Published: 18th March 2021
IIT Guwahati expels PhD scholar over five-month-old Facebook post they considered incendiary. Is there more to the story?
According to a letter by the institute, the post by the researcher Vikrant Singh had 'misinterpreted facts about the institute without proper verification and resulting in defamation of the institute'
A PhD scholar of IIT Guwahati was expelled from the institute last Wednesday, over a Facebook post that he had made against the inatitute last October. According to a letter from the institute, the post by the researcher Vikrant Singh had 'misinterpreted facts about the institute without proper verification and resulting in defamation of the institute.' Vikrant stands expelled until July 27.
What was the post about? He shared a news item about the JEE Main topper using a proxy to write the examination and went on to deride what he felt were falling standards in the country's most eminent institutes. In his post, he criticises IITG for asking former professor Brijesh Rai to opt for compulsory retirement. Rai was Vikrant's former research guide, until he was sent on compulsory retirement.
Reacting to the expulsion, he said, "This letter was not really a shocker. Maybe it shows that I am right." He is at his home in Lucknow and hasn't been at the IIT since the beginning of the lockdown.
When asked why a five-month-old post triggered the researcher's expulsion, an IIT Guwahati spokesperson said, "The violation for which he has been kept under expulsion was being investigated carefully by the students' disciplinary committee, which had met multiple times and took a decision only after detailed deliberations."
Vikrant has now sent a representation to the institute asking them to quash the expulsion letter and to initiate disciplinary proceeding against the director T G Sitharam for "misusing his position and abusing his authority to victimise me (Vikrant) and for his indulgence in various cases of corruption." He has also demanded similar action against Dr Gaurav Trivedi from the same institute "for conspiring against me and lodging various false complaints against me and for indulging in various serious misconduct and various cases of corruption."
A history of slander?
However, professors at the institute have categorically stated that Vikrant and his mentor Rai have been known to 'slander' the institute with far-ranging wild accusations. The spokesperson added, "After close review of his case diary wherein it has been recorded that Vikrant has been threatening several faculty members through written letters, emails having objectionable and derogatory language, has been instigating students to indulge in strikes on campus and disrupt the academics on issues that are unrelated to academics and has brought defamatory practices to IIT Guwahati campus. He seeks a solution and response through social media and has instigated a large number of students on false pretext. He has fabricated many facts and damaged the image of the Institute despite his own written undertaking."
In early 2020, Vikrant and a few other students had sat on a hunger strike protesting Brijesh Rai's compulsory retirement. Another student, who also participated in the hunger strike along with Vikrant, was expelled from the institute a week ago.
Vikrant during the hunger strike
Did he or did he not pay his fees?
The institute further says that Vikrant is not a registered student of IITG since the last term as he has not yet paid his fees for this term. They said, "Vikrant is not a registered student of IITG since the last term as he has not yet completed his academic formalities".
However, EdexLive has accessed a receipt dated December 30, 2020, that says that Vikrant has paid a total of Rs 16,850 as his fee for the term from January to May 2021. Refuting the institute's second claim, Vikrant also shared with us the screenshot of the institute's portal, where he had registered for the term on December 24, 2020. However, the registration is pending approval.
Vikrant says that since Rai's retirement on January 1, 2020, he hasn't been allotted a research guide. "My thesis was up for submission in March. However, since the time the actions were initiated against my previous guide, I wasn't allotted another research guide," he said.
The IIT spokesperson called this baseless and responded, "He has not selected his supervisor. The institute has a practice of allowing a research scholar to choose his or her supervisor of choice after mutual agreement on the research topic to be pursued. Even after his supervisor was given compulsory retirement he has not chosen his supervisor."
However, Vikrant had shared a screenshot of a supervisor preference form duly filled, where he had chosen another faculty as his research guide. Strangely though, an email from the institute sent to him in July 2020 says that the form was misplaced - why he did not replace it is still a mystery.
He also shared with us a series of emails that he had sent to the institute in 2021, informing them that he still does not have a supervisor and that he hasn't received his fellowship since October 2020. "It is very disturbing to note that the guide change form has not been processed even after such a long time has passed. My research work has been stopped for no fault of mine. I am facing a dire financial situation for no fault of mine. I am going through mental agony because I am not allowed to conduct my research, and I am forced to go through a dire financial situation that too for no fault of mine," reads this email. Responding to this email, the Dean of Academic Affairs told him on February 2, 2021, that "papers are under process."
He sees a conspiracy. Is it there?
In his representation sent to the Board of Governors, he says the institute director forced him to change his guide and hasn't been signing the form since then. "It is pertinent to note that T G Sitharam is also the Chairman of the Senate and Senate has to approve the Change of Guide," it says.
In November 2020, Vikrant was sent another letter by the institute, asking him if he had sought permission before becoming the president of an independent organisation, the Joint Research Council of India. The incident was also mentioned in his case diary regarding the expulsion. Following this, he had RTId the institute, asking for a list of faculty and students who had sought permission to join political and cultural groups. "The response was funny. No one had sought permission ever," he says.