Right-wing activists & trolls have targeted Ashoka University & a professor there for teaching the graphic novel ‘Gardener in the Wasteland’.

New Delhi: Ashoka University has found itself in the crossfires of Hindu outrage.

Aparna Vaidik, an associate professor of history at the university – located in Sonipat, Haryana, just outside Delhi – is being targeted by Right-wing activists on Twitter and Facebook for teaching the graphic novel ‘Gardener in the Wasteland’ by author Srividya Natarajan in her ‘Great Books’ foundation course.

On Monday, French political writer and author François Gautier — whose Facebook cover-photo advertises his own book ‘In Defence of a Billion Hindus’— used the social media platform to call the book a “falsehood and pure anti-Hindu anti-Brahmin poison that kids are being taught at an impressionable age by teachers”.

 

“Unless you counter such hateful material your next generation kids will suffer a very bad fate as history as taught us,” he wrote, adding that “This is exactly what happened with the Jews of Europe & Hindus of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kashmir etc. Violent extinction.”

His post was shared over 340 times and gathered more than 500 reactions.


Also read: New JNU honorary prof Rajiv Malhotra’s CV: Charges of plagiarism & whole lot of Hindutva


Discrimination against Brahmins

This isn’t the first time that Hindu outrage has compared its plight to the treatment of Jews under Hitler’s Germany.

Soon after Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was photographed with a placard that read ‘Smash Brahminical Patriarchy’ in November, author Advaita Kala’s view that “this constant hitting out against Brahmins” is comparable to “what Nazis did to Jews” was echoed by many people on social media.

Screenshots of the current text in question, which claims to be based on Indian reformer Jyotirao Phule’s 1973 seminal book ‘Gulamgiri’, were tweeted to show panels referring to 8th-century Indian theologian Adi Sankara as a “devious brahman scholar” who used “his twisted intellect to re-establish brahman domination in the 12th century”.

In the comment sections of Gautier’s post, user Amrita Bhattacharyya called for the author Natarajan, professor Vaidik and the university administration to “immediately be charged with sedition for spreading hatred against a particular community”.

Another user named Girish Venkataramanan asked for Natarajan to be arrested.

Apart from the hurt caused to Hindu sentiment, Twitter and Facebook users also pointed towards historical inaccuracies in the text, least of which is the incorrect century of Adi Sankara’s lifetime.

On 10 December, the same day, a tweet by Twitter handle @AhmAsmiYodha condemning Vaidik and the university was retweeted by Swarajyacolumnist Shefali Vaidya — who has 291 thousand followers on Twitter.

The posts, which shared the professor and the Ashoka University chancellor’s email ID, resulted in Vaidik and the university administration “getting so much hate mail, that she had to temporally deactivate her email ID”, Young India Fellow from the batch of 2018, Surya Harikrishnan told ThePrint.

Students battle social media trolls

In response to Vaidya’s endorsement of the criticism on Twitter, at least 20 Ashoka University students have emailed her asking her to ‘Get Well Soon Shef’.

The email campaign, as first suggested by third-year student Sparsh Agarwal on a private Facebook group of undergraduate students, took inspiration from the Gandhigiri style of protest as shown in the movie Lage Raho Munnabhai.

“If the ultimate end is to attract BJP and RSS supporters for dialogue, then anger is not going to be a good tool to engage with them. Instead of retaliating with hate and abuse, we wanted to show her that ‘When you go low, we go high,’ Agarwal told ThePrint.

ThePrint has reached Shefali Vaidya for comment. This report will be updated when she responds.

Further, students like Harikrishnan and Agarwal also took to Twitter to reply to individual comments.

Harikrishnan said that he was forced to report a tweet after it threatened him with physical violence. In an email sent to the former Ashoka student, Twitter removed a tweet by @haggsqaut that said the “Only solution to fools like you is a one on one fight till the end.”

For Varnika Gangavalli, a first-year student of Vaidik, “The Great Books course was about historical oppression, and it altered my worldview in a significant, yet nuanced way.”

“But I can’t say that we were being indoctrinated,” she added.


Also read: Diktat for teachers at central universities like JNU & DU: Can’t criticise govt


‘Freedom of academic thought’

Not every student, however, can say that with the same certainty. 

Second-year student Aditya Agarwal told ThePrint that he is someone “who proudly believes in the ideology of Hinduism,” and on reading the book “certain things shifted the balance”.

People who firmly believe in Hinduism and Adi Sankara are going to get triggered,” he said, adding that “While it depends on the person reading the book, I believe a student will form an idea instead of actually engaging critical thinking about the subject.”

In an official statement to ThePrint, Ashoka University maintained that the “The university faculty are free to use a diverse range of materials to catalyze thinking.”

“It is the hallmark of a mature education that students confront a diversity of arguments, including some uncomfortable ones. The university aims to ensure that students are equipped to think critically about issues and form their own views. Ashoka University is committed to freedom of academic thought, without bias of any kind,” the statement said.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. I am disconcerted by the fact that an anti-Hindu book is causing such an uproar, particularly in an environment that is blatantly espousing Hindutva. I may not agree with what the book espouses, but it’s a counter viewpoint that needs to be addressed, not at an emotional level, but with acceptable, well-researched and comprehensive retorts. In a democracy, it’s important to state all viewpoints. We need to develop thicker skins if we wish to become a true secular country. We comprise many religions and must make this our strength. Discourse on issues such as these should help us become more tolerant and not weaken the diverse fabric of our country.

    • Counter viewpoints must be respected,but it should be authentic.The facts about adi-shankaracharya is historicaly incorrect.Rational thinking doesn’t mean to teach fake narratives.Its very important that the books must contain factually correct stuffs.But trolling is not the solution rather engage with the university to bring out the truth.Just imagine if somebody teaches how Prophet Mohammad was violent & cruel while destroying the pagan culture of Arab…would it have been acceptable?

      • Couldn’t agree more. Spinning false narratives to influence one’s thoughts and beliefs is unacceptable. None of the stuff in the book is accurate. Everything is completely made up by the author. It is filled with hate and the book must be taken down both from the university as well as circulation. Books presribed in universties, schools and colleges should first be vetted for historical accuracies. The objective of this book is to create a civil disorder within the nation which would suit the left-leaning agenda. Young and gullible minds are being influenced by this nonsense. Making the students read different viewpoints about something is one thing. But one cannot distort history and then say that it is an opinion and therefore acceptable. For instance, you simply cannot demonize Adi Shankara and that say that it is an opinion. The author conveniently sits in Canada and makes money by writing and selling books that spreading hatred. The objective no doubt ( as seen from one of the other commenters in this forum) is to kindle a discussion and start a war to drive out Brahmins. This must be stopped. The Govt. and courts must intervene.

    • First of all, stop thinking that all Hindus understand and want Hindutva. Majority of the Hindus don’t even care about Hindutva. This issue is not at all about Hindutva or the so-called saffron brigade taking an issue with what’s happening. We are just Hindus who are upset by what this author has published and the university prescribing such a book. Why do you feel that an anti-Hindu book spreading canards and spewing hatred should not cause an uproar? Would anyone be quiet when someone insults their mother? Would Muslims and be quiet if there is a book saying something about the prophet or the Bukhari? None of these social keyboard warriors came to the forefront demanding rights to critique Islam or the Bukhari or the prophet or when there was a certain drawing that came out insulting the prophet. When people in a media organization in France were murdered for publishing the drawing in their magazine, these left-leaning pseudo secularists did not write a darn thing about it. Why then do you guys think it is OK for someone to write nonsense about Adi-Shankara and feel that it should be acceptable by the masses? Why can’t the university in question come out with a clear report on what other books have been prescribed as part of the same course that espouses how women are to be treated according to the Bukhari or women’s rights in as stated in the Bible? I think they should do that before the kids start trolling people who question this hideous act in Francois Gautier’s facebook page. In the absence of none of the supporting points, promoting the use of the book (piece of crap ) will NOT be considered acceptable.

  2. One more reason that I am glad that my son has applied to Ashoka University. All points of view are important. If something makes one uncomfortable, then we need to introspect and see which of our insecurities is threatened by that view.
    I am neither pro, nor anti Brahmin. Although I abhor the whole care system. But there are certainly oppressive practises that need to be questioned, and called out.
    We don’t pick what we are born into, but we are certainly answerable to what we do with it.

    • Why do the left and left-leaning educational institutions always keep fanning hatred towards and target Hinduism alone by spinning false narratives? Can they publish a report on what other books they have introduced that critique other religions as well? What would your reaction be if someone writes a comic book on how kids are beaten up at Madrasas and how women are ill-treated under Sharia / Nikka halala and there is an uproar about it? First of all, will there ever be an uproar about it by these leftists and pseudo secularists? These are real stuff happening in Islam. The book under question written by Srividya Natarajan portrays incorrect information. I think you need to develop a better appreciation of the problem on hand.

  3. Just a small comment to put things in perspective. These “impressionable” kids are of legal voting age.
    Ashoka university isn’t a kindergarten. If you are mature enough to vote, I guess you are mature enough to not get carried away by a comic.

    • Just a short response to your small comment. Why does the university in the first place introduce a book that portrays information incorrectly? Where is their due diligence? Is the university so stupid that they will prescribe anything without worrying about the accuracy of its contents? Whether the students are matured or not and whether they would be influenced by this nonsense is another matter.

        • Hey cynicalStoic Jackass,
          If you have something sensible to say or maybe have some answers to the points raised, say it.
          The types of you neither posses any IQ nor the ego that will prepare you for any debate.
          Don’t embarrass yourself with these stupid one-liners.

  4. Just a short response to your small comment. Why does the university in the first place introduce a book that portrays information incorrectly? Where is their due diligence? Is the university so stupid that they will prescribe anything without worrying about the accuracy of its contents? Whether the students are matured or not and whether they would be influenced by this nonsense is another matter.

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