Published: 06th March 2019
Never thought it would happen to regular people like me: Karnataka prof forced to kneel, apologise for anti-war post
The police have filed a complaint and the culprits could be arrested soon but the events of the day have scarred the professor deeply. Especially the fact that they took a video of the whole thing
Sandeep Warthar cannot recall most of what happened over the last two days. The last clear image in his head is of the faces of his fourth semester students in the 'Fluid Mechanics' class that he had been teaching at a private college in Karnataka. It was their lab period and he was guiding them as they experimented. Then he saw his colleague gesture to him from the door. The colleague told him that there was a mob waiting for him at the gates of the college.
His colleague said the following words to him: Just be calm. Just stay quite. Do exactly as they say.
The previous day, Sandeep had received a lot of heat online about a Facebook post he had put up about how Imran Khan's peace statement made sense. Like many others who felt that way, he had been called an 'anti-national'. But he had believed that the hate he had received would have remained online, not streamed into the corridors of his college. Not stare at him in the face.
When he reached the gates, he saw a mob of about 35 people. They were allegedly from the ABVP and they were yelling and shouting as he approached them. He didn't recognise any of the faces. He froze. After this, the memories begin to blur. They demanded that he apologise for the post. He tried to clarify and justify his post, but they wouldn't listen. He just did as he was told. So he put his hands together, bowed down and asked for forgiveness. After he had done it, he was allowed to go back.
Then he was called again.
"This time they asked me to kneel down and ask for forgiveness," Sandeep said.
So he went back, knelt down and asked for forgiveness.
He was sent back.
And then, they called him back a third time.
"They weren't satisfied the second time because they didn't take a video of me," the professor said. And so, again, for the third time, Sandeep went back in front of the mob. He knelt down and asked for forgiveness while the mob shot a video. "There were still some mob members who were not satisfied. They demanded I come back again. Some demanded that my colleagues 'submit' me to them so they could beat me up," the young professor recalled. They were baying for blood.
Finally, the mob dispersed. The classes resumed. Sandeep was called to the administration office and they assured him that they would launch an investigation. He simply nodded and then he was asked to take a week off to heal from the horrifying incident.
"I actually don't even want them to get arrested. I want them to realise that in no way am I an anti-national. They can go through my whole FB profile, I have not once said anything against my country. I just want people to understand what I'm saying before they attack me. That's all I ask for," Sandeep said.
Most of the faces in the mob were unrecognisable, but now, in retrospect, there were two or three faces, right at the back of the crowd that seemed familiar to Sandeep. "I had no idea who these people were till I read a newspaper piece about them. But I feel one or two faces were familiar. I think they were once students of mine and might have been instigated by my post," he said.
Ironically, Sandeep isn't even a very effervescent social media user. "I only have about 300 friends on FB. I never accept requests from people I don't know. And I've always had an opinion and I've always debated and fought to prove my point. But I have these discussions with people I know. They are my own friends and so I'm allowed to do this with my them," Sandeep said. His trolls are lifting his comments where he has used abusive words and are shaming him for it.
But the post that resulted in this mob attack was his opinion on how peace and not war should be the solution for the Kashmir issue.
His attackers didn't think so. Clearly.
The professor was speaking to Edex just after the police took his statement. A case has been filed and arrests are in the offing. Does he feel that justice is close? "I actually don't even want them to get arrested. I want them to realise that in no way am I an anti-national. They can go through my whole FB profile, I have not once said anything against my country. I just want people to understand what I'm saying before they attack me. That's all I ask for," Sandeep said.
Standing together: Many of his students have reached to show solidarity to Sandeep
Sandeep has been teaching at the Dr P G Halakatti Engineering College in Bijapur for the last four years. He says he has taken away two things from the whole incident. One is that he is going to try to be more patient. He will try not to get outraged by things as easily as he did before. "I will still talk about fake news and I will still talk about what I think is wrong. I will always speak up. They have not scared me enough to silence me," he said.
Second, he has now realised that such a thing can happen to anyone. "Till now, I was under the impression that these things happen only to celebrities, like it did to, say, Naseerudin Shah. Not me. I never imagined that these things would happen to normal people. I just have a small circle of friends and have a quiet life but now I know these sort of attacks can happen to anyone," he feels.
Sandeep is taking the one week break and is still coming to terms with the attack. But his students have not taken any time to come out and show their support for their teacher. Many have reached out to him and even gone online to show their solidarity. One has said that if the ABVP comes again, he would stand by his teacher and protect him. Another has written an email to the media people he knows and claims that his teacher loves India and has always spoken up about issues like climate change. He's even attached all the 'good posts' his teacher has posted on FB.
At the end of the day, Sandeep is just a teacher. But he is a teacher with an opinion and that is quickly becoming a sin. A sin so grave, that a mob will arrive at your doorstep, pull you out of a ongoing class and drag you to the streets and shame you. Does he fear the mob will come for him again? "Bijapur is small place, a place where we all know each other by name. We are peaceful town and so I know I'll be safe here. At least I hope we remain safe."
And that hope is all he holds on to.