Bhopal: The anthropology department of the Madhya Pradesh's only Central University, Dr Hari Singh Gour University, in Sagar on Friday disassociated itself from a two-day long international webinar after a top police officer reportedly objected to the names of two participants -- Delhi University Professor Apoorvanand and scientist and poet Gauhar Raza -- alleging that they had an “anti-national mindset” that may “disturb communal harmony”. They also warned to take action, said some of the organisers of the webinar.
The department was hosting a two-day long international webinar to start from July 30 on ‘Cultural and Linguistic Hurdles in the Achievement of Scientific Temper’, in an association with Montclair State University, US.
The webinar had a prominent list of speakers — Gauhar Raza, former chief scientist Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Professor Apoorvanand, University of Delhi, Professor Nadeem Hasnain, University of Lucknow, Professor Panchanan Mohanty, GLA University, Professor Harjinder Singh, IIIT Hyderabad, Mathura, Dr Grazyna Liczbinska from Poland, Dr Aseem Hasnain, Bridgewater State University, US, and Dr Gaurav J Pathania, Georgetown University, US, among others.
According to university officials, the webinar was cancelled hours before it was to start after anthropology department head Rajesh Gautam received letters from university officials claiming that the required permission from the Union Education Ministry had not been granted for this international webinar, which is mandatory. Hence, the university said it would not take part in this webinar.
In a letter to Gautam, registrar Santosh Sohgaura wrote: “Online webinar be postponed as the mandatory permission is not received by the ministry." The letter further said the university logo, name or any university platform should not be used for the event. As a result, the university pulled out from the webinar two hours before it kicked off.
"We abide by the laws and since we don't have permission from the Ministry, we pulled out from the webinar," said Rajesh Gautam to NewsClick over the phone.
According to university sources, police force was deployed in the university campus to ensure that no one was taking part in the webinar. An alleged scuffle also took place between Gautam and professor KKN Sharma in the university campus around 4 p.m over the issue of holding a webinar with “such panellists”. Both reported the matter to the police and demanded that FIR be registered against each other.
However, the international webinar went ahead as planned but without the participation of SagarUniversity.
Gautam said:" The webinar was taking place with an association with a US-based University and postponing it at the last moment was not possible. Considering the attitude of the university administration, the department of anthropology had to disassociate with the programme. But the webinar took place”.
On July 22, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-backed Akhil Bhartiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP) had raised objections to the participation of Raza and Apoorvanand. It had submitted a memorandum to the Superintendent of Police (SP), Sagar, as well as the Vice Chancellor, terming both these speakers as having an “anti-national mindset”.
ABVP's letter to the SP stated: “Gauhar Raza and professor Apoorvananad, two speakers at the webinar, are of anti-national mentality and are involved in such activities. Apoorvanand has been found involved in the Delhi riots and has been questioned for the same. Gauhar Raza has written a poem ‘Ajmal Prem’ for known terrorist Afzal Guru.”
The letter, written by Shriram Ricchariya, Sagar, district co-ordinator of ABVP, also threatened to register an FIR against the organisers if the webinar took place.
Almost a week later, on July 29, a day before the webinar, the Superintendent of Police, Sagar, Atul Singh, wrote a letter to the VC of the university, cautioning him about the law and order situation because of the webinar. The letter warned that their (Raza and Apoorvanand) participation “may hurt sentiments” and if that happened, a case under Section 505 IPC would be filed against the organisers .
Following this, Singh’s letter to the VC reads: “We have received representations from certain groups regarding the webinar on July 30-31, 2021 that is being organised by the Anthropology Department of Sagar University. It is brought to our notice that the speakers are considered to have an anti-national mindset and make provocative speeches. They are suspected of creating communal discord."
The letter further said: "Keeping law and order in mind it is advisable that before holding this webinar, there is clarity and consensus over the topic of discussion and the content. So that no caste or religious sentiments are hurt, and no such comments are made. And if even then there are concerning issues, then the organiser would be collectively answerable and booked under 505 IPC,” it said.
After the letter from top police officer to VC, the registrar shot off a letter on the morning of July 30 to Gautam, head department of the anthropology department and convener of the webinar, asking him not to conduct the webinar. It also said that he had not been given permission from the department of education, New Delhi, therefore he should postpone the event.
When contacted, Atul Singh claimed: "The university was asked to record the webinar and ensure that sentiments should not hurt and communal harmony should not be disturbed in the webinar based on our own intelligence."
He further said: "Objections were also raised by groups over the participation who had history with controversies. Hence, we warned the university."
When Newsclick contacted Raza, he said: "We both took part in the webinar (it was held as planned) and said what we needed to say. But it's strange that the police are protecting the rights and feelings of fringe elements but not professors, intellectuals."
He further said: "I was shocked by the way SP (superintendent of police) Sagar wrote a letter to the university threatening to register an FIR based on false allegations made by fringe elements. Are we in 15-16th century Europe when the likes of Galelio and Bruno were killed for offending the Church?"