• Read Widerstand – the Magazine Banned by Pondicherry University

    Souradeep Roy

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    Acche Din for higher educational institutions in India have only increased, and adding to the list of institutions which have already seen wonderful days is Pondicherry University. The university made news three days ago when 4000 copies of the annual magazine Widerstand was confiscated. The administration of the university buckled under the pressure of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) — the student wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The ABVP burnt copies of the magazine, presumably while chanting “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, as they did in a  seminar in Delhi University three months ago. 

    But first things first. What is Widerstand and why did the authorities decide to confiscate the distribution of the magazine? Widerstand is published by the Students' Council of Pondicherry University. The Students’ Council is an elected body of student repressentatives held each year. The elections for the present Council was held in November 2015, and a conglomerate of students from the Student Federation of India (SFI) and Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) won the election. As has often been pointed out in other campuses as well, the Left and Ambedkarite movements have combined to form a joint platform of resistance against the ABVP. 

    So when a bunch of students burns copies of the magazine brought out by a democratically elected body, it is expected of the authorities to stand by the elected body, right? Wrong. The administration instead issued a show cause notice to the editor of the magazine and confiscated the distribution of the magazine. Now, stopping a book or magazine from public circulation is a way of enforcing a ban on the book, right? Wrong. College authorities have claimed that they have not banned the magazine. Instead, they have formed an internal committee to look into the content of the book. This is quite hilarious, since the Vice Chancellor, Professor Anisa Basheer Khan, had written a mellifluous congratulatory note to the students, perhaps written without reading the magazine:

    I am happy to know that Students’ Council of Pondicherry University is bringing out the Students’ Council Literary Magazine of 2015-16. I appreciate their efforts in bringing out the journal to encourage creative writing by reading and evaluating fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction by students of the University with a hands-on education in literary publishing. 

    I wish the Literary Magazine of 2015-16 by the Students’ Council a great success. (sic)

    I spoke to Nidhin Nath, a magazine committee member, who told me that the Dean of Students’ Welfare, Prof. P Moorthy (also the Chief Editor of the magazine), wanted the word “dalit” to be removed prior to its publication. The students did not agree and the student editor, Angali G., wrote in her editorial, “A year has passed by where the democratic nation has turned in to a fascist one where the Dalits are burned alive and the educational institutions were saffronised.” Yesterday, the poor Dean Professor Mohanty was “relieved” of his post, according to a notice signed by the Registrar of the university. What all this suggests is the recurrence of a phenomenon: the interference of the government in educational institutions. In this case, apart from the MHRD, the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry, Kiran Bedi, has also asked for clarifications from the university. Even after a host of academics from several institutions have cried themselves hoarse on the need for freedom of speech in the university, and the need for autonomy in the university space, we have gone back to square one. 

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    So what is there in Widerstand  that even a former IPS officer seems to be wary of it? The range of articles in the magazine is quite impressive. From Pramod Meena’s article on educational institutions turning into “saffron concentration camps”, to Jishnu K’s piece on Karl Marx and Jenny Von Westphalen married life, the magazine also has an assemblage of other genres, with some brilliant designs and illustrations. Widerstand draws inspiration from a German publication of the same name that ran from 1926 to 1934 in and was banned under Nazi rule. Perhaps it is not surprising that we now see a direct link between the Nazis of those days and the Hindutvavadis of today. The Widerstand of 2015 has met the same fate as the Widerstand of the 1920s.

    Meanwhile, in a moving piece on the burning of books, poet K Satchidanandan also writes on book burning turning obsolete, after discussing Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451:

    While reading the novel some time back, I thought, maybe today men would not have to take all the trouble; the books would have survived in other forms, in an internet library,  as downloadable e-books, as bits quoted in blogs, as CDs and DVDs all of which have made banning books difficult and burning books obsolete if not useless.

    Quite some time has passed since 1953 – the date of the publication of Farenheit 451. In our bid to keep reading and debate from turning obsolete, we make Widerstand available for everyone to distribute and discuss.

    Click here to read the magazine online.

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