With colleges needing Govt permission to host online conferences/webinars, academics and students decry censorship

The memo also states that while choosing the apps for video conferencing one should give preference to those apps which do not have servers which are controlled by hostile countries 
Image for representational purpose only (Pixabay)
Image for representational purpose only (Pixabay)

The Ministry of Education had recently come out with a new set of guidelines for conducting virtual conferences or seminars in educational institutions across the country. Institutes and universities have been asked to "seek permission" before they go ahead with a virtual conference, and there are some restrictions as well.

All government and government-aided institutes will now have to get the approval of the Administrative Secretary for not just the event and its topic, but the participants will also have to be cleared by the office. "While giving permission, the Ministry should ensure that the subject matter for online events is not related to the security of State, Border, North East States, UT of J&K, Ladakh or any such issues which are clearly/purely related to India's internal matter(s)," read the office memo.

The memo also states that while choosing the apps for video conferencing one should give preference to those apps which do not have servers which are controlled, hosted or owned by countries or agencies hostile to India, added the notice.

Even though the notification came out on January 15, the letters are just reaching the universities now. The teachers have called it undemocratic, restriction of a free flow of thought and feel this might be an attempt to target teachers. "We have to contextualise this circular with the times that we are working in. This is another attempt to curb the free flow of ideas. The Delhi University teachers' union (DUTA) and the Federation of Central Universities' Teachers' Associations (FEDCUTA) will oppose this. This circular can be misused to go against the teachers just like people from the intelligentsia including members of the press have been targetted," said DUTA and FEDCUTA President Dr Rajib Ray.

The guidelines will curb any discussions on the conflict zones of the country and this might be problematic, said the Students' Federation of India. "It is worthwhile to point out that sensitive information regarding these areas is already guarded by the Official Secrets Act which prohibits the agencies responsible for letting slip that information in the first place. Any seminar organised would obviously only involve information already in the public domain. It can be clearly understood that this is a tactic by the ministry to stifle any discussion and browbeat academicians into total submission to the diktats of the BJP-RSS," SFI President VP Sanu said in a statement.

"The second aspect is even more outrageous," said SFI General Secretary Mayukh Biswas. "Permission is required from the Ministry of External Affairs for any event which is considered 'sensitive' under the ambit of politics, economy, science and technology and even personal matters. We can clearly see that the order by the Education Ministry is an attempt to basically not allow any discussion not liked by the government in the name of national security and even mildly critical of government policy. And a government which is selling everything to the multinational corporations can hardly have a moral case to lecture others about 'foreign funding'," he added.

Calling it a "draconian measure that not only curbs academic freedom and university autonomy" Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Dr Surajit Mazumder said that he would even go as far as calling it illegal. "The requirement of taking approval has been made absolute — which at the least means subjecting all conferences to more red tape and at the other end opens up the scope for government interference in determining the academic content of all conferences, not merely those dealing with 'internal' matters (which by the way could include the issue of poverty in the country). This will only take a lot of academic activity outside the institutional domain of autonomous public institutions," he added.

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