Hostel residents at IIT-Bombay “shall not participate in any anti-national…or any other undesirable activities”: Dean of Student Affairs

Mumbai: Hostel residents at IIT-Bombay “shall not participate in any anti-national…or any other undesirable activities”, the institute’s Dean of Student Affairs said in a mail sent on Tuesday. However, the letter, which also cautions students against “anti-social activities”, does not specify what constitutes “anti-national” activities. The letter also comes amid a chorus of allegations by activists and opposition parties that the ruling BJP seeks to stifle critics by labelling them “anti-national”; an allegation repeated by senior BJP leader Vijay Goel this month when referring to critics of the citizenship law.
A detailed email lists 14 other points of caution for students, including the banning of speeches, plays and music “that disturbs the peace of the hostel environment” and prohibits “distribution of posters or leaflets/pamphlets” within the campus.
All 15 points in the email are to be “strictly implemented hereafter from this day of January 28,2020”.
IIT-Bombay students were among hundreds who gathered earlier this month at the city’s iconic Gateway of India in a “spontaneous” protest against the brutal mob attack (as well as the controversial citizenship law and the NRC) on their counterparts in Delhi’s JNU.
Similar protests also broke out last month – again including IIT Mumbai students – after what started as a peaceful protest march by students of Delhi’s Jamia Millia University ended in a pitched battle with cops that left at least 60 injured.
Shortly after the attacks, faculty at IIT-Bombay came out in support of the “right to dissent and protest democratically within academic campuses” and outside.
“We see this as part of systematic attacks on all institutions in the country, including academic ones. We have watched with dismay the failure of universities and other academic institutes to protect their members…” the letter said, naming administrations of JNU, Aligarh Muslim University, Benaras Hindu University and Jamia Millia, among others.
Signed by 141 faculty members, the letter also “reassert(ed) the right of freedom of expression the Constitution of India grants us”.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who rules the state at the head of an alliance of his Shiv Sena, the Congress and the NCP, was fiercely critical of the assault on JNU and Jamia students, likening them to the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, respectively.
Thackeray assured students his government would not tolerate any move to hurt them and that he respected their democratic right to protest.
A day before the JNU violence, a similar letter emerged from IIT-Kanpur, where the administration was criticized for a probe into claims students protesting against the citizenship law had hurt sentiments.
The letter promised to stand by the students in “your attempts to express yourself in a responsible manner” after a controversy over students singing Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s song, labelled “anti-Hindu” by some students, at a protest last month.
The letters reflect a significant departure for IITs, or Indian Institutes of Technology, world-acclaimed institutions that have always been seen to be apolitical. However, like employees in any government-run institution, the IIT faculty has limited freedom to criticise central policies.
Also earlier this month the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked India outside the top 50 in its Democracy Index citing the “erosion of civil liberties”.
The citizenship law protests that student across the country have been agitating against makes religion, for the first time, a test of Indian citizenship. The government says the law will help non-Muslim refugees fleeing religious persecution from Muslim-dominated countries. Critics say it discriminates against Muslims and violates secular tenets of the Constitution.