543 Teachers, Students ‘Dismayed’ as IISc Cancels UAPA Discussion
Convocation hall of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
New Delhi: The last-minute decision of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, to cancel a discussion on the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) to be led by student activists Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita on June 28 has left more than 500 scientists, academics and concerned citizens “dismayed”.
The two student activists were arrested in May 2020 for their alleged role in the Northeast Delhi riots conspiracy case and booked under the UAPA. However, the Delhi High Court (HC) granted them bail a year later.
In a letter sent to IISc director Govindan Rangarajan on Monday, the signatories, including 21 faculty members, expressed “dismay at the actions taken by the IISc administration to stop a discussion on the ‘Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, Prisons and the Criminal Justice System’.”
According to an Indian Express report, IISc registrar Sridhar Warrier cancelled the event, scheduled to be held at the Centre for Continuing Education (CCE), on June 27 on the grounds that the organisers should have sought permission both from the institute administration and the department. The organisers had the CCE chair’s permission.
Shairik Sengupta, one of the student organisers of the discussion and a member of the ‘Break The Silence’ group at IISc, told the newspaper that such intervention (by the registrar) is “unusual since students generally require permission only from the department where an event is held”.
When the organisers tried to hold an informal interaction outside the Sarvam complex, the “administration dispatched members of the security team to disperse them”, the letter read. “It was only after the intervention of members of the IISc faculty that the security team backtracked.”
The letter highlighted that while granting bail to Narwal and Kalita, the HC had observed: “In its anxiety to suppress dissent … the State has blurred the line between the constitutionally guaranteed ‘right to protest’ and ‘terrorist activity’. If such blurring gains traction, democracy would be in peril.”
Stressing the importance of such discussions in a democracy, the signatories wrote: “The IISc, as an academic institution, is ideally positioned to host them. Conversely, if the institute is unwilling to permit peaceful discussions on constitutional questions, it is hard to see how it can foster a spirit of critical inquiry that is necessary for scientific work.”
Suvrat Raju, a faculty member of the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research who was present for the informal discussion, said, “This is the height of paranoia since an academic institution should be a place where people can really talk and discuss different things.”
The cancellation of the discussion has “damaged IISc’s reputation, both within the country and internationally. The actions of the administration reflect poorly on its commitment to upholding academic freedom and democratic values”, the signatories further wrote.
They called for “urgent corrective measures” to ensure that IISc members remain free to express and discuss a range of ideas, both about science and the society we live in”.
Of the 543 signatories, about 280 are faculty members of different institutes, including IISc, Chennai Mathematical Institute, Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, IIT Kanpur, IIT Bombay, IISER Pune, IISER Mohali, IISER Kolkata and Indian Statistical Institute, among others.
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