The IIT Madras administration has cancelled a series of lectures on social equity as the three speakers invited for the event are “controversial”, the organisers have alleged. According to sources, the speakers — K Stalin, documentary filmmaker and human rights activist, Nandini Sundar, sociology professor at the Delhi School of Economics, and Adhik Kadam, social entrepreneur and chairman of NGO Borderless World Foundation — had confirmed their participation in the lectures on September 23. However, they were later contacted by the management and told that the lectures were cancelled due to “unforeseen circumstances”.
When contacted, IIT-M Director Bhaskar Ramamurthi said he was not aware of the incident. Faculty advisor K C Sivakumar, who was allegedly involved in the decision to cancel the lectures, refused to comment.
The lectures were planned to mark National Service Scheme (NSS) Foundation Day. While the speakers were selected and invited by the students in charge of the campus’s NSS unit, they were not given any reason for the cancellation by K C Sivakumar or Dean of Students S Sivakumar.
“We tried to convince the teachers about the significance of our guests in social equity, but they refused to talk and claimed that all three were controversial,” said one of the students who was planning to meet Ramamurthi with a petition late Thursday evening.
The administration refused to elaborate on what they meant by “controversial”.
Stalin told The Indian Express that people who opposed rights activists engaging with students perhaps did not trust the intelligence of those receiving the lectures. “Some teachers and administrators managing learning are uncomfortable with genuine curiosity and inquiry and are comfortable with indoctrination as a safe way of teaching. Educational institutions, of all places, need to be the bastion of intellectual pursuit and no subject or person or position should be outside the scope of scrutiny or exploration. This sort of backing out is done out of fear of displeasing the powers that be… An opportunity to learn is lost.”
“By cancelling the lectures, the administration has made it clear that caste system, tribal issues and human rights issues associated with border tensions shouldn’t be discussed even in the platform of a social service organisation like NSS. This decision by the IIT-M administration clearly exposes their strong ideological bias and makes clear their loyalty to Hindutva politics,” Biyas Muhammed, a student, posted on Facebook.
He said the email sent by faculty advisor Sivakumar to the guests had no explanation, but said the lectures would take place later. “These are outright lies as the actual reason for rejection was the ideological background of the speakers and there were no plans whatsoever to postpone the lectures,” he said.
In the last academic year, NSS had organised lectures of social workers like Bezwada Wilson and Aruna Roy on the campus. Muhammed said Stalin’s documentary “India Untouched” was screened by NSS in 2015 and received well by the audience.
“True to the unfortunate times we live in, a service organisation like NSS, which used to have great student autonomy, is also slowly transforming to an establishment where dissent is not listened to, but silenced through power,” Muhammed wrote on Thursday.
Dean of Students Sivakumar was not available for comment.
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