PEN Delhi condemns the harassment of members of the Central University of Haryana for staging a play

Delhi, 17 October 2016 – PEN Delhi condemns the harassment of teachers and students of the Central University of Haryana, for the staging of the play Draupadi, based on a short story written by Mahasweta Devi.

The play, a part of the university’s Master of Arts, English, syllabus, was performed as part of a day long programme organized by the university’s English and Foreign Languages Department on September 21 in memory of the writer and acitivist Mahasweta Devi, who passed away recently. Videos of the play were circulated soon after. This has led to protests by students (including members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) as well as by residents of villages and towns near the university (including the Sainik Samman Sangharsh Samiti). The protesters claim, reportedly, that a scene from the play, where the protagonist is raped by uniformed army men, is “anti-national” and shows the army in a poor light.

Draupadi talks about the exploitation faced by Adivasis in India, oppression by the zamindari system and Indian state and about gender violence. The play was followed by an epilogue which brought up cases of army excesses in some parts of the India.

Instead of standing up for the teachers to whom it had granted permission for staging the play, the university administration apologized to the protestors and issued notices to the two teachers demanding to know why they had done so.

In addition to this, a police complaint has been filed against the teachers and students who participated in the play, demanding that they be booked under sedition. The Superintendent of Police, Mahendergarh, Hamid Akhtar has said, according to reports, that the police has not come across any illegality so far regarding its enactment. But that the final decision would be made based on the report of the DSP. “We are taking legal opinion on the matter and the report is expected in a couple of days. We received the complaint last month, but have not filed an FIR so far. The decision would be taken after the DSP submits the report on the matter,” he said.

Meanwhile, ABVP leader Pramod Shastri, who has been a part of the protests, said as per reports, “We met the Deputy Commissioner and granted him time till October 17 to take action or face massive protests. We plan to hold large-scale protests if the administration fails to initiate action against the guilty.”

Snehsata, one of the teachers who organised the play, said, “I am a university teacher and universities are made for academics and research. These are the platforms where we can discuss and debate every kind of issue. If we academicians will not talk of the issues of the marginalised, who will?”

The other teacher, Manoj Kumar, said, “The university has promoted a culture of crushing debate. When the programme was approved by the university, why must we be asked to give explanations?”

PEN Delhi considers this to be an assault on freedom of expression and condemns this vigilantism and bullying of teachers and students for expressing their ideas. It calls upon relevant authorities to put a stop to such browbeating of Indian voices and guard against such attacks in the future.