By Iznallah and Aparna 

The aim of educational institutions is to create an environment where people from diverse backgrounds can interact, engage in dialogue, and cultivate empathy, understanding, and respect for one another. But what if these places become sites of exclusion?

In recent weeks, we came across something that undermines these inclusive values at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT B).

We take the curious case of a student group called IIT B for Bharat at IIT, Bombay. Recently, this group was found openly distributing free tickets to women students for an Islamophobic movie, The Kerala Story. To be clear, this is not about any group’s right to distribute these tickets but about how its targeted actions can have a larger effect of fostering hatred within our diverse student community at IIT Bombay. Communally targeting women students for a free show of a commercial movie that has generated much controversy and fear in recent weeks only exposes the intention of instilling suspicion and anger against Muslim students on campus.

As proud members of this esteemed institution that has magnanimously embraced its role by unequivocally supporting us as students, providing best-in-class resources, invaluable mentorship, and an enriching environment to nurture our academic and personal growth, we find it important to unmask these kinds of dissonant and fringe student groups that attempt to sully the atmosphere of noteworthy university campuses across the country.

Communalisation of campuses

In recent years, there have been several incidents of communal tensions within university campuses in India. We recall the 2020 incident in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), where a group of students attacked other students on the campus while allegedly shouting religious chants. This led to injuries and police cases. More recently, in 2022, there was  violence over non-vegetarian food being served in the JNU hostel and scuffles during a religious procession in the JNU campus. There were also cases of girls wearing headscarves being heckled in several campuses across India, such as PES College, Bengaluru. More than such direct attacks on minority students, however, we find it pertinent to highlight the more surreptitious forms of communalisation from within student bodies on campuses.

Many of these seemingly innocuous student organisations that claim to foster diversity, discussion, and teamwork covertly attempt to disrupt the secular fabric of the campus, often with outside instigation or support, by instilling suspicion and ill-will against students hailing from marginalised backgrounds.

In the first week of May, the IITB for Bharat group said in a WhatsApp group message.

“We are pleased to announce that IITB for Bharat is sponsoring the movie tickets of 51 girls who are interested in watching the movie ‘*The Kerala Story*’. IITB for Bharat is a group of students and alumni of IIT Bombay aimed at having a common space for the Indic civilizational values in the community.

“Please fill the form if you are interested…”

On May 11, after the event, IITB for Bharat posted a self-congratulatory message on Facebook, stating that more than 80 students – 65 of them women – had accepted the free tickets and watched the movie. Written in Hindi, the message flaunted the support of the right-wing Hindu organisation Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and explained the group’s reasons for distributing the tickets – to create and spread awareness about the issues of ‘love jihad’ and Muslim radicalisation.

It ended with a dhanyawad (thank you) for the students who had attended the show.

Having accomplished a ‘huge success’ in their controversial initiative in collaboration with the VHP, the group is now “organising another screening for more than 100+ tickets in the next few days”…

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