'Intifada' row explained: Why Kerala University youth festival's name irked ABVP before Vice-Chancellor stepped in

VC has asked to remove 'Intifada' from all promotional stuff related to the event

intifada The name 'Intifada' should be changed, the Kerala University VC said | Facebook photo

Kerala University made news after the youth festival scheduled to begin in the state capital on March 7 kicked up a row. The student union, responsible for organising the youth festival, named the event 'Intifada' -- a word that is often used to describe Arab resistance against Israeli occupation. After it was brought to his notice, the Vice-chancellor of the university asked to rename the event and sought an explanation from the organisers.

Here's the development so far and why Kerala University found the word 'Intifada' problematic.

Why 'Intifada' is considered problematic by many?

Arabic word Intifada translates to "uprising," or "resistance movement." It is commonly used to refer to the resistance movements, violent or non-violent, put forth by Palestinian people against Israeli occupation. Kerala's pro-Palestinian camps had openly hailed the student union's decision to name the youth festival "that send a clear political message."

The university youth festival: Who is in charge?

"The resistance through art against invasions," the slogan of the youth festival read. The Kerala University youth festival was scheduled to take place between March 7 to 11. The Students Federation of India (SFI), the student wing affiliated with the CPI(M) helms the union. 

The complaint

ABVP Kerala state secretary EU Eswaraprasad filed a complaint against the name. The student leader reportedly pointed out that 'Intifada' was the name opted by many Popular Front of India (PFI)-related profiles on social media after the organisation was banned by the Centre. 

"India shares a friendly diplomatic relation with both Palestine and Israel. And Israel is regarded as a strategic partner of our country. A government-funded educational institution of our country indulging in propaganda against one of the friendly countries in the context of their internal conflict is not a good gesture, and it may affect the strategic interest of India,” the Indian Express quoted his complaint as further stating.

What did the university authorities say?

Kerala University Vice-Chancellor Dr Mohanan Kunnummal directed that the event should be renamed as "Kerala University Youth Festival" for the time being. 'Intifada' should be removed from all promotional material of the youth festival including posters, banners and social media handles. The festival was renamed Kerala University Youth Festival. He pointed out that the said term  is directly associated with the Palestine-Israel issue and "can have implications on the Country's foreign policy."

"University is duty bound to ensure that its activities do not hurt the sentiments of any sections of the students, faculty and public. The Youth Festival would be attended by thousands of students coming from different social milieu. Controversies need to be avoided in all such programs.

"The Registrar, Director, Departments of Students' Services and the Chairman, Kerala University Students' Union are directed to ensure the compliance of the above direction and any failure on their part in implementing the directions will be viewed seriously," an official release by the varsity dated March 4, 2024, read.

What next?

When VC sought an explanation from the student union, the student body maintained that naming the festival was within its domain. 'Intifada' was used as a reaction to the ongoing Israeli military invasion in Gaza. However, this explanation was rejected by the VC.

According to local media reports, the Kerala University Student Union is hellbent on going ahead with its name of choice for the upcoming event. Unless a court order tells otherwise, they don't intend to change the name, the SFI-led student body was quoted as saying by News 18 Malayalam on Monday. 


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