Assistant Professor Sanjay Kumar is a quintessential intellectual, a rebel thinker, a conscientious and rigorous teacher with an open mind. He is also an old-fashioned fighter, unable to endure injustice. He truly represents the synthesis of theory and praxis as part of a historical struggle to create a just, equal, pluralist and secular society.
He might have his views, and there is no reason that all should agree with him. There is ample space for dissent and debate; to re-imagine and rethink positions.
However, his pedagogy in the social sciences, anthropology or in political studies has been non-dogmatic, non-sectarian, as open-ended as the idea of ‘deschooling society, or the ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’. His social media posts would travel through a kaleidoscope of rainbow coalitions of knowledge systems: from the thought process of Professor Avijit Pathak of Center for Study of Social Systems/School of Social Sciences (CSSS/SSS), JNU, who would move with Ivan Illich to Rabindra Nath Tagore to Gandhi and the Frankfurt School with equal ease, to the classical, political economy of legendary Marxist academic and economist Prabhat Patnaik, formerly with the Center for Economic Study and Planning (CESP/SSS) in JNU; to the non-conformist thinking and brilliant footnotes from the revolutionary past of world history posted by genius scholar Jairus Banaji, also a former student of JNU the campus will always be proud of.
Indeed, the pluralist landscape of the mind of JNU was integral to Sanjay Kumar’s theory and praxis as a teacher of Sociology and Social Anthropology at the Mahatma Gandhi Central University in Motihari in Bihar.
Indeed, Sanjay, the faculty, the teachers’ union and the 600-odd students in this quiet and obscure campus were growing new schools of thoughts and new trees of knowledge, combined with the essential idea that no university can flourish without democratic and transparent institutions of equality and transparency, with high intellectual standards, peaceful dissent and struggle, and responsible freedom of speech and expression. In this campus, where ideas flourished outside the gaze of mainline, well-known and prestigious university campuses, violence was never on the agenda. It was rationality and argument, and the quest for knowledge which formed the core aesthetic of this culture of mind and soul, inside and outside the classroom.
Therefore, the murderous lynching of Sanjay Kumar in his home at Motihari on August 17, 2018, by an organised mob of blood-thirsty goons, including students, in the presence of another teacher who was also hit badly, shocked not only the campus, the people in Bihar, his friends, scholars and faculty in JNU and Delhi University, it created a national outrage across India. The media covered the attack widely, even while Sanjay was first transferred to a Patna Hospital, then to the AIIMS in Delhi in highly critical condition.
Sanjay had put up a post on a former prime minister belonging to the BJP after his death. Several similar critical and controversial posts were doing the rounds in the social media. Even for those who thought that it was not really an act of discretion to be critical about a leader during a period of condolence, ideally, it should have been opposed by peaceful condemnation or a worthwhile debate.
Instead, he was stripped and brutally assaulted, relentlessly and continuously. His body was ravaged and brutalized, including his internal organs. He was assaulted on his private parts by the mob which seemed to be trained in the ritual of mob-lynching. While teachers in the campus and his friends, and politicians, academics and activists in Delhi and Patna and elsewhere, rallied in quick support, the video of his lynching, another ritual in these series of murderous attacks all over India, became viral in social media.
The sheer audacity of this brutality was transparent and open for all to see as a grotesque public spectacle, and the sheer physical degradation, humiliation and destruction of the concept of an intellectual and teacher by a mob of young goons, became yet another jarring chord in a nation where one MOB-lynching has followed another. In most cases these seem akin to ‘organized murders’ enacted as a public spectacle often with alleged tacit and overt support by the police, the administration and the state, who choose to turn a blind eye.
In Sanjay’s case, his colleagues in the faculty and the teachers’ union claimed, that the university administration and the vice-chancellor, along with the police and the JD (U) and BJP government in Bihar, seemed in an alleged nexus with the attackers. Even in the hospital, the teachers and his friends claimed, his treatment seemed to be not up to the mark considering his critical condition. The cops, predictably, went soft on the identified goons, according to his faculty colleagues, and the Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi of the BJP openly came out with a tactless and crude statement on Sanjay.
The BJP leader said he had tracked the assistant professor’s medical reports right from Sadar Hospital, Motihari, to Patna Medical College and Hospital. “While Sadar Hospital called the injuries superficial, PMCH reports also did not suggest any serious injuries. I doubt that he is admitted at AIIMS, Delhi,” he was quoted in the media.
This was when streams of visitors had earlier visited him in the hospital in Patna, including top politicians and eminent citizens and academics from across the spectrum, but also at the AIIMS in Delhi. That his condition was critical was a medical truth was a priori, while fears about his recovery were etched in the minds of his friends and relatives.
In response to Modi’s statement, Professor Apoorvanand of Delhi University, wrote a moving open letter to the BJP leader. He wrote:
“…Sushil Modi, I am writing this article to inform you that Sanjay Kumar is alive. His skull is intact. He can move his limbs. He can walk on his own. He can even see. Forget the persisting pain in his neck, abdomen, his thighs, the hurt in his eyes and his blurred vision. Forget the fever that keeps returning….
…All this, after all, is superficial. You say he is faking his injuries. You even doubt that the All India Institute of Medical Sciences has admitted him. You accuse him of exaggerating his injuries to “evoke sympathy of the media and the Left-liberals…”
…You also accuse him of dramatising the attack on him. To attract sympathy of the Left and liberals…
…Dear deputy chief minister, it was not Kumar who dramatised the attack on him. He was simply sitting in a room in his third floor house where the goons who are your nationalist friends, descended. They dragged him down the stairs, pushing, punching, hitting him with an iron rod. Then he was dragged on the road and while being dragged, constantly attacked…
…The attack was quite dramatic. But it was not Kumar who dramatised it. It was the gang of your nationalist friends who made it theatrical. One of them even filmed the entire episode. So the drama which could have been ephemeral turned into a document for posterity. One of the attackers was bold enough to boast after his performance that the work was done…Like the old dacoits, the attackers had announced beforehand that Kumar would be punished. They kept their word…” (The Wire)
As the protests in the university continued and intensified, a peaceful protest by the students in support of their teachers and against goondaism was once again attacked. One student was brutally assaulted – he too had to be admitted in a Patna hospital in a critical condition.
Since then there has been a protracted and peaceful strike at the Motihari campus, with total shut-down, even while ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has chosen abject silence. After weeks, the teachers and students started classes, but continued the non-violent protest. Students have rallied around their teachers and there have been peaceful protests in a general atmosphere of terror and fear psychosis with no one trusting the police, the district administration or the government in Patna and Delhi.
There have been solidarity protests all over India, including in Delhi, and the media has been flooded with news reports and articles. This unknown campus became the epicenter of yet another struggle against what appears to be a complete violation of rule of law and the reign of terror of mobocracy, despite Supreme Court orders.
After the attack on Sanjay, two students were arrested and are out on bail. Others clearly identified by witnesses and in the video, have been allowed to go scot free, allege the teachers. One of the students arrested was recently admitted back into the campus despite his dubious and violent past. A teacher told this reporter that he is openly walking around the campus in a threatening posture, pointing fingers at teachers and students, even while the resilient teachers, with no support from the police, or an accomplice vice-chancellor who is clearly backing these goon elements, move around in collective groups – with the possible fear of yet another lynching.
In a press statement issued on October 15, 2018, by the Mahatma Gandhi Central University Teachers’ Union, they have categorically depicted the dismal state of affairs in the campus. The statement is as follows:
“The corrupt vice-chancellor and his associates accomplished yet another conspiracy by giving admission to one of the accused of the mob-attack on Mr Sanjay Kumar, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Social Anthropology of Mahatma Gandhi Central University, Motihari, Bihar on 17-Aug-2018 (FIR No 582/18, dated 17-08-2018). The accused Diwakar Kumar Singh was granted admission in a post-graduate course, MSW, even after being in waiting list no. 23. The admission to such a criminal is given to silence the voice of the faculty and students who are protesting against the fraudulent employment of the VC through fake qualifications. Granted admission, Mr Singh also posted a threatening message in Facebook against the teachers. A video in social media is also available in which he is seen threatening the teachers protesting against the VC on 17 July, 2018 at the university gate. The VC himself was determined to give admission to him as he was personally present during the admission on Sunday and let him be welcomed by flowers. The VC, Dr Arvind Kumar Agrawal, and the president of the Admission Committee, Dr Pavnesh Kumar, also accused in the same FIR, granted admission despite knowledge of the same. It is noteworthy here that Mr Diwakar needs to produce a character certificate for his admission. Can the accused, who is on anticipatory bail in the attack on a teacher of Mahatma Gandhi Central University, be given admission without submission of the character certificate? The VC is personally seen in many photos along with Mr Singh, viral through social media before and after 17 August. Amidst this criminal conspiracy, we, the teachers of MGCU, are really worried about our safety and appeal to the concerned competent authorities, media and civil society for our protection.”
In the protracted struggle for justice against the relentless and organized attacks on academic autonomy and democracy in several university campuses by the current regime led by a tyranny of mediocrity, the campus in Motihari represents all that is noble, brave, pure and courageous, against all odds. It is a hard struggle and protracted struggle, but it is an incredible pointer to the infinite resilience and resistance of the human will against all that is evil, barbaric, nasty and brutish in this world.
This too is a dialectic which will be close to Sanjay’s heart. The constant movement of opposites, in unity, in struggle, in synthesis, in disunity, in anti-catharsis. The struggle of good against evil, ideas against brute force, truth against untruth.
The writer is a journalist based in Delhi