By Sukanya Shantha / The Wire

Mumbai: Kolhapur and its neighbouring districts in western Maharashtra are witnessing a new phenomenon over the past few months. In just two months (July and August), over a dozen incidents of mob intimidation of teachers and school administration have come to fore. But more disturbing still is the constitution of this “mob”. In most cases, it is students who are suddenly transforming themselves into a mob, finds a fact-finding report put together by a group of women activists, who have come together under the umbrella ‘Women Protest for Peace (WPFP)’.

The group WPFP, comprising gender rights activists and educators, travelled to different institutions across Kolhapur and the neighbouring districts of Satara and Sangli to understand the growing but disturbing trend of communal disturbances. The group has handed their report over to Kolhapur district collector Rahul Rekhawar early this week.

Kolhapur, known for its anti-caste legacy, right from the time of Shahu Maharaj (the 19-century king known for his progressive anti-caste policies) has witnesses communal tensions in recent times. Many radical caste-Hindu organisations have got a strong footing in the region, giving rise to communal tensions, including violent attacks on the Muslim community. The most recent one was in June this year, which was triggered over celebrations of the anniversary of the coronation day of King Shivaji.

Within days, at a local engineering college – named ‘Kolhapur Institute of Technology’ and located at Gokul Shirgaon – a woman professor was heckled by a group of students as she began to discuss the topic “gender discrimination” in the class. Statements like “Muslims are rapists”, “Hindus are never involved in any kind of riots” and “Babri Masjid was demolished by order of Supreme Court” were reportedly made by a group of students in the class. The professor interjected and tried correcting the students. “Rape is not limited to any religion or caste. Rapists have no religion or caste. Rape is the most heinous form of crimes against women,” she said. The students, feeling challenged by the teacher’s stand, filmed her lecture, edited it and put out doctored parts which would make her statements anti-Hindu.

In no time, the doctored clip had gone viral, and many local Hindutva groups came to the institute. The institute, in a knee-jerk response, sent the teaching faculty on forced leave and later insisted she apologise. The said professor, however, refused to render an apology. On refusing to apologise, the professor was asked to work from home and join only in the new academic year that began end of August.

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