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Activities on TISS campus ‘curbed’, say students’ body; admin claims ‘put on hold till semester end’

In the last two months, the TISS administration has disallowed or put on hold more than 10 events organised by students on the campus.

Written by Abha Goradia | Mumbai |
March 8, 2020 4:00:08 pm
Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai.

The Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) administration Wednesday denied the students’ union a permission to host the launch of author Sudhanva Deshpande’s book ‘Halla Bol’, based on playwright Safdar Hashmi, and a performance by ‘Jana Natya Manch’ scheduled for March 6.

In the last two months, the TISS administration has disallowed or put on hold more than 10 events organised by students on the campus. It has claimed that the permissions have been denied as the institute was not keen on speakers from outside the campus and maintained a new policy to this effect would be formalised by the authorities.

“Three interventions are going on in the campus — placements, M Phil scholars thesis submission and synopsis presentation of the second-year students, and examination. At this juncture, what becomes priority? Should we hear the voices of the 10-12 students, who want to organise programmes, or should we hear the voices of the general body of students who are here to study?” dean of student affairs, Asha Banu, told The Indian Express.

Students, however, have claimed that the denial of permissions for such events “is being done to stifle free speech”. They have also alleged that denying space to academics, who come from outside, is a deviation from the institute’s academic ethos where debates and discussions were encouraged.

“Our form was returned to us with a note saying that external speakers are not allowed and that the Institute is formulating guidelines on this. We have organized several events earlier but have never experienced such a problem,” said a student associated with Progressive Students Forum, the group which had organised the book launch event.

On February 16, the students’ body reportedly wrote to the TISS administration in the matter. A subsequent meeting between the administration and members of the students’ union Monday, however, remained inconclusive with the authorities being in no mood to back down.

According to the minutes of the meeting, which have been reviewed by The Indian Express, the TISS administration, citing dissertation submissions and campus placements processes, had maintained that all events organised by students “should be put on hold till the end of the semester in April”.

In the last few months, a string of protests against the violence on Jamia Milia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University campuses in Delhi and against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, National Register for Citizens and National Population Register were cancelled by TISS administration. Permission was also denied to at least three pro-CAA events organised by the Democratic Secular Students Forum, a students’ group.

“The main argument (of the TISS administration) is that these activities are increasingly making the campus polarised, but our silence itself is aiding polarisation. If the institution really want students to rise above regionalism… then they must take an active stance in allowing such programmes,” a student, who did not wish to be identified, said.

Over the past two months, the students’ union members claimed, events to be addressed by speakers from outside the campus have also run into trouble with the administration.

In an email, dated February 13, to TISS administration, the students’ union had pointed out that events organised with speakers from outside the campus have often been cited as a reason behind “disturbance to the academic commitments”. “We are not sure about the logic behind this argument, where an external speaker will consume more time and an internal speaker won’t,” it stated.

According to the students’ union, a research methodology workshop and a public talk on “Identity formation in the multi-ethnic region” to be hosted by JNU professor Joy Pachau was stalled twice in February, citing that the event needs to be hosted in collaboration with a school of the institute, and not independently.

Permission was reportedly also denied for inviting Hyderabad University professor Hoineilhing Sithlou for an annual festival for North East students, Mosaic. Professor Sithlou was scheduled to deliver a public talk on ‘Food, culture, identity and Northeast India’ on February 12. “We were only told that no external speakers are allowed, but no specific reason was given,” said one of the student organisers of the event.

Last month, the institute’s former professor Tejal Kanitkar was not allowed to chair the Bhagat Singh Memorial Lecture. While prof Kanitkar was invited to talk on ‘The Idea of India’, the institute administration, in its response, had said Kanitkar had no academic publications related to the theme. However, activist Dr Samshul Islam and journalist P Sainath were allowed to address the lecture.

The administration also disallowed invitees for ‘Dalit Women Speak’, organised by Ambedkarite Students Association and scheduled for January end, to address the event.

Last week, a protest screening of Anand Patwardhan’s documentary ‘Ram Ke Naam’, as part of students response to the Delhi riots was also cancelled after the administration withheld permission. The screening was reportedly stalled by security guards when it was about to begin. Students later organised a candlelight vigil against the violence, which has so far seen 47 deaths.

“Speakers invited from outside the campus to address events are usually those who are most intimate to the field that is being discussed. Not allowing them to speak and share their experiences with students is a huge loss,” a student said.

Earlier, in an email to Banu, the students’ union had maintained that it did not agree with the management’s “arbitrary decisions” as none of the elected union members were consulted or included in the decision-making progress. On February 16, the students’ body reportedly wrote to the TISS administration in the matter. A subsequent meeting between the administration and members of the students’ union Monday, however, remained inconclusive with the authorities being in no mood to back down.

According to the minutes of the meeting, which have been accessed by The Indian Express, the TISS administration, citing dissertation submissions and campus placements processes, had maintained that all events organised by students “should be put on hold till the end of the semester in April”.

Despite repeated attempts, TISS director director, Dr Shalini Bharat, remained unavailable for comment.

Meanwhile, Bal Rakshase, president of TISS Teachers’ Association, Wednesday, said, “We believe that everyone should have the right to organise academic discourses unless it is religious in nature. We have formulated resolutions on the same and we will be sending it to the director.”

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