Published: 15th November 2023
IIT Bombay students condemn new event guidelines; Faculty Forum condemns attacks on Prof Saha
We look at the fallout from the backlash from Sudhanva Deshpande’s talk organised by the Humanities and Social Sciences Department at IIT Bombay
Following the backlash that the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay received for allegedly allowing “pro-Hamas” and “pro-terrorism” events organised by the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Department, the Institution of Eminence introduced a new set of interim guidelines for conducting events on the campus.
"Purely Non-political” and “Potentially Political”
Released on November 14, these guidelines, which EdexLive has a copy of, classify events on the campus as “Purely Non-political” and “Potentially Political”, and specify diametrically rules to invite external speakers to each type of event.
For “Potentially political” events, which the circular defines as “those that have any content that may be viewed as political or socially conflicting”, the circular requires that the choice of speakers be approved by the head of the department which is conducting the event.
However, no such permission is required for "Purely Non-political” events, defined as “scientific, technological, research-based, literary or artistic, that have absolutely no political content”, the circular says.
The Director of IIT Bombay would also set up an External Speaker Review Committee to vet the external speakers.
Further, the circular also mandates that official permission is needed for conducting any event on the campus. For protests, protest marches and gatherings, permission also needs to be taken from the local police station, the circular says.
The circular also warns that the institute would take strict disciplinary action on students who commit defamation as defined by Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, as well as the code of conduct rules of IIT Bombay, which state:
“No employee shall, in any radio broadcast or in any document published anonymously or in his/her own name or in the name of any other person or in any communication to the press or in any public utterance, make any statement of fact or opinion,- i) which has the effect of an adverse criticism of any current or recent policy or action of the Institute, or ii) which is capable of embarrassing the relations between the Institute and of the Central Government or any State Government or any other institution or organisation or members of the public. Provided that nothing in this paragraph shall apply to any statements made or views expressed by an employee in his/her official capacity or in the due performance of the duties assigned to him/her."
Moreover, through the circular, IIT Bombay has also reiterated that all endeavours in the name of the institution must remain apolitical in nature. “Hence it is imperative that our students, faculty and staff members stay away from activities/events on campus that may invite socio-political controversies, divert IIT from its primary mission, or bring IIT Bombay into disrepute,” the circular reads.
“An attack on our freedoms,” say students
These guidelines, which are only interim ones before the institution creates official guidelines, are being criticised by students and student organisations at IIT Bombay for allegedly infringing on their academic freedom on campus.
Ambedkarite student collective Ambedkar Phule Periyar Study Circle (APPSC IIT Bombay), in a post on X, termed these guidelines as “gag rules”.
“One wonders what would the students and other campus residents be allowed to do freely then. Bury their heads in the computers and never look up? What would we learn in such an environment; to never form any communities?” asks the collective.
“These guidelines only betray the parental and authoritative culture of the administration,” says a student, on condition of anonymity.
She says that it is already quite rare for the administration to permit them to carry out certain discussions and events that are seen as political in nature.
“We at APPSC ourselves have experienced it several times. We are not given permission, space, or even basic equipment like extra chairs for our events. Now, there is further scrutiny, which is a detriment to our academic and intellectual development, as well as a violation of our freedom on campus. This is suppression through red tape,” alleges the student.
The student says that, while the circular does not acknowledge it, the new guidelines are a response to the events that transpired during and after the talk given by theatre personality Sudhanva Deshpande, during a film screening organised by the HSS department's Professor Sharmistha Saha.
“When Professor Sharmistha was recorded without her consent and the video was made viral, we wanted a Disciplinary Action Committee to be formed, and action to be taken against the culprit. However, we got to know that the institution is forming a fact-finding committee, which may gloss over the fact that the culprit violated classroom decorum and created an intimidating atmosphere,” says the student.
The student also mentions how the guidelines say nothing about the faces of students or faculty members circulated on social media or banners as part of smear campaigns. “Professor Sharmistha’s face was displayed on a banner, which then accompanied calls to terminate her from IIT Bombay and even have her killed. Why is this not counted as defamation?” she asks.
“By placing extra layers of permissions on events that they deem political, as well as reiterating that the institute’s activities must remain apolitical and warning students to not talk about the institution in a way that disturbs its relationship with the Central Government, it is clear what the administration wants to do,” the student says.
“I would like to see the institution define what they consider purely non-political and possibly political, instead of being vague like this,” the student says.
The student says that the only way to navigate these guidelines is to resist them. “They may curb our freedoms and weaken attempts at forming community, but we have to stand firm and push back against this,” she asserts.
IIT Bombay Faculty Forum stands with Professor Saha
In the meanwhile, the IIT Bombay Faculty Forum released a press statement on November 14, Tuesday, in which it expressed its concern over the treatment meted out to Professor Sharmistha Saha.
The statement reads that the forum is “absolutely distressed with the tarnishing of the reputation and physical threats to one of our colleagues via anonymous phone calls and posts on social media.” The forum says that the allegations of her support of Hamas or terrorists are “based on misinformation and falsehood”.
“The faculty forum of IIT Bombay firmly expresses its support to our colleague,” the statement asserts.
The Faculty Forum also condemned calls to violence against Professor Saha, using her name and photographs in hoardings, and tarnishing her reputation in news and social media through biased misinformation that she supports terrorism.