After a group of students from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) alleged in an open forum that the institute attempted to deny them space to have healthy academic discussions and disrupted a talk on Kashmir by an international guest, Dr Dibyesh Anand from the University of Westminster, Anand, in an email to The Indian Express, said he has never witnessed such ‘attempted censorship’ in universities and that students and scholars “expressed their anxieties, anger and fear about the change in academic environment since the coming of new political dispensation in Delhi”.
“I was invited by students at TISS to deliver a seminar on Kashmir. Being a scholar of international relations with research interests in Kashmir, I accepted. During the TISS event, we witnessed blatant interference by the institution’s authority, where they first cancelled the venue and then spoke in brusque manner with the academic chairing the session, and later sent showcause notices to student organisers. It was clear to all involved that there was deep anxiety about holding an event on Kashmir,” writes Anand, head of the Department & Reader (Associate Professor) in International Relations, Department of Politics and IR, University of Westminster.
“This came as a shock to me because India is meant to be a democratic country and if higher education institutions cannot allow debates and discussions in an atmosphere free of bullying and intimidation, it goes against the spirit of democracy,” he says.
In an online forum, under commentaries, a write-up on the “resist academic fundamentalism and uphold the shrinking democratic spaces on campus” by “concerned students of TISS, Mumbai”, says as the talk was about to start, they were suddenly informed by security that the room booked for the programme was allotted for examinations and hence, it was not available to conduct the programme. “The guest professor and chair and some students had already arrived at the venue and it was an awkward situation. We then organised the programme at the quadrangle,” it says. The write-up says the programme was again disrupted by a TISS official, “who shouted ‘who are you?’, ‘who gave you permission for this programme?’ and walked away infuriated, disrespecting the international guest faculty, the chair and the students present.” The write-up adds, “with the change in the government, the nature of the campuses is also changing. It is a reflection of something larger”.
Refuting allegations, TISS director S Parasuraman said, “As an academic institute, all views are given space at TISS. But there cannot be only one particular view. If people believe that only their views should be heard, TISS is not the place for them. It is to be noted that Prof Anand gave a talk previously and that is why it is possible that he may not have spoken the other day. That does not necessarily mean that he was not given space.”
Anand, in his email, further says that at IIT Bombay too (Where he was invited to give a talk on Kashmir), students faced problems and while the “authorities would flip flop over reason why they could not give permission, the response of a few in the audience during the seminar was hostile to the point of being intimidating”.
“In both cases, students and a few academics held steadfast and this was admirable. I have done seminars on similar topics in the past in similar institutions in India and had never witnessed this kind of self-censorship and attempted censorship in universities. I personally felt heartened by the commitment to free speech and learning of students while being sad that as India becomes recognised globally as an emerging power, the culture of question and spirit of inquiry is being curbed in higher education institutions. This does not bode well for creativity, political consciousness and high quality scholarship. Since India claims Kashmir to be an integral part of the country, is it not awkward that efforts are made to squash any discussion on Kashmir in universities?” he questioned.
Anand also writes in the email that the main message one gets from such experiences is that academia in India is not capable of fulfilling its duty of care toward students by providing them a full range of views on important topics.
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