with a strong, female protagonist.
In the scene that attracted the ire of the ABVP, the protagonist who is a tribal girl, is raped by army men after she refuses to divulge information about the tribal leaders involved in the movement to the army.
The play, which is in English, was followed by an epilogue and a speech in Hindi by one of the faculty members, in which she reiterated data about several atrocities committed against tribal women by the Indian army over the years. .
The protesters consisted of ABVP activists, locals from Mahendragarh area, and ex servicemen, who claimed the depiction is a direct affront to the soldiers serving in the army.
Protesters burned effigies of university’s Vice Chancellor on Tuesday, and also held a mock funeral for him. They demanded an FIR against all those who were involved in the staging of the play.
A professor at the varsity was quoted by Hindustan Times as saying:
“As literature students, if they’re not even allowed to perform plays written by legends like Mahasweta Devi, then I think there’s some serious problem of freedom of expression in our country,”
The recent student agitations in Hyderabad University and Jawaharlal Nehru University, focused on the question of the constitutional right to freedom of expression.
This is a post on Twitter by one of the people the play has apparently offended:
A teacher at the university told The Wire:
“We have never seen such a planned campaign against teachers and students of the university. We were rehearsing for the play for the last one month. The VC, the head of department and most students knew about the contents of the play. No one objected to it. And suddenly we find that sentiments of a section of students were hurt! ABVP students constantly guard the university gates,”
Many have claimed that the administrative flip-flop is due to political pressure from the ruling party and its subsidiaries, and have criticised the BJP government for keeping quiet. Among them is Congress leader Digvijay Singh:
Would PM who eulogised her on her demise pl intervene and stop persecution of Students & Members of Faculty of Central University of Haryana— digvijaya singh (@digvijaya_28) September 28, 2016
The administration of CUH, which had initially cleared the program and given permission for the staging of the play, instituted a search panel to look into the matter after ABVP raised objections. It also held a press conference today, where it apologised for any offence caused to anyone by the criticism of the Indian army, The Telegraph said.
The administration has also asked the teacher in question (who read out the contentious epilogue) to give an explanation about her comments.
Feature Image Source: PTI/Twitter