Pressure being mounted on students to make sure they don’t raise questions, says Siddharth Varadarajan

‘The action against students for watching on their phone the BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the Gujarat violence reflected the sad state of affairs in the country’

February 01, 2023 12:57 am | Updated 12:57 am IST - CHENNAI

Founder of The Wire, Siddharth Varadarajan, and Dravidar Kazhagam president K. Veeramani received the Quaide Milleth Award for Probity in Politics/Public life at an event held at the Quaide Milleth College for Men at Medavakkam here on Tuesday.

Delivering the keynote address after receiving the award, Mr. Varadarajan said the action against students for watching on their phone the BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the Gujarat violence in 2002 reflected the sad state of affairs in the country.

“If students at Rajasthan Central University can be suspended by the administration simply because they chose to watch the BBC documentary on their phone...I cannot think of a more sad state of affairs. ...about not just freedom of speech/right to conscience, but the very idea that university is a place where young minds should have the freedom to say what they want, read what they want, to argue, debate and engage with each other without the fear of the administration suspending them and certainly without the fear of the police taking action. But We see, in campus after campus, attempts being made to criminalise what is the normal life of a student.... Whether in JNU or Hyderabad, Central University or in Jammu Kashmir, or in Delhi University, this great deal of pressure is being put on young people to make sure that they do not challenge, they do not think, they do not question. At The Wire, we strongly believe in using the rights and freedoms that the Constitution of India guarantees for everybody in this country,” he said.

‘Not in a vacuum’

Mr. Varadarajan said the attacks on journalism were not happening in a vacuum. “We are living in a period where the very future of the Indian democracy is under threat. Whether we speak of rule of law, or respect for the Constitution, whether we speak about the independence of the judiciary, whether we speak of the need to have independent entities like the Election Commission of India, whether we speak of the federal principle which is an essential component of the Indian Union or of the freedom of speech, freedom of religion...right to life, right to livelihood and the freedom of students in the college and university system — all of these friends...are coming under great strain,” said Mr. Varadarajan.

Dravidar Kazhagam president K. Veeramani said, the followers of Periyar were used to brickbats, not bouquets, for their work. “Though I have participated in many events, people like me, followers of Periyar, are seldom greeted and appreciated for our work. We have only received brickbats, not bouquets. This is the first time we have been honoured. It is my duty to keep fighting. Social justice and democracy are the two sides of the same coin,” he said.

Mr. Veeramani backed Mr. Varadarajan’s efforts to be critical of the Central government. “Those who don’t want the truth to come out are attacking him. We would like to tell them that all democratic forces in Tamil Nadu and India will stand behind him and they should not think that he can be threatened as he is in New Delhi. We are not only co-editors but also co-fighters,” he said.

Retired Judge of the Madras High Court D. Hariparanthaman, retired IAS officers G. Balachandran and Harsh Mander and A. Rafi, Director, Quaide Milleth College for Men, spoke at the event and felicitated the award-winners.

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