A students' march against the RSS-affiliated ABVP on Saturday featured issues beyond free speech, with "simmering discontent" against the Narendra Modi government finding expression through colours, posters and poetry.
What was billed as a "citizens' march" against the ABVP's role in the North Campus violence on February 22, turned into a forum where issues ranging from assault on Dalits to missing JNU student Najeeb came up. JNU student leaders Shehla Rashid and Umar Khalid, invites to whom for an event at Ramjas College was opposed by the ABVP, were also present in the march.
So was the face of Dalit resistance in Gujarat Jignesh Mewani and Najeeb's mother. The march, mainly comprising students of Delhi University and JNU, and a number of faculty members of these institutes, was also addressed by senior politicians including CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, JD(U) leader K C Tyagi, CPI's D Raja and Swaraj India's Yogendra Yadav.
Students, many having their faces smeared in myriad shades of red, blue and yellow, raised slogans against ABVP, punctuated with cries of "azaadi" from casteism, patriarchy and "fascism", while holding up posters in Urdu.
Along the entire stretch of the road between Mandi House and Parliament Street, the protesters scribbled messages and verses of resistance with coloured chalks. "We aim to highlight issues beyond assault on freedom of expression. What you see is a manifestation of the simmering discontent against the BJP government, especially among the student community, over a range of issues," Pratim Ghosal, Secretary of JNU-based Democratic Students' Federation (DSF), said.
"Najeeb needs support like Gurmehar (Kaur) has received. Keep fighting for him. The entire Delhi Police force can't find Najeeb as it is busy lathi charging students. Don't mess with students, they can topple you. ABVP is the biggest anti-national organisation in the country," Najeeb's mother Fatima Nafees said. Yechury, Raja and Tyagi assured the students that the issue of "onslaught" on their rights will be raised in Parliament and hailed the students for speaking out against "imposition" of "views and ideas".
A group of slum dwellers from Yamuna Pushta area near Mayur Vihar, completely oblivious of the cause behind the march, were also seen walking alongside the students. "We have been brought here by an NGO after being told that we will be allowed to raise issues relating to lack of basic facilities and abysmal conditions in which we live," Sarita Devi, a part of the group, said.
The national capital has witnessed a series of rallies and counter-rallies since the North Campus violence 12 days ago. Outfits, including AISA and SFI, have staged a series of protests across the city and campuses while ABVP has also hit back through demonstrations aiming to counter the ideological offensive being mounted by the left groups.