Professor in Prison: The Curious Case of Hany Babu

Hany Babu MT. Image Credit: Twitter

‘The Indian language policy is informed by a pull

towards unilingual identity, inspired by the European

model of nation state that is predicated on the

homogeneity of its people.’

Hany Babu MT, Economic and Political weekly, 10 June 2017

Hany Babu MT has a PhD in Linguistics and is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at India’s premier, the University of Delhi.

In mid-2019, roughly six months after the event, Hany Babu’s house was searched, and his papers and computer seized. But notably, he was arrested some two and half years after the violent events of Bhima Koregaon and several months after the investigation of the case was transferred from the local police to the NIA.

The definition of what constitutes not just the national language, but even the mother tongue, has always been central to Indian politics. These debates resurfaced as a point of tension, particularly from 2019 as the draft of the 2020 National Education Policy (the previous NEP was from 1986), entered the public domain.

As an academic linguist, Hany Babu has been systematically critical of what he calls the ‘four-tiered hierarchy of languages’, which prioritises a small number of Indian languages while excluding hundreds of spoken tongues, particularly tribal and ‘Dalit’ (lower caste groups) languages. He has documented how these national and provincial government policies militate against the academic success of Dalit and tribal students broadly.

As a group of Indian scholars calling for the release of all Elgar Parishad case detainees have said: ‘When academics are sent to jail for asking difficult questions, and for defending the rights of the disenfranchised, then society cannot be called free.’ Hany Babu has been detained, pending trial, for over 18 months. He has been seriously ill with COVID-19 and with an eye infection. His family and his lawyer have struggled to ensure adequate health care for him.

In her latest public statement provided to PEN Perth, Babu’s wife, Jenny Rowena, says:

International rights organisations have urged action to secure the immediate release of Professor Hany Babu, with PEN International prioritising his case this year. PEN Perth takes a special interest in writers in the India-Pacific and we urge you to write to:

Ambassador Manpreet Vohra 

Indian High Commissioner to Australia

3-5 Moonah Place

Yarralumla ACT 2600

expressing concern for Hany Babu’s health and condemning his arrest and continued incarceration.

—Krishna Sen, Writers in Prison Coordinator for PEN Perth

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