Students of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, have accused the administration of attacking free speech on campus after the release of a circular on 14 May, which prohibits any “political/apolitical gathering/meeting” without prior permission.
The circular was issued hours before a planned march was to be carried out by a section of students, organised under the Ambedkar Bhagat Singh Study Circle (ABSC), in solidarity with the students of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).
The students’ march, however, went ahead despite the circular issued by the administration.
AMU has recently been the target of attacks by various Right-wing groups over the issue of a portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, which has been hanging in the students’ union office since 1938. The AMU Students’ Union leaders have been on hunger strike since 12 May, demanding a judicial inquiry into the violence that has been perpetrated by Right-wing groups against this Jinnah portrait.
The campus environemnt and students at IIT Kharagpurhave have been agitated since this diktat.
The ABSC alleges that the administration’s move is an attack on free speech, and is against the fundamental rights assured to all citizens by the Indian Constitution. They also claim that the Dean of Student Affairs, Dr Somesh Kumar, in a Facebook comment, labelled the students participating in the march as “anti-national elements” and that “they want to spoil the image of IIT Kharagpur.”
Further, students claim that the chief security officer had heckled a student using force. The students have demanded that the administration roll back the circular and apologise for the “anti-national” comment as well as their arrogant behaviour.
The events in IIT Kharagpur come at a time when many reputed public-sector institutions of higher education — including AMU, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia Islamia — have been witnessing unrest on their campuses. Besides the ongoing attack by the central government on public-sector institutions of higher education, both in the form of cutting funding and curbing dissent, there has been a trend of heavy-handed moves by the administrations, while Right-wing groups have violently opposed protests by students.