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Two students of Delhi University, who belong to the BJP-linked student organisation ABVP, were arrested hours after the DU protest against campus violence that drew a huge crowd on Tuesday. The arrests took place after two students, who participated in the protest, said they were attacked by ABVP supporters on their way back, sources said. They were subsequently released on bail and suspended by ABVP.

During the day, more than 2,000 placard-holding, slogan-shouting students and teachers turned up for the rally at the North Campus. Left leaders D Raja and Sitaram Yechury joined the walk that was held under tight security. Gurmehar Kaur -the 20-year-old daughter of a soldier, who had been brutally targeted on social media for her Facebook post on ABVP -dropped out of the campaign saying she had taken “all she could”.

As it turns out, a sizable section of the thousands of students who participated in the march on Tuesday, were demonstrating for the first time. Among the protests were a great many students in their first or second year of college, teenagers barely out of school – and some still in school.

It wasn’t just the ABVP’s actions at the Ramjas event that upset the marchers. The day after the seminar, ABVP members allegedly assaulted students marching from Ramjas College to the Maurice Nagar police station to protest the Feburary 21 disruption. Then, over the weekend, Lady Shri Ram College student Gurmehar Kaur, who started a social media campaign criticising the ABVP, was relentlessly hounded – with even Union minister Kiren Rijiju joining in to claim that her mind had been “polluted by Leftists”.

That, said 18-year-old Miranda House student Pranjal Asha, “made it personal”. She explained, “Gurmehar is a close friend and she had texted me her idea about her campaign and asked me to propagate it. A lot of my friends were at Ramjas too and got hurt. This is personal.”

Though members of student groups such as the All India Students’ Association, Students’ Federation of India and Krantikari Yuva Sangathan were present, some Delhi University’s undergraduates were uncomfortable with the idea of being clubbed with the Left. Some of them held up hastily-made placards declaring that they were with neither the All India Students’ Association nor the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.

“We do not like the political hijacking of the protest by any political party,” said a student from Miranda House. “We just want to send out a message of solidarity with all students.”

The slogans were not all drawn from the standard repertory of the Left either. “ABVP, why so creepy?” was a clear favourite. There were songs that had not been heard at the marches for JNU last February: Hum Honge Kamyaab, the Hindi version of We Shall Overcome and Roobaroo Roshani from the 2006 film, Rang De Basanti. There was even a placard with a Harry Potter reference saying: “Even Dumbledore is tired of this sh*t.”

There were students from Delhi University’s post-graduate departments, dozens of colleges from across campuses, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Ambedkar University-Delhi and Jamia Millia Islamia University. It was peaceful for the most part except for relatively minor fight between AISA and ABVP members in the evening. Members of ABVP were spotted holding placards while perched on trees on the Ramjas College premises and, later, also at the Law Faculty.

As a clear indication of how Delhi University students really feel about campus politics and the options available to them, they debated the merits of hitting “none of the above” on the electronic voting machines. “I am also at fault because I did not show up for the Delhi University elections in the first place,” continued Nagpal. “I think it is our primary responsibility to cast our vote. The protest at the Delhi Police Headquarters [last week] was my first. I became active after this Ramjas issue.”

Later, the ABVP on Thursday conducted a rally across North Campus in Delhi University to “Save DU” from those who raise “anti-national” slogans on Campus. The rally, attended by thousands of students and ABVP activists, marched from the Arts Faculty via Vishwavidhlaya Metro Station, Khalsa College, SRCC, Ramjas College and back to the Arts Faculty.

ABVP Spokesperson Saket Bahuguna said that the ABVP believes in the freedom of expression but if that freedom is expressed to call for azadi of an integral part of the country be it Kashmir, Bastar or Manipur, the ABVP will be in the forefront to oppose it across the country.

Reacting to students from left-parties accusing them of violence and gundaism, the ABVP launched a picture campaign on placards that they marched with and posters across campus. The graphic images showcased “communist violence” in Kerala and carried photos of people who had been tortured allegedly by communists. The ABVP claimed that for every photograph, they had proof that an FIR had been filed against “communists” for the violence.

Reacting to the photo campaign, Sucheta De President of the All India Students Association (AISA) said the photos show the desperation of the ABVP as they saw the large number of common DU students who were not affiliated to any party march against the violence they perpetrated outside Ramjas College on February 21 and 21.

The ABVP had alleged that “anti-national” slogans has been raised at Ramjas College on February 21 by students who took out a march saying that they have a right to freedom of expression. JNU PhD scholar Umar Khalid had been invited to speak at the seminar organised at Ramjas College on Cultures of Protest but the organisers cancelled his participation after opposition by the ABVP and the Delhi Police said that they could not guarantee safety.

Meanwhile, in a very important development, speaking on the recent clashes between student wings at Delhi’s Ramjas College, President Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday said there must be space for dissent but not intolerance in India. “There should be no room in India for intolerant Indian. India has been since ancient times a bastion of free thought, speech and expression,” Mukherjee said at 6th K.S. Rajamony Memorial Lecture in Kochi, Kerala.

“There must be space for legitimate criticism and dissent,” he added

Delivering a lecture on ‘India at 70’ today, the President also said that ‘when we brutalise a woman, we wound a civilisation’s soul’, probably referring to the rape threats against martyr Gurmehar Kaur for taking an anti-ABVP stand.

“The acid test of any society is its attitude towards women and children,” Mukherjee added.

However, he said that those in eminent universities “must engage in reasoned discussion and debate rather than propagate a culture of unrest”.

“It is tragic to see students being caught in the vortex of violence and disquiet. The temples of learning must be places of creativity and free thinking,” Mukerjee said.