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.
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.
Pure anti Hindu hatred is being taught at an impressionable age by teachers they revere as friend, philosophers and guides
Book further states “They wanted their caste united & hence devised signs to distinguish themselves by The Sacred Thread and The Gayatri Mantra” pic.twitter.com/ALoC486Ozv
— The Activist?️ (@AhmAsmiYodha) December 10, 2018
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.
Yes. It is a leading liberal arts university and not a whatspp university where we are taught to raise questions and think rationally. You will not understand this. Get well soon Shef!! @ShefVaidya
— Bebaak Bulbul (@BebaakB) December 12, 2018
“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.
‘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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