LESS THAN a year after IIT-Madras banned a Dalit students’ movement, and then revoked the decision following nationwide protests, the authorities, it has emerged, have issued another circular, this time with an aim to bar all kinds of “political activity” because that is “against the apolitical nature of the institute”.
Another clause in the circular — an undertaking to be signed by students, scholars, project associates and others – says, “I shall not indulge in any activity that will adversely affect the image of the university”.
Taking objection, students and students’ group representatives said these were vague clauses that will be open to interpretation, and can be used against any student at any point to drive him/her out of the hostel, which is the last point in the undertaking. In fact, as one student pointed out, something not very dissimilar had been done with Rohith Vemula, a PhD scholar from Hyderabad Central University, who was suspended, leading to his suicide that sparked nationwide protests.
Official response of IIT-Madras varied from initial denial to lack of knowledge to admission of mistake “if such a circular went out”. The Indian Express has accessed the document being circulated in hostels.
Earlier, students were required to submit three affidavits – two anti-ragging undertakings from students and parents, and an “honour code”, or a set of rules or ethical principles for the academic community.
Specifying that he was not aware of any such new rule being implemented, Sivakumar Srinivasan, Dean of Students, said, “May be (it was) a mistake if such clauses are added in the list…or it may be something done by the hostel authorities.”
Srinivasan was blamed for the decision to ban Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle (APSC) in May 2015 based on an anonymous complaint forwarded by the Union HRD ministry. It alleged that APSC members were inducing “hatred” against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Hindu community.
K Sethupathi, Chairman, Council of Wardens, initially said no such rules were circulated. When told specifically about the clauses and cited with instances of students being served the document for the last two weeks, Sethupathi said he had never “intended” doing so. “(It) may be a mistake,” he said. “If students have a problem, I will send them a clarification mail to not follow any such rule. (A) similar form uploaded on the website has no such clauses.”
IIT-M Director Bhaskar Ramamurthi also initially claimed ignorance but later told The Indian Express that it could have been a “mistake” by his colleagues. Asked how such clauses could be added by mistake, he said a similar rule was implemented in July last year, and revoked following students’ objection. “Officials must have used those papers again. Anyway, I have no intention to impose such rules,” Ramamurthi said.
A senior APSC leader said: “What do they mean by ‘indulging in political activity within the campus…’? It is a very vague rule that can be used against students in different contexts. When the authorities turn indifferent to APSC and other independent student groups, right-wing student groups propagating political ideology of the RSS and inviting their leaders are being treated like official bodies. Groups such as Vivekananda Study Circle or Vande Mataram are allowed to take students on campus buses for temple visits, and they have a permanent room when others have no such privileges.”
Condemning the document, Chinta Bar, an independent students’ movement in IIT-M, said in a statement that it may not be a coincidence that this document comes into circulation soon after student uprisings on campuses across the country following Rohith Vemula’s suicide. “Even in the absence of such undertaking, student activities are under constant surveillance. This undertaking would help administration take action against any student for anything under the tag of “tarnishing the image of IITM”…. This is to silence dissenting voices and crucify independent student bodies,” the statement said.