Doosra Aamir (a second Aamir) refers to the much publicised visit of film star Aamir Khan to the recent Bhopal and Narmada protests in Delhi
Manoj R Nair
A Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) graduate sneaked into the high security convocation hall on Saturday at the TISS campus at Deonar and raised a banner of protest, stunning Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, security staff and other dignitaries present, like Ratan Tata.
According to members of the audience, just as Manmohan Singh wound up his address, Simprit Singh, who graduated from TISS last year, stood up all of a sudden and unfurled a banner that read: “Development or destruction? A question from Narmada, Mumbai Slums, Kalinga Nagar, Bhopal, Plachmada, Kashmir.”
Clearly this protest was so unexpected that even as the PM’s security grew alert nobody uttered a word. Simprit Singh just stood on his seat, banner unfurled while the function continued. “He did not shout slogans or anything. He just stood up alone,” said a faculty member of TISS who was present at the function. But when some members of the audience started cheering Simprit, the plain clothes policement got into action and escorted him out of the convocation hall.
According to his friends, Simprit, 23, is “passionate” about Narmada. For the last two years he has been working with the National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM), an alliance of organisations like NBA and lives out of the NAPM office at Chembur. “He is sweet and gentle soul but an ardent opponent of the Narmada dam project,” said Shashi Mehta of the NBA.
While Simprit himself remained unavailable for comment – even when journalists were clamouring for a quote as he was being escorted out – Simprit chose to remain mum.
“He has been training teachers to work in slums and he’s been involved in various protest movements,” disclosed Sanjay M G, co-cordinator of NAPM. Simprit apparently also endorsed Aamir Khan’s recent protest. “We discussed Aamir’s protest in detail and we approved because it was him (Aamir) — he’s known to be a sensitive, aware person,” he added.
Simprit has visited Narmada valley on several occasions and had often stayed in the villages that were flooded as Sardar Sarovar, the main dam had gone up. In Mumbai, he has been involved in protests against demolition of slums, particularly at Mandala village in Trombay.
According to Vijay Joshi, senior inspector of Trombay police station, Simprit was not detained and nor will any case be made against him. Simprit gained entry as a representative of NAPM which had been invited to the function. TISS had sent invitations to all the field work agencies and companies where its students undergo training during their course.
However, TISS director S Parasuraman, was miffed with his former pupil’s action. “There is nothing wrong if someone wants to raise the issue (Narmada Dam). But a convocation ceremony is not an appropriate forum for such protest. We are an institution that teaches, researches and does policy advocacy. Field work agencies should do what they have to do and we want to do what we have to,” he said.
Around 180 graduates passed out in the convocation ceremony on Saturday. The prime minister also inaugurated an institute for disaster management at TISS. However, his reaction to Simprit’s protest is not known. Parasuraman who was with the PM said, “We did not discuss the incident. As Prime Minister, he looks at issues in a broader way.”