A fourth-year Ph.D Scholar at IIT-Guwahati, Himanchal Singh (30), has had to sign a six-point undertaking, including an unusual assurance that he would not participate in “any form of agitation/ protest/ dharna,” to be allowed to resume his research programme on campus.
Singh faced “suspended academic expulsion” for one semester last year for participating in a hunger strike, along with a fellow student, from January 4-7, 2020, to protest against the compulsory retirement of his teacher, Brajesh Rai, in the Department of Electronics and Electrical Engineering.
Rai, who had made several allegations of corruption against the institute administration, was charged with “misconduct” and attempt to “defame the authorities of the institute” and, subsequently, ordered to go on compulsory retirement on January 1, 2020.
On March 16 last year, a 10-member disciplinary committee, comprising nine teachers and a student representative, decided that Singh be put on “suspended academic expulsion” for one semester, meaning a suspension held in abeyance until the institute administration decides to enforce it. Singh, who did his M.Tech. in wireless communication from NIT Patna, was also suspended from the position of general secretary of the hostel affairs board.
Four days later, Singh, along with other students, left the campus following the outbreak of Covid-19.
After IIT-Guwahati opened its gates to Ph.D Scholars earlier this year, Singh returned to the campus on March 4, but was allegedly forced to vacate his hostel room the next day.
On March 8, the Registrar, Professor S M Suresh, sent him a letter stating that he would be allowed to return if he signed an undertaking that listed six conditions.
“I shall neither take part in any form of agitation/ protest/ dharna inside or outside campus nor mobilise students for the same,” said the undertaking. “I shall not post any messages in the social media platforms which will prove to be detrimental to the academic ambience of the Institute,” it said.
The undertaking also included an apology to the institute for “falsifying information” and posting it on social media, and an assurance that he would not repeat such a “mistake”. Any violation of the conditions could lead to his expulsion without notice, it said.
When contacted on Tuesday, Singh said he did not want to comment on the matter.
IIT-Guwahati Director, Professor T G Sitharam, told The Indian Express to contact the Dean of Public Relations, Branding and Ranking, Professor P Iyer. Later, an institute spokesperson said IIT-Guwahati would not respond to questions on the issue since the matter is sub-judice.
In his letter to Singh, Suresh, who is also the Secretary of the institute’s Senate, said the decision was taken on the recommendation of a Special Senate Committee. The committee was headed by Professor S K Kakoty and included Professor K Mohanty, Professor VV Dasu, Professor T Punniyamurthy and Professor SK Deb as members.
The IIT-Guwahati Senate, which is the highest decision-making body on academic matters in an IIT, considered the committee’s report on March 3 and accepted its recommendation on asking Singh to sign an undertaking.
On April 1, Singh approached the Gauhati High Court, saying that the undertaking was discriminatory and in contravention of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution that grants him freedom of speech and expression.
“The petitioner humbly begs to submit that the institution could not bar any student from holding any peaceful protest as it is well within their fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. Without any basis in law, he was also barred from filing any appeal. Neither has he misrepresented any fact related to the institute. In fact, he was not even informed of any such act of misrepresentation of facts,” he said in his petition.
The petition said that Singh sat on a hunger strike since he felt that imposing compulsory retirement on a teacher, who was “known to speak out against dishonest practices”, was unfair and vindictive. “Thereby he sat on the hunger strike and his intention was noble and in good interest. He wanted his institute to grow and develop in a positive direction and a custodian of justice, fairness and truth,” said the petition.
Singh told the court that IIT-Guwahati had asked him to apologise for defaming the institute without even providing him the material which it considers to be defamatory, and this was “an outright act of coercion, subjugation and abuse of power and position”.
While he requested the court to quash the order that required him to sign an undertaking, the court, on April 9, told the institute to hand over a copy of the Senate’s decision to Singh. If the student was still aggrieved, he could approach the court again, it said.
Sources, however, said Singh had signed the undertaking last month, as he had already lost almost a year since March 2020.
Last year, a German exchange student at IIT-Madras was asked to leave the country for allegedly attending protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The Centre subsequently revoked his student visa, which prevented him from re-entering the country to complete his studies at IIT-Madras.