Published: 16th November 2023
EFLU files FIRs for Azadi slogans; IIT Bombay under fire for pro-Palestine talk: Central varsities resisting resistance?
EFLU, IITs, VBUs and others — there is a growing trend within central universities to resist resistance, accompanied by a more stringent mandate to align with the vision of the Central Government
Recently, seventeen students from The English Foreign Language University (EFLU) in Hyderabad, Telangana, who had been on a hunger strike, have been charged for chanting "objectionable slogans" such as "Inquilab Zindabad", "Azadi", "Sab Yadh Rakha Jayega", and allegedly “threatening the University and the Government”. The students were on hunger strike from November 6 to November 14, supported by other students from Osmania University (OU) and Hyderabad Central University (HCU).
The protest erupted in response to the sexual assault of a female student by two unidentified men on October 18, leading to discontent among students who criticised the administration's delayed response. Subsequently, students took to protesting and later, initiated a hunger strike, blaming the lapses of the administration in taking swift action.
This incident marks the third series of FIRs against the protesting students at EFLU. The Student Body of the institute, reacting to this, took to X ( formerly Twitter) to denounce them as "falsely lodged". In a thread, they specifically called out the Registrar's FIR, highlighting vague statements like "it is learned that the student unrest has deeper roots". In response, they contested, "(This) reiterates the administration's attempts to accuse the students of ulterior motives following the ex-proctor's 'conspiracy theories'."
The more intriguing complaint was against the slogans raised by the students. “(This) is a pathetic attempt at intimidating the protesting students by giving the protest an anti-national colour and makes the student community question where the administration's loyalty lies,” expressed the student collective on their X (formerly Twitter) page responding to these objections.
Not a standalone incident? Let's look at IIT Bombay
However, EFLU isn't the sole central university facing scrutiny over the administration's loyalties. This growing trend of perceived appeasement towards the Central Government is observable in many central universities. The recent incident at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay serves as evidence, notably with the introduction of new interim guidelines for hosting events on campus following the controversy surrounding filmmaker Sudhanva Deshpande's pro-Palestine talk.
The new guidelines of IIT Bombay prohibit students and institute employees from engaging with the media or posting content on social media that might criticise current or recent policies and actions of the institute, or strain relations with the Central or State Governments. The guidelines state that such statements would amount to defamation under the Indian Penal Code 499 — and it extends to any statement that can hamper the institute's relation with any other institution, organisation or members of the public. The guidelines have also introduced layers of permission for gatherings, protests, organising 'political' lectures, or inviting speakers. To bring external speakers to IIT Bombay, clearance is required from the External Speaker Review Committee, appointed by the institute's Director. The External Speaker Review Committee will scrutinise speaker and video details.
These new guidelines come in the light of the uproar that emerged online and outside the gates of IIT Bombay against Mr Deshpande’s talk, particularly regarding his discussion of an Israeli documentary film, Arna’s Children, on a theatre group in a Palestinian refugee camp.
According to the students who attended the session, a portion of Deshpande's talk about Palestinian resistance fighter Zakaria Zubeidi, who transitioned from armed resistance to starting a theatre group, was taken out of context and widely shared on social media. Criticism labelled Deshpande as "pro-Hamas" and "pro-Terrorism” and also demanded the sacking of Professor Sarmistha Saha, who organised the talk. Despite students demanding action against the student who non-consensually recorded the talk and created an intimidating atmosphere during the session, the administration implemented these new regulations for event organisation instead is worth noting that protesters outside the campus raised provocative slogans like “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko” (Shoot the traitors of the country) and no action has been taken against them.
The death threats and intimidation prompted the IIT Bombay faculty forum to denounce the false narratives surrounding the incident. In a statement expressing support for Prof Sarmistha Saha, they clarified, “The allegations made in social media about her supporting Hamas or terrorists are based on misinformation and falsehood.” The forum also condemned the student who, despite the professor's request, recorded the lecture and became aggressive.
“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,” said a student of IIT Bombay who spoke with EdexLive on the condition of anonymity. The student also informed that the institute has not taken any action against the accused who violated class decorum or the mob outside however it has promised that a fact-finding committee will be set up to look into the incident.
As we await the decision of IIT Bombay's fact-finding committee, a noticeable pattern emerges in the reluctance to take action against those aligned with the Centre, contrasting with proactive measures in lodging FIRs against dissenting voices at central universities.
Another similar incident worth noting is the introduction of segregated dining spaces for vegetarians and non-vegetarians at IITs, criticised as "Brahminical" and aligned with a certain agenda. Moreover, central universities like Visva-Bharati University (VBU) have witnessed turmoil in recent years, where the now former Vice-Chancellor (VC), Bidyut Chakraborty, has faced repeated accusations of "saffronising" the campus and pursuing political vendettas against dissenters since assuming his position in 2018. The university has become entangled in numerous legal cases, with employees and students receiving show-cause notices and suspension orders. These actions prompted prominent figures, including linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky, to send a signed open letter to President Droupadi Murmu.
Additionally, incidents at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) have become a recurring pattern. Particularly in JMI, students claim that dissent on campus is systematically suppressed. So the question arises: are these occurrences mere coincidences, or do they signify a concerning trend of stifling dissent within central universities?