IIT Madras Bans Student Political Groups,Threatening Expulsion
The suicide of Rohith Vemula was not as isolated incident— because neither his suicide nor the casteist oppression that led to the harassment were one-off cases. However, the reason this becomes a landmark case is because the agitations that it sparked off in other colleges threw the spotlight on the hypocrisy of other institutes.
IIT Madras, for instance, has issued a circular with clauses aimed at barring any kind of ‘political activity’ that is deemed against the ‘apolitical nature of the institute’. Another clause in the circular attempts to clamp down on student freedom, by ambiguously stating that the student ‘must not indulge in any activity that may adversely affect the image of the university’.
While authorities claim to have no knowledge of such a circular being issued, students and their representatives are speaking out against the ambiguous nature of the clauses. This is being taken as a measure to repress their freedom, especially since its ambiguous nature can be used against the students. One of the major causes of contention is, that the last clause states that a student may be asked to leave the hostel in the event of non-compliance— which, as students groups have pointed out, is reminiscent of what happened to Rohith Vemula.
In fact, nearly half a year ago, the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle was banned by the authorities, in May 2015, based on an anonymous complaint by the HRD Ministry, that accused members of inciting ‘hatred’ against Narendra Modi. As was noted in the article by Indian Express, a senior APSC leader said: “What do they mean by ‘indulging in political activity within the campus’…? It is a very vague rule that can be used by the students in different contexts. When the authorities turn indifferent to APSC and other independent student groups, right-wing student groups propagating political ideology of the RSS and inviting their leaders are being treated like official bodies. Groups such as Vivekananda Study Circle or Vande Mataram are allowed to take students on campus buses for temple visits, and they have a permanent room when others have no such privileges.”
IIT-M Director Bhaskar Ramamurthi first insisted he had no knowledge of such a circular being issued, but then turned around to say it was a ‘mistake’ chartered by his colleagues- a sentiment which was echoed by other major figures in the institute, such as K Sethupathi, Chairman, Council of Wardens. While they claimed that such a document would be revoked, the implication remained that such a document surfaced shortly after the student uprisings following Vemula’s suicide. As Chinta Bar, an independent students’ movement in IIT-M said in a statement, this circular is to “silent dissenting voices and crucify independent student bodies”.
Report by Stuti Pachisia & edited by Manisha