CHENNAI: Union HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar on Friday sought to play down the ongoing protest by Delhi University students in the wake of violence at the Ramjas College last week in the national capital, saying that only a few colleges were dissenting.
Javadekar was responding to questions posed by TNIE Editorial Director Prabhu Chawla and Editor GS Vasu, after delivering the inaugural address at the fifth edition of ThinkEdu Conclave, an annual education summit, organised by The New Indian Express.
“It is just 2 or 3 colleges that are dissenting. There are 790 others and I can tell you that all of them are busy preparing for their examinations,” the minister said.
Stating that it was the general public who were paying for the education of these students, Javadekar said, “We spend Rs 2,60,000 per student a year at these Central Universities. That is paid for by the poor sections of the society.”
Claiming that he was in favour of freedom of expression, the Union Minister went on to add that the same was ‘not an excuse to break the country’. “I think our senior leaders have spoken their mind and that’s our party’s line. We believe in freedom of expression, but not in breaking the country.” He then recounted his prison days during the Emergency and claimed that he had fought much more for freedom of expression than most others.
“I have fought for freedom of expression at the time of the emergency, when Indira Gandhi was in power. I’ve spent months in the jail. I have experienced the cost of dissenting for real freedom,” he said. “After all, nobody, not even the Supreme Court will accept having Azaadi posters being put up. Nobody will allow it.”
Reacting to President Pranab Mukherjee’s comments on Thursday, flagging the rising culture of intolerance with regard to the ongoing campus violence, Javadekar called for a ‘closer’ reading of the message. “The President was also unequivocal in stressing that there was no space for violence in campuses,” he said.
Later, speaking to The New Indian Express on the sidelines of the summit, Javadekar vehemently condemned the acts of protesting students and called it a ‘human rights violation’. “Protest is not anti-social as long as it is democratic. Confining a VC, for a whole night, that too without food, along with senior colleagues who were also diabetic... that is undemocratic and it is a human rights violation,” he said.
Breaking his silence on the issue for the first time, Javadekar said he had better things to do than make statements. “I don’t think the MHRD has to jump in every time and react to issues because we have many things to do and we are doing it better than the others.”