If you are in a university and oppose state policy, you can be targeted: Hany Babu, DU professor

29 November 2019
Shaheen Ahmed for The Caravan
Shaheen Ahmed for The Caravan

In the early hours of 10 September 2019, a team of police officials, including personnel from the Pune Police, turned up at the doorstep of Hany Babu MT, an associate professor in the University of Delhi’s English department. They raided his apartment in Noida and seized his laptop, mobile phone and other electronic devices, as well as two books. The raid lasted six hours but according to Babu, the police said they did not have an official search warrant at the time.

The police informed Babu that the search was conducted in connection with the Elgar Parishad and Bhima Koregaon case. They were referring to the arrests of several civil-rights activists and lawyers, who had been accused of involvement in caste-based violence in Bhima Koregaon, Maharashtra, on 1 January 2018, and of organising the Elgar Parishad, a mass public meeting on the previous day. Police officials across different states have conducted similar raids in connection to this case, including at the homes of K Satyanarayana—an academic at the English and Foreign Languages University Campus in Hyderabad—and Stan Swamy, a priest and Adivasi-rights activist.

Shaheen Ahmed and Maya Palit, the multimedia and books editors at The Caravan, respectively, spoke to Babu about the raid at his house and its aftermath. They also discussed his participation in anti-caste movements and in a committee for the defence of the incarcerated professor GN Saibaba, a Delhi University professor who was arrested in May 2014 on charges of having links to Maoists, and sentenced to life three years later. Situating the raid on his house in a broader moment of attacks on academics across the country, Babu said, “I think this is not an isolated thing, because this whole building up of an atmosphere, of having a negative campaign against people who are active in sociopolitical fields, this has been going on for long.”

Shaheen Ahmed: What happened on 10 September at your house? Had you anticipated the events?
Hany Babu: On the tenth of September, this team of people came to my door early in the morning—they almost woke me up—there were local police, and said they were accompanied by people from Pune. They said they wanted to search my house in connection with this case that is registered in Pune. That is, the Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case. They asked me whether I knew about the case—I said I do not really know about the case but I know that some people have been arrested already. They said they have to search my house. The search was conducted; they were looking for electronic devices. They seized my laptops, mobile, all pen drives, hard drives, locked my email accounts and also they were interested in books. All the bookshelves, they were checking the titles of each and every book. It was not like a search where they open each bag and check whether I am hiding things. It was very clear that they were interested in seizing some kind of books and electronic material.

Also, the books that they had kept aside, two of them were connected to the defence committee for GN Saibaba. We have brought out a couple of booklets. One [book] had the title Understanding Maoists, by N Venugopal, the other was From Varna to Jati: Political Economy of Caste in Indian Social Formation by Yalavarthi Naveen Babu. I wondered why are they taking it, then I realised that Naveen Babu is a known name so it’s very clear that they were looking for books that would show me in a kind of profile. So, I was protesting and saying, “Why don’t you take a photo or an inventory of the books that I have? Why are you selecting these two books and confiscating these? They are not banned books, they are available in the open market. The booklets for the defence committee we distributed freely, so why are you taking these?” It was very clear what they wanted to project.

Shaheen Ahmed is a multimedia producer at The Caravan.

Maya Palit is the books editor at The Caravan.

Keywords: Bhima Koregaon academic freedom Dissent Delhi University Pune Police Brahminism caste education