Jawaharlal Nehru University, named for India’s first prime minister, is one of the country’s premier liberal institutions, a hothouse of strong opinions and left-leaning values whose graduates populate the upper echelons of academia and government.
But to the Hindu nationalists who hold power in India, the university and others like it are dangerous dens of “anti-India” ideas. And they are working to silence them.
Masked men have stormed the J.N.U. campus and attacked students, shouting slogans associated with a far-right Hindu group. Vocal supporters of the right-wing governing party who have been installed as administrators have suspended students for participating in protests and, in December, imposed new restrictions on demonstrations. Professors have been denied promotions for questioning government policies.
“It is suffocating,” said Anagha Pradeep, a political science student who has received warnings from J.N.U. after protesting her housing conditions and helping to screen a documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “And you can’t learn in fear.”
The pressure being put on J.N.U. is part of a broader effort to neutralize dissenting voices — media organizations, human rights groups, think tanks — as right-wing Hindus pursue their cause of transforming India into an explicitly Hindu nation.
Not long after Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party took power in 2014, members of its ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or R.S.S., launched a campaign against elite universities across the country, taking steps like filing police complaints against professors who lectured on topics they disliked.
Hindu nationalists, as they try to uproot the secular foundation laid down for India by Nehru, are pushing to supplant universities’ traditional intellectual values with their own conservative thought. The government has excised textbook chapters on India’s past Muslim rulers and silenced researchers who questioned pseudoscience being promoted by right-wing officials.
“We want students to understand that patriotism is of the utmost importance,” said Abhishek Tandon, who has been the head of the student wing of the R.S.S. in New Delhi for 21 years.
He said his organization “won’t allow anti-India forces to work inside the campus against the integrity and unity of India.”
This story was originally published in nytimes.com. Read the full story here.