Students, HoD arrested, SPPU's Lalit Kala Kendra vandalised
A day after ABVP stopped a play based on Ramleela actors, Pune University campus remained tense.
Pune: A day after the students of Lalit Kala Kendra at Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) were attacked during a play performance on campus allegedly by the students of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a right-wing student organisation, five of the performing students and their Head of Department have been booked and faced arrest by the Pune police. Meanwhile, members of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) stormed and vandalised the vacant building of Lalit Kala Kendra, claiming that the play performed by the students there allegedly disrespected Lord Ram and Seeta.
Lalit Kala Kendra is the centre for performing arts at the SPPU. On Friday evening, the students at the Centre were performing as part of their internal examinations. The students said that the play that is the centre of the controversy was based on the backstage banter of the actors that play various characters in ‘Ramleela’.
“The characters in the play ‘Jab We Met’ were actors who played different roles in Ramleela. Thus, they were dressed as Seeta, Laxman and Ravan. The scenes that caused the stir involved these actors talking to each other, the actor who played Seeta took off his wig and smoked, he also cursed, the actors who played Laxman and Ravan were also in a funny banter. There was nothing disrespectful towards any religion or God,” says a student on condition of anonymity.
पुणे विद्यापीठात ललित कला केंद्राच्या विद्यार्थ्यांना अभाविपच्या विद्यार्थ्यांकडून मारहाण. pic.twitter.com/pxTti7yyXN— Indie Journal (@indiejmag) February 3, 2024
However, based on the videos of the incidents circulated on social media and prima facie accounts of witnesses, during the performance itself, a group of students, that was later identified to be part of the ABVP, interrupted and asked to stop the play calling it objectionable. The performers as well as some of the students in the audience alleged that the group attacked the students of Lalit Kala Kendra.
While the students and the audience tried to explain the concept of the play to the ABVP group, they said that they were not ready to listen. Police and campus security arrived at the location following the scuffle. The ABVP group lodged an FIR against the students and the HoD, all of whom were taken into custody and produced before the Pune District Court. The Head, as well as the students, have been booked under sections 295 A (insulting religious beliefs), 294 (obscene acts and songs), 143 (unlawful assembly), 147 (rioting), 149, 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 116, 117 (abetting commission of offence) of the Indian Penal Code and sections of the Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), 2003.
There was no FIR against the ABVP group until this report was published.
Vandalised Lalit Kala Kendra at SPPU.
Meanwhile, the situation at the SPPU premises remained tense on Saturday, with various organisations expressing their dissent against different aspects of Friday’s incident. There was heavy police bandobast near the main building as well as Lalit Kala Kendra, which is in close vicinity.
However, despite the bandobast, members of BJYM managed to enter the Lalit Kala Kendra building, which was vacant. Amid sloganeering, they vandalised the property by splashing ink and destroying boards and fixtures. They were then taken away in the police van by Chatushringi police. The members condemned the play and threatened that whoever tries to disrespect deities would face severe consequences.
Several professors in the University also came together to sign and submit a statement to the Vice-Chancellor. They demanded that the University take a stand and help withdraw cases against its students and the HoD Prof. Praveen Bhole. They also demanded that the University take measures to prevent such incidents in future and protect the educational freedom of its students.
The students of Lalit Kala Kendra, especially those in the University hostel, said that they fear they will be targetted again by the ABVP students. Student unions in the campus also said that they sense fear among the students, after repeated instances of such violence on campus by the right-wing group.
This is not the first time that a right-wing organisation has attacked students on educational campuses in the city. Just a few days ago, the day after the Ram Mandir inauguration, a right-wing mob entered the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and attacked the students there for putting up a banner that said ‘Remembering Babri’. Last year, a group of ABVP members had allegedly attacked the members of the Students Federation of India (SFI) in SPPU, while the latter were conducting an enrolment drive.