A fact check on what HRD minister Smriti Irani said in Parliament

A fact check on what HRD minister Smriti Irani said in Parliament

Under intense attack, HRD Minister Smriti Irani on Wednesday made a forceful statement in Lok Sabha, saying Kanhaiya Kumar and some other students had been found indulging in anti-national activities by the JNU authorities themselves.

The Smriti Script
One liners from HRD minister Smriti Irani’s speech in the Lok Sabha, Some of the voices are uttered in choking voice.

  • Mujhe sooli par chadhana chahte ho… Amethi ladne ki saza doge mujhe? (You wish to hang me, punish me for contesting from Amethi?) Irani had contested against Rahul Gandhi.
  • I am not certifying your patriotism but don’t demean mine. I have my idea of India, don’t demean it.
  • A mother who gives birth cannot take lives.
  • Some people say children have committed mistakes and we should forgive them. In JNU some children have been mobilised against the state.
  • One pamphlet in JNU hails Mahishasur and says Durga, a sex worker, was hired to kill him. Is anybody willing to take this discourse to the streets of Calcutta? Who, I want to know, is ready to talk about it in the streets of Calcutta, the Marxists?
  • If any VC appointed during UPA regime says I have attempted saffronisation of education, I will quit politics.

Some of the points made by HRD minister Smriti Irani in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday and how they fare in an accuracy test.

JNU REPORT

The HRD minister quoted a February 11, 2016, report by the security staff of JNU that named Umar Khalid, Kanhaiya Kumar, Anirban Bhattacharya and four other students as being part of a rally two days earlier that had raised a series of slogans demanding the freedom of Kashmir and the destruction of India. “The security staff of JNU has no link to the government,” Irani said.

Fact check: JNU has private security guards but they are hired by the same university administration that itself faces charges of ceding the varsity’s autonomy to police and the central government after the home minister and the HRD minister made clear they wanted strict action against the alleged sloganeers.

 JNU PANEL

Irani said: “The internal committee of JNU, which includes teachers, the rector of the university… —  and we didn’t appoint any of them — concluded that these students were guilty prima facie, and suspended them for the period of the inquiry.”

Fact check: The university’s internal committee, which was appointed by JNU’s new vice-chancellor, is facing criticism because it suspended the students without giving them a hearing, and within a day.

TWO LETTERS

Irani cited her ministry’s decision to forward Congress MP Hanumantha Rao’s letter on Hyderabad University to the institution. The minister did this to defend the serial letters her team wrote to the varsity, reminding it of a letter from BJP MP Bandaru Dattatreya. The Opposition has pointed to the MP’s letter and the HRD ministry’s active interest as catalysts that pushed research scholar Rohith Vemula to suicide in January. “I have taken up letters from every MP, even when our ideologies are starkly different,” she said.

Fact check: Irani’s ministry did forward both letters – Rao’s and Dattatreya’s — to Hyderabad University. But equating the two letters is comparing apples with oranges. Rao’s letter aimed to alert the HRD minister about the growing number of Dalit students’ suicides on the university campus. Dattatreya’s letter proclaimed students of the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) — that Vemula belonged to — as “anti-national”. While the suicide underscored the university’s failure to act on Rao’s letter, Dattatreya’s letter and the HRD ministry reminders were followed up by action from the varsity’s executive council.

ROHITH EXPULSION

The executive council of Hyderabad University decided to “expel” Vemula and the other students, Irani said.

Fact check: The executive council only suspended them, and that too only from their hostels. Irani was also silent about the trigger of the crisis on the Hyderabad University campus — an alleged physical fight between student activists of the RSS body, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), and the ASA. An ABVP leader had accused ASA students of assaulting him but hospital records suggest he visited a doctor for a prior medical condition — not to treat assault wounds.

MAHISHASUR

Irani referred to celebrations of Mahishasur — the demon slayed by Goddess Durga — in JNU, and wondered whether that would be tolerated in Calcutta.

Fact check: The “demon” is celebrated in many parts of southern India, and some scholars have suggested his popular, dark-skinned depiction in contrast to the fair-skinned Durga is a pointer to an Aryan-Dravidian divide. Mysore, Karnataka’s second-largest city, is an anglicised version of Mahishuru — which means the “abode of Mahishasura” in Kannada.

TEXTBOOKS

Quoting a Class IV teachers’ guide penned by Narendra Modi’s bete noire Teesta Setalvad, Irani said: “The book says we should not perpetuate the theory that ancient India was Hindu and medieval India was Muslim.” The minister quoted two other textbooks to buttress her argument that problematic school curricula fostered an “anti- national” mindset among college students. “The book says when we teach Shivaji versus Aurangzeb, we need to decide which Shivaji do we take into the classroom. Another book says we need to teach children about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, about Hindu- Christian riots in Kanyakumari.”

Fact check: Irani’s objections to the texts she quoted appear hard to understand since they seek to present a nuanced narrative of India’s complex history than a linear, black and white perspective. And the 1984 riots remain a political blot on the Congress, her principal opponent.

Setelvad issued the following statement on Wednesday night: “The Narrative of Shivaji, used in the Don Bosco school books and Teacher Training Manuals, was supported by the work of reputed historians like Jadunath Sarkar and Govind Sakharam Sardesai. It dealt with caste being a major hurdle in Shivaji’s coronation. By the way, it was the Shiv Sena that launched a campaign against me and the state human rights commission ruled in my favour at the time — saying that no enmity was created and it was, in fact, a rational view of history that was being disseminated.”

-The Telegraph Calcutta

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