'Attempt to curb democratic freedom', students, teachers slam JMI admin for dissolving teachers' association

On November 17, the Registrar’s Office published a memo suspending Prof Sonya Surabhi Gupta for conducting the JTA elections without approval. And it all began...
Photo of Jamia Millia Islamia | Pic: Twitter
Photo of Jamia Millia Islamia | Pic: Twitter

The Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) administration has dissolved the Jamia Teachers' Association (JTA) — Jamia's 58-year-old teachers’ body — suspended senior Prof Sonya Surabhi Gupta for being the Returning Officer (RO) of JTA and conducting elections and has released an advisory against a solidarity General Body Meeting (GBM) for Prof Sonya Surabhi by the JTA. The advisory warns, "In case of any violation of such advisory, the authority will take action against the participants of such meetings.” These drastic measures are drawing heavy criticism from both students’ and teachers’ bodies who claim that the move is an attempt to curb democratic freedom on campus.

What happened and why?
It all started when the Registrar’s Office published a memo on November 17 suspending Prof Sonya Surabhi Gupta of the Centre of Spanish and Latin American Studies for conducting the JTA elections without the approval of the “Competent Authority of the University”. The memo describes her act as one that goes against the clause of the Service Agreement, University Grants Commission Regulations 2018 and JMI Act, Statutes and Ordinances. Additionally, as per the memo, Prof Gupta called the charges levied against her “baseless” and “misdirected” since “the Returning Officer has never sought prior approval from Jamia Administration".

An order released by the Registrar on the same day declared the notification for the JTA election as “null and void”. The order further dissolved the body and empowered the Vice-Chancellor to appoint a committee to investigate the flaws in JTA’s Bye-Laws/Constitution. The order further states that the release of the report will enable a “transparent and smooth conduct of election of JTA, after following due process.”

The following day, November 18, the JTA organised a General Body meeting at the JTA office to extend support to the suspended professor. However, an advisory was issued to all the faculty members of JMI and warned them against attending any such meeting. The advisory also called the JTA an “unauthorized body which has no longer recognition and authority…and has been dissolved”. The advisory also refused to recognise the office bearers and warned that “they are misleading the Jamia teachers”.

Criticism from teachers’, students’ associations
The actions of the JMI administration drew criticism from various organisations in the academic sphere. The All India Students' Association (AISA) condemned the suspension of Prof Gupta and the dissolution of JTA by calling it "arbitrary" and "unreasonable". A statement released by the organisation reads, "We oppose the suppression of voice by the Jamia Administration.” The Students’ Federation of India (SFI) of JMI writes, “Jamia is curbing democratic spaces of teachers inside campus witch hunting teachers who exercised their right to dissent.”

Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers' Association (JNUTA) slammed the JMI administration’s decisions. A statement released by the association states, “The JNUTA protests this autocratic and repressive conduct by the university administration, which through unconscionable administrative overreach, is a naked attempt to annihilate the democratic rights of our teacher colleagues in Jamia Millia Islamia and, in particular, the Constitutional guarantees to the right to association.”

The Federation of Central Universities Teachers' Associations echoes the same exasperation in its press release where they condemn the actions of the administration. It further calls for the VC to respect the democratic rights of the teachers to choose their representatives on the JTA and demands that the administration immediately withdraw the suspension of Prof Gupta. 

Official comments
The Jamia Administrative Staff Association (JASA) released a statement on November 18 that was shared with EdexLive by university officials. The statement appreciated the democratic atmosphere of the institute and appealed for amicable solutions to all problems through dialogues. “We find that the democratic atmosphere of JMI has been very generous to our welfare. JMI’s loyal adherence to its acts, statutes and ordinances has been held in high esteem by its employees,” reads the release. 

A curbing of democratic freedom on campus?
Almost every criticism directed towards the university’s action echoed the intention to curb the voice of JMI’s teachers. “This is an intention to finish any democratic bodies in the institute. It is slowly curbing the freedoms that the campus enjoyed for so long,” says a concerned student of the university. Another PhD scholar adds, "This started during the pandemic. Students who participated in protests and student movements were selectively targeted. It was during a time when the scope of support from others was low and the administration used it to its advantage.” Calling these acts a means to generate fear amongst those who raise a voice, he further states, “This attempt to create a fear of psychosis is now only strengthening by the day. More arbitrary and whimsical.” 

Students further inform that the JTA often spoke against the administration on relevant issues and extended their support when need be. “Financial and academic help is just a part of their support. JTA was always very vocal against administrative decisions that they considered were against everything that the university stands for,” says a student, adding, “They sealed the JTA office like it's a crime scene. They are only trying to make examples of individuals who raise a voice; just to remind them of that heavy cost that follows." 

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