Since Friday evening, there are various media reports about Jadavpur University and the screening of a film. Incidentally, Jadavpur University is my Alma Mater, and I was there at the campus for a while. On Thursday evening when news broke out on Twitter that the screening of Buddha in a Traffic Jam was cancelled, I did not believe it. This couldn’t be done Jadavpur University. This institution taught me how important conflicting ideas and rebellion is. This institute was the citadel of free speech. But I got a rude shock when the letter that cited banal reasons for the cancellation was put up on social media. When did Jadavpur University become so cautious about rules of the establishment? Even if Buddha in a Traffic Jam was supposedly violating the ‘election code of conduct’, why did the institute that has walls full of graffiti for Ishrat Jahan and robust sloganeering for ‘azadi’ suddenly forget its rebellious side? In one evening the idea of Jadavpur University being the citadel of free speech has crumpled. All that Jadavpur University was accused of, of being partisan and ultra-leftist was proved. And how it hurts. Not because the film screening met with violence, but because whatever plagues this great institute was exposed this rudely.
When I was informed that the film would still be screened, in spite of the permission being denied to it I was thrilled. This film had a censor certificate and had every right to be screened. And this is what Jadavpur University is all about. Expression was free, art was free here.
When I reached the Jadavpur University campus along with another friend who is also an alumna of Jadavpur University we were reminiscing about the past. The area that was marked for screening is very dear to me as every evening after classes we would huddle there without a care in the world and would stick on until the guard would go about in their cycles reminding us that it was time to vacate the place. There was a very rickety looking screen that was set up and three Indian flags that adorned the place. Two speakers, a table, and a laptop. The place looked ready for an impromptu screening for film lovers. There were songs being played, the audio was bad, but we could make out ‘Hindustan Meri Jaan’ on loop. And since no one from the university administration came up to stop or warn the organizers, we thought everything was okay.
Now as we approached Blue Earth, two gentlemen in their late forties (I wonder if they were students) sneered ‘this is an RSS gathering. They will now say how bad the communists are etc.’. I laughed it off and told my friend ‘I was an Jadavpur University alumna a while back. Am an RSS supporter now?’ All because I had gone to support a movie?
There was already a group that was chanting Azadi slogans around the place and I had this nagging feeling that the film will not be screened. There are a couple of things that I need to point out. Claims on social media that the students had decided to only show black flags to Agnihotri and had no intention of disrupting the screening is a blatant lie. And yes there were lots of ‘outsiders’. But when has Jadavpur University become shy about ‘outsiders’? Outsiders have been an integral part of the university for as long as I remember. Their prowess reached a zenith during the Hokkolorob movement and ‘Bohiragoto-r Diary’ a page by non-JU students who extended their support to the movement flourished. It is also rumoured that the ‘outsiders’ frequented the campus so much that security guards were posted at the gates to check the I cards and then let people pass.
So it is not necessary for one to be a student of Jadavpur University to support a cause. Yes, Friday evening was a cause in which freedom of expression was being muzzled and keeping to the much-adored spirit of rebellion people joined in.
Now when we were inside the campus, we did not hear any chants of Jai Shri Ram or Narendra Modi slogans. Not a fan of the political sloganeering, these slogans had no business as it was a film screening and not the last leg of election campaign. However, even provocative ‘azadi’ slogans were pretty out of place.
I would also like to add that if the ABVP supporters indulged in the act of molestation they must be booked. There were TV cameras all around on Friday evening. I am sure someone must have some footage of the incident. Or at least a mobile camera must have recorded it.
But the supposed ABVP michil was not a part of the audience that was eagerly waiting for the film to start.
Now without digressing further, I would get straight to Friday evening. Agnihotri’s car was surrounded by what looked like a mob. They may be illustrious students but nevertheless a mob. The claim that they started the ruckus only after Agnihotri talked about Rohit Vemula is a lie. The sloganeering had started much earlier. I also spotted many DSLR cameras which most probably belonged to the media and wonder why that footage is not being shown on TV. At one point some of us feared that he would have to go back. It was around that time that one gentleman in a blue shirt and a writing pad approached me. He posed as a journalist, but a while back looked pretty friendly with the ‘black flag’ brigade. I have a sneaky feeling he was not a journalist at all.
In another couple of minutes, Agnihotri’s car entered the screening area and a thin boy jumped in front of it. I don’t know whether he wanted to injure himself and then cry victim or simply just wanted to stop the car. Sloganeering reached its pinnacle by the time the director alighted the car. They were countered by chants of Bharat Mata ki Jai, which I believe is still legal in the country.
The organizers blundered at point. They got provoked and that is what the sloganeering ‘students’ wanted. The couple of speeches that followed could have been avoided. The director’s speech was spot on and he went on to point out that this was not a war between the left and the right. But the students did not have the decency to stop their cat calls. More than the insult to an individual, as a screenwriter, what hurt me was the blatant insult to cinema. This university has become so partisan that they have started seeing ‘left’ ‘right’ ‘centre’ in even cinema. This university makes me wonder if before going to a movie hall we will now have to do a background check about the cast and crew and the parties they support. So taken up were they in their cat calls and sloganeering that they even held on to a ‘Go Back Kher’ slogan, in spite of the fact that Kher wasn’t even there at the university. Kher’s art or acting prowess is buried under leftist hatred. Today he is just a Modi bhakt for these ‘guardians of free speech and idea of India’.
At around six I realized it would be a tedious exercise to watch the film and left the campus. While I am not an eye witness to what happened, I would like to add that the media should at times stop the one-sided harangue. Nowhere in their structured narrative is a mention of the four who had been hospitalized last evening. They were of course from the party that wanted to watch the film. One of them was a woman. But picking up the victim card is not everybody’s style.
I do not endorse violence and if the ABVP is guilty they will get an answer in students polls sooner or later. The alleged attack at the screening of Muzzafarnagar Baki hai needs to be probed not by Kangaroo courts of the students but by a competent body. If allegations are true then even that is an attack on freedom of expression. Also, Rupa Ganguly’s addition to the party has taken away the entire focus from the film. Had she been there is a film personality and extended support to the director, then it would have been a great moment.
My thumbs up to Vivek Agnihotri. It needs a lot of courage to love your cinema and take risks at screening it. Those talking about his filmography are as flimsy as those trolls that poked fun at actresses who spoke up against Modi and had nothing much on their resume.
My angst is because last evening is an attack on cinema, an attack on expression. What makes the youth so insecure that one film gets them to wrestle a director out of the university? Also, had this film been by an award wapsi director and had met the same fate at Jadavpur University, I would protest even then. Art or cinema is not about the left or the right. Why is it so necessary for a section of ‘illustrious’ minds to create this divide?
Already ‘critics’ are of the opinion about how badly made the film is. Maybe it is. But if we had to judge the merits of a movie and then extend support to its freedom, laughable creations like Unfreedom and Fifty Shades deserve no tears for being muzzled!
There are lot of unanswered questions. If the University authority did not want the event to take place why did they not intervene when the speakers and screen was being set up? If the Alumni association wanted to keep up to ‘codes’ and ‘conducts’ why had they granted permission and then developed cold feet? Also when was the last time we heard a case of violence where it is the attackers and not the those attacked who had been hospitalized? Yes, my peaceful comrades you physically manhandled and injured people. So drop the ‘we are liberal students’ act.
P.S- I am a fan of Modi but on record I would like to point out – I did not vote for the BJP this Vidhan Sabha elections. So as much as you want to believe, this piece is not sponsored by the ABVP or the BJP.
– This piece was mailed to us by a Jadavpur University Alumna. The writer’s identity has been kept anonymous on the request of the author.