A jingoistic speech by a retired Major General that bordered on being Trump-esque has triggered a controversy after he eulogised military might and nuclear weapons, and trashed the Ahimsa movement. Retired Major General G D Bakshi, who has been one of the most vocal — and arguably the most dramatic (literally, with tears rolling down his eyes during a television debate on the national flag, earlier this year) — ‘nationalist’ in the recent times, delivered a special Independence day lecture at IIT Madras on August 11 in what a student described as hate-mongering.
Disturbed by the former military man’s open exhortation to violence, Abhinav Surya, an M Tech student of IIT Madras wrote a letter to the director of the institute. The text of his letter is below.
I am writing this letter to you with a bleeding heart, worried about the recent EML lecture by Mr. GD Bakshi on 11th Aug, 2016. I am still not able to digest the fact the institute has given a platform to such a speech filled with hatred, instigating violence among the students. A lecture that was heavily loaded with brewing enmity, inhumanity and glorification of brutality.
I hope that EML team would present to you the video recording of the lecture. I request you to kindly watch it so that it’ll be clear that this is not an empty accusation. The speaker was constantly making direct and indirect comments that were instilling a sense utter disrespect for human life and a deep rooted sense of hatred and enmity towards the people of our neighboring countries. Right from when he glorified the ‘skull-smashing elephants’ of ancient India to him saying, and I quote, “Fight Pakistan. That will strengthen the unity!”, the lecture was designed to foster irrational jingoism.
The level of hatred in his speech was going out of proportions when he said, and I quote, “In our generation, we split Pakistan into 2. Your generation should split it into 4. Only then we can live in peace!”. And later he went on to glorify nuclear weaponry and justified the usage of it. (At this point, I am ignoring other horrendous comments made about justification of usage of metal pellets against civilians in Kashmir (which has been severely criticized by several human rights rganizations including Amnesty International), misrepresentation of facts regarding the history, unscientific claims by quoting mythology as facts, glorification of lighting cities up on fire, expression of clear-cut affiliation to a particular political party, etc., which may be considered as politically debatable topics). The underlying implication behind his constant call to “give tit-for-tat” was for calling out students to take up violent aggressiveness as their strategy (This might even be the reason for the violent behavior of few students in the hall who were intimidating the students who were trying to question the speaker).
The speaker made the utmost insulting comment when he said mocked our freedom movement and made fun of it. According to him, only Indians in Indian army got us freedom and whatever everyone else was doing in the name of ‘Ahimsa’ was nonsense! This is a complete insult to the lakhs and lakhs of masses who fought bravely against the British imperialism. I am unable to imagine the fact that we, IIT Madras, gave the speaker a platform to make such insulting comments about our freedom movement, especially in the name of “Special Independence Day Lecture”. If this does not show shame IITM in a bad light, then I don’t know what else does!
At this point, I may be brushed aside as a person with certain political affiliations who cannot tolerate contesting views. But let me make it clear that I have not been so seriously concerned in the past about several other lectures with contents contesting my views. But this is not a mere speech with contesting views, but a dangerous hate speech! Anyone who loves humanity, anyone who loves people and not symbols, anyone who wants to eliminate hate and spread love would have cried at the level of hate mongering in the lecture!
As much as I want freedom of expression to be upheld, I am seriously concerned, as a student of IIT Madras about the sustenance of peace and harmony among various students of IIT Madras. I hope necessary actions will be taken.
This is not the first time a member of the student community has taken issue with Bakshi’s speech. Soon after his outburst on the television debate, an IIM student from Manipur — a former Sainik school product — wrote an open letter to Baksi, asking pointed questions about prescribed patriotism, the army, and the controversial AFSPA, against which Manipuri political activist Irom Sharmila had been on a 16-year-long hunger strike.
When contacted by TNIE, Bhaskar Ramamurthi, director of IIT Madras, he said that Extra Mural Lectures, as they are called, are organised by a students' body called the EML core, and does not have anything to do with the IIT management. "Extra Mural Lectures (EML) are organised by the students. I have told Abhinav to send his letter to the students body ( EML core) that organised it.
"(It needs to be examined) if there was really anything he said that had transgressed legally permissible limits. Otherwise, if it was just a difference of opinion, then the students have to decide who they want to hear and whom they do not want. I did not even know that he (Bakshi) was called for EML."
Ramamurthi also responded directly to Abhinav's letter, as below.
You may be aware that EML team decides the speakers the students want to invite. They invite people from all walks of life and with widely varying views. They do not check with the Admin on this. If the speaker is a constitutional functionary, they check my availability since there are protocol issues to be complied with. I am copying the EML core on this email. I request them to look into your complaint to see if any legal boundaries were crossed with regard to incitement to violence, etc. No public speaker, EML or otherwise, can cross these. Beyond that, it is up to the EML core to decide what is the width of the spectrum of views the students want to hear, contest, debate. You are also a student here, so please interact with them and influence their decisions on the matter. These are not official events of the Institute, and so do not reflect on the Institute in any manner.
With warm regards