CSDS: A Citadel of “Academic Freedom” being Unmasked by Madhu Kishwar  

CSDS: A Citadel of “Academic Freedom” being Unmasked by Madhu Kishwar  

by Madhu Purnima Kishwar - May 1, 2016 06:29 PM +05:30 IST
 CSDS: A Citadel of “Academic Freedom” being Unmasked by Madhu Kishwar  Madhu Kishwar
  • Madhu Purnima Kishwar, the senior most professor at the Delhi based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), has sent a legal notice to the Director CSDS making serious allegations of gross and systematic discrimination against her.

    She alleges that the proverbial last straw has been the arbitrary and vindictive action of denying her institutional affiliation for availing the prestigious Mahatma Gandhi National Professorship awarded to her by the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) - the MHRD created organization that provides core funding to CSDS.

    Kishwar is not only a renowned social scientist but also a leading public intellectual and pioneer of human rights, women’s rights activism in India through the organization and journal Manushi, she founded in 1978.  Therefore, subjecting her to brazen discrimination defies comprehension.

    Ironically prominent members of CSDS faculty have been been in the forefront of the demonisation campaign against the Modi government alleging that it poses a mortal threat to academic freedom in India.  They have published countless political tracts accusing the BJP in general and Prime Minister Modi in particular of promoting “intolerance” and “fascism”in the country.

    Kishwar’s declaration of intent to fight a legal battle and write a series of articles exposing the lawless manner in which CSDS has been functioning in the name of “academic freedom”, is being reproduced below.

In response to historian Sanjay Subramaniam’s charge in The Sunday Times (20 December 2015) that the coming of BJP government had endangered academic freedom in India because of growing atmosphere of “intolerance” being engineered by the NDA government, I had sent a rejoinder to TOI on 22nd December saying that the leftists were crying wolf since they still retained Stalinist type control over most academic institutions and that it was not the Left but those who dissented with the Left who remained endangered and marginalized.

Giving my own example, I wrote “I was invited to join the CSDS when it was not a Left citadel. In today’s CSDS, I wouldn’t even get a peon’s job!” (My rejoinder was published in The Sunday Times on 3rd January 2016).

I had no idea that the ruling coterie at CSDS would want to prove me right so soon, so brazenly and with such vengeance.

I was invited to join the CSDS in 1991 when the founding fathers of CSDS were still at the helm of affairs. They considered me a valuable addition to CSDS on account of my role as editor of Manushi and my own research, writing and active interventions which were nationally and internationally celebrated as having pioneered new thinking and socially rooted approach to women’s and human rights issues. In those days, CSDS was a genuine citadel of liberalism and therefore much hated and defamed by the Left. Therefore, voices like mine were welcomed, not throttled.

However, as the old guard began to retire and new coteries assumed the reigns of power from 2002 onwards, I began to be subjected to systematic discrimination and marginalization on account of my refusal to fall in line with the ideological dictates of the new leftist/ socialist power cliques at CSDS.

All these years, I chose to ignore brazen instances of discrimination because of my belief that those who are involved in social causes should avoid, as far as possible, to make a public issue of their own grievances. Presenting oneself as a victim to the world erodes your self-esteem. Therefore, I chose to ignore repeated instances of discrimination and instead focused on my own work while quietly accepting a marginal existence for myself in the power structure at CSDS.

But what I am facing by way of humiliation and discrimination at CSDS on the verge of my retirement on 30th April 2016 is so gross and blatant, that I cannot help but make the issue public.

Therefore, on my last working day as CSDS faculty my lawyer sent the following legal notice to the Director of CSDS, which is being reproduced verbatim:


Under instructions from my client Prof. Madhu Purnima Kishwar, D/o Late Shri K.L. Kishwar, R/o C-1/3, Sangam Estate, 1 Under Hill Road, Civil Lines, Delhi-110054; I hereby serve you with the legal notice to the following effect:-

1. That my client has been employed with Centre for the Study of Developing Societies since 2002 as a professor and prior to that served as a visiting fellow for about 5-6 years between 1991 to 2001. My client is due to superannuate today and as on date she is the senior most professor at the CSDS.

2. That my client is an acclaimed social scientist and public intellectual. Beyond her academic life my client is renowned as a public spirited citizen, who has played a pioneering role in policy and law reform on key issues affecting the most vulnerable groups of our society.

3. That on 03.12.2015, my client received a communication from the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) informing her that she has been awarded the prestigious Mahatma Gandhi National Fellowship for two years period starting 2016; as a “recognition” of her “pre-eminent scholarship”.

4. That on 16.12.2015, my client was informed by ICSSR that to operationalize the said fellowship, a letter of consent is required from the affiliating institution affirming that it is willing to (a) administer and manage the finances; (b) provide office accommodation and furniture required for the fellowship, (c) make available research facilities such as the library and (d) provide material and managerial assistance.

5. That my client personally handed over the above mentioned letter from ICSSR to you the noticee and your first response was to assure my client that the letter for affiliation would be sent to ICSSR expeditiously. My client assumed that the affiliation would come as a matter of course considering that:-

(a) The fellowship was awarded by the very organization that funds CSDS and has the authority to audit its academic and administrative activities and stop its grant-in-aid if the CSDS violates the Rules and Regulations expected of public funded institutions.

(b) The award of National Fellowship by the ICSSR to a faculty member is considered an honor for the host institution;

(c) The fellowship was awarded not in pursuance of any application by my client; instead, the nomination was made by reputed social scientist and former director of CSDS, Prof D L Sheth;

(d) Another former Director, Prof Ashis Nandy was part of the ICSSR Selection Committee for the above mentioned fellowship.

(e) That before my client, Prof Ashis Nandy and Prof DL Sheth as recipients of the same fellowship in the years 2006 and 2009 respectively, were granted CSDS affiliation without the least fuss by the CSDS;

(f) My client has worked for over two decades at CSDS and has been among the more productive faculty members at CSDS.

(g) That no extra funding was required from the Centre in this regard as the ICSSR funds the fellowship;

(h) Prof D L Sheth, Prof Ashis Nandy and Prof V B Singh continue to be provided affiliation as well as office space and other support systems at CSDS even though they have retired in May 2001, 2002 and 2005 respectively. The presence and guidance of these seniors is a huge asset for CSDS.

(i) The CSDS has over the years granted affiliation to countless scholars, including those from outside the Centre. Even in 2014-15, the following ICSSR and UGC scholars were given affiliation:

• Vipin Kumar, ICSSR post doctoral fellow, joined February, 2015.

• Raj Kumari Mishra, ICSSR post doctoral fellowship joined June, 2015.

• Pradeep Kumar, UGC post doctoral fellowship joined May, 2015.

• Mohnish Kumar, ICSSR post doctoral research project ongoing since 2014 onwards.

• Sheikh Moinuddin, ICSSR post doctoral project, 2014 onwards.

6. That to her utter shock and dismay, on 11.01.2016, my client learnt from you the noticee, that grant of her affiliation will depend on the approval of the Faculty Standing Committee. It is noteworthy that the existing Rules neither envisaged the placing of the applications for affiliation before the Faculty Standing Committee nor mandated the approval of the said Committee.

7. That by completely negating principles of fair play and rule based dispensation expected of public funded institutions, you the noticee sent an email communication on 14th January 2016, to my client, to the following effect:-

“The Committee members agreed that the Centre is in the process of formulating norms for self-governance, the issue of affiliation in case of funded fellowship is still to be considered. Hence your application seeking affiliation with CSDS can be considered only after we have defined these norms”.

8. That the above statement amounts to an admission that though the CSDS is more than 50 year old, it has been functioning without well established norms for administration and governance despite being a public funded institution.

9. That hundreds of scholars have been granted affiliation ever since the CSDS became a public funded institution. There are countless instances from the past history of CSDS whereby funded fellowship holders have been granted affiliation by the CSDS as a matter of routine. The absence of norms for “self governance” has never before been cited as a reason for denying affiliation even to rank outsiders leave alone to someone who has served CSDS for decades.

10. That on the 29th of January, 2016, my client wrote to ICSSR seeking the following information:-

(a) Has CSDS ever denied any ICSSR fellow affiliation in the last 15 years?

(b) Has any ICSSR National Fellowship holder been denied affiliation by any institution in which the scholar has served?

(c) Does ICSSR undertake academic audits of institutions it funds?

(d) Has CSDS been functioning without well-defined rules all these years?

(e) Are all ICSSR funded institutions free to define their own rules and regulations or does ICSSR give them a basic set of rules which they must follow in order to qualify for ICSSR grants? If so please provide a copy of those rules.

11. That the ICSSR wrote back to my client on the 15th of February 2016 which, inter alia, states in clear terms that no institution in the country has thus far ever denied affiliation to a person who has received the ICSSR National Fellowship, which is considered a special honor, both for the concerned scholar as well as for the host institution. My client has also confirmed that no scholar, Indian or foreign has thus far been denied affiliation for a funded fellowship at CSDS.

12. That denial/indefinite deferment of affiliation to my client on the pretext of absence of “norms for self governance” as stated in the communication dated 14th January, 2016 is based on patently false grounds. The malafide intent in denying affiliation to my client was proven beyond doubt when she examined the past record of the CSDS in this regard. The Annual Report of 2006-2007 records the following regarding its policy of offering affiliation to scholars on page No 20:-

“CSDS seeks to associate individual scholars known for excellence in their respective fields. Their presence has always been refreshing and revitalising. Interaction both of the formal as also the unstructured kind has enriched the Centre. Given the diverse range of activities and the small size of the CSDS faculty, partnerships, associations with scholars and groups would continue to be crucial.

The Centre also associates scholars both on the basis of invitation and request from respective scholars, with or without institutional funding.”

13. That my client waited till the last day of her superannuation before issuing this notice because she had hoped that you the noticee would make amends for your wrong doing. CSDS had four months to finalize “norms for self governance” had their absence been the real reason for deferring/denying her affiliation.

14. That my client is convinced that the very appointment of a new committee of the faculty for drafting “norms for self governance” was a malafide act, aimed at subverting and sabotaging the implementations of the “Rules and Regulations” adopted by the Board of Governors in 2011, after a whole decade of dilly dallying and filibustering by the CSDS faculty. That the “norms for self governance” are meant to forever stay in the draft form is evident from the fact that no action has been taken on the same though the Draft Norms were circulated among the faculty way back in 2014. The denial of affiliation to my client on the ground of absence of “norms for self governance” smacks of bias especially considering that no other decisions, including those involving heavy financial commitments, have been deferred or postponed on this account. It is further noteworthy that the absence of “norms for self governance” has never come in the way of :

a) Scores of scholars being given affiliation as a matter of pride for the CSDS;

b) The affiliation of Professors Ashis Nandy, D L Sheth and V B Singh, who retired in 2001, 2002 and 2005 respectively, has been renewed year after year. They continue to have proper rooms and the entire range of support system available at CSDS. By contrast, my client required affiliation only for the duration of the Mahatma Gandhi National Fellowship.

The act of you the noticee in denying affiliation to my client is vitiated for being malafide, arbitrary, discriminatory and unfair and as such needs to be reversed forthwith so that the fellowship of my client does not lapse, causing her irreparable damage. Therefore, I hereby call upon you the noticee to issue a letter of affiliation to my client for the above mentioned fellowship with ICSSR within a period of 7 days from the receipt of the instant legal notice, failing which, my client will have no option but to approach the court of law for redressal of her grievances solely at your cost, risks and consequences and I have already been instructed in this behalf by my client.


Sumit Choudhary
Advocate (D/111/07)

Madhu Kishwar continues:

As mentioned at the outset, the denial of affiliation to me is not a solitary instance of discrimination. I have been the target of such unjust acts for the last 14 years on account of my resistance to blindly follow the ideological dictates of the Left “sickular” Coterie at CSDS.

This is the start of a series of articles through which I will be providing glimpses of the lawless, arbitrary and unaccountable manner in which CSDS has been functioning despite being a public funded institution.

It will also provide insights into the manner in which leftists have perfected the art of acquiring unquestioned control over educational institutions in the domain of social sciences (especially history, sociology and politics) so that they can treat these institutions as personal fiefdoms and crush/exterminate all dissent.

Control over liberal arts and social science departments and institutions has been vital for Leftists because through them they establish ideological supremacy, the power to decide the content of textbooks for schools and colleges and dominate public discourse.

Madhu Purnima Kishwar is Maulana Azad National Professor, ICSSR, and the founder of human rights organisation, MANUSHI.

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