Updated: October 24, 2020 12:25:51 pm
A law college in Panaji has asked Shilpa Singh, an assistant professor of Political Science, to explain her method and material of teaching, after members of ABVP, the students’ wing of RSS, complained that she “promotes socially hateful thoughts about a particular religion, community and group of people”.
In a letter to VM Salgaocar College of Law, ABVP’s Konkan unit joint secretary Prabha Naik has asked the college to “take action within 24 hours”, failing which the outfit will be “forced to start a severe agitation against the institution” and approach the police.
In a written reply to ABVP, the college authorities said that “it’s not possible”.
On Friday, Political Science professors from across Goa colleges met online – supporting Singh and “academic sanctity inside a classroom”, they have sent a resolution to the college to consider her explanation before arriving at any decision.
Singh, 31, who has been given time to respond, told The Indian Express: “This is muzzling academic freedom. For me, doing humanities is to shoulder some social responsibilities, especially being a woman. If you curtail this freedom, it’s equivalent to me dying.”
Confirming that the letter was sent, Naik said, “We have evidence. In her lectures, she was teaching many anti-religious things.”
Singh, however, said ABVP members verbally conveyed four topics which they found offensive. “I was informed that they had issues with my teachings of Manusmriti and were not comfortable bringing Rohith Vemula, (Hyderabad university student who allegedly died by suicide), M M Kalburgi and (Narendra) Dabholkar (rationalists and activists who were murdered) into my teachings. They also had issues with a response to a particular query on beef that I seem to have shared.”
Prof M R K Prasad, one of the three members of a grievance committee which will now hear Singh, said: “This is a law college and we have to follow rules. The professor has been given a copy of the letter and we will wait for her response. We do not know what has been said, and the context and the background of each thread. We will have to hear both sides before we come to a conclusion. The grievance committee is for students of this college. This is a third party and we do not appreciate this manner of complaint. In the letter, they have not expressed what was anti-religion.”
Since Monday, Singh has begun to record her online classes — as they now form “evidence of her style of teaching”.
The college is also probing how virtual classroom footage was recorded and leaked. “Only the medium has changed. Classroom still is the same, so is its sanctity,” Prasad said.
On Political Science teachers from different colleges supporting Singh, Professor Rahul Tripathi, HoD, Political Science, Goa University, said: “We came together to support the idea of a classroom. A classroom is a sacred space. What a Political Science teacher discusses in classroom is as per norms, which have evolved through so many procedures, in which many academics have contributed. A non-expert has no locus standi to what is discussed inside a classroom.”
He said, “It’s possible in the class (that) teachers and students may disagree. If the student is not happy, again there are mechanisms available.”
“In this particular case,” Tripathi said, “what disappointed the most was that we did not hear a student directly but through a third party – a politically affiliated group using a language which is highly intimidating. Critical politics and conservative politics is taught in classrooms all over the world. We have a strong reason to believe that the point was not academic, and was to scare (the teacher). For us, it’s worrisome if teachers get scared; then that is the end of the classroom.”
Singh said she was teaching 120 students of First Year LLB through Google Meet, and had begun with a chapter on nature, scope and significance of political theory.
She said: “In political theory, I have to give illustrations in order to provoke critical thought. For instance, Michel Foucault’s views on bio-politics and I was telling them how bodies are regulated by technology in order to control them, without having a hunch the same was being applied to me. Someone has been recording my classes and now they are taking it out of context and using it against my teaching.”
Singh said trouble began when she started lectures explaining “perspective on power”. She used reading materials of D D Kosambi, Devi Prasad Chattopadhyay and other scholars to explain Manusmriti’s views on women in a specific context, as it “used superstitious idealism as a tool for social control to suppress women”. In the days around her lectures, Singh said, she started getting text messages from a select few on “her views on NRC and CAA”, which she said she avoided.
“A clip they are now showing around has me talking on the farm bill. But its’ a snippet. I was explaining political theory is the spectacle one uses to view social or political reality. I gave examples of liberalism and Marxism,” says Singh.
“I used the farm bill as the reality — and they have decided to use a snippet, where I explain if you see it through Marxism you will find it to have capitalist shades. We discussed Kalburgi and Dabholkar to study how enlightenment rationalism rejected the darkness of superstitious dogmatism. That too has been cut and shared as a snippet.”
She adds, “Democracy is teachers having the right to express, share readings, debate and mentor students in classrooms. I do not think learning is possible otherwise, as learning itself is beyond conventional political ideology and political agenda.”
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