(Swarajya received the below post from a group of IIT Madras students. Their identities have been withheld on request.)
The Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC) has been de-recognised for the simple reason that they did not follow standard procedures common for all such institute bodies while conducting their activities. We, a few students of IITM, are saddened by the fact that a straightforward debate based on facts has not occurred on this issue.
For the last few days, we have witnessed a media spectacle around the issue of IIT Madras de-recognising a body called Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC). While IITM has tried to set the facts clear with an official statement, the initial media reports which twisted the truth and the subsequent statements to the media that stretched it further, have created quite a different perception of the whole issue in people’s minds. We, a few students of IITM are saddened by these developments, by the fact that a straightforward debate based on facts has not occurred on this issue and that the media is pursuing spectacular and outlandish statements instead of the truth. They are ready to hear only one side of the story and hence, we would like to set this straight. We, as students of the institute, have some concern for what’s happening in it, and the perception of the institute held by the people. Therefore, we are writing this article.
There are numerous student bodies, functioning in the institute, which foster debates on socio-economic and political issues. The institute funds these organizations covering their day to day running costs, allows the usage of the institute infrastructure for their running, and these organizations are allowed to use the name of the institute and the logo in their official communications. In return they are expected to follow certain guidelines for their activities. This is made to ensure that no political or offensive statements or activities are carried out by these organizations. While this has been described as the death of freedom of speech in the institute, this is merely done because the institute which funds these organizations sees them as a part of the institute and anything that they say are seen as directly attributable to IITM which, at the end of the day, is a government institute.
There have been instances where speakers from outside the institute have taken a political stand on issues but not the student body themselves. This being said, let us also emphasize on the fact that unlike most other colleges in India, IIT Madras does not allow political activities within its campus. While discussion on political activities have never been discouraged, and debates happen constantly on most issues, outright political activity is something that the institute has not tolerated and we’ve been better off because of that.
APSC was formed as a student body in April, last year with the motto of initiating discussions on ‘Socio-political-cultural’ issues. While they have been maintaining that what they do has always been to foster a debate among the students regarding these issues, it is really obvious that they have been acting from day one with a clear political agenda. This can be seen from the way their posters and pamphlets are written and from the way the debates are conducted. While there is nothing wrong in taking a stand on issues relating to the political sphere and in individual students protesting against what they see as State overreach, the issue reaches the point of precipitation when an organization funded and provided for by the institute takes a blatant political position and tries to drive a wedge among the students.
To understand the political nature of this body, take a look at the email that was sent across for a debate on ‘Language Politics in India’ or the position taken by them on the issue ‘Name Boards – A Hindutva Project’ (see the poster ‘Name Boards’).
While there is nothing wrong in taking a stand on an individual issue and fostering a debate on it, it is a violation of the trust that the institute places in you when you use it for political gains; as is happening here, obvious to even a layman. Statements such as the government is acting with a ‘fascist, Hindutva agenda’ and that the ‘Government is trying to selling mother India to the corporates’ hardly qualify as statements that foster a debate, as opposed to what the APSC says. (See the poster ‘Contemporary Relevance of Ambedkar’)
While the guidelines set by the institute certainly have to be followed on these issues, there is also a question of decorum during debates. There is an unwritten rule in India that during debates, we try to avoid hurting the sentiments of any group. While this in no way should impede a debate on relevant issues, and while this should not stifle a healthy discussion on issues related to rights of individuals, it should never reach a level of indecency where one’s calling for the death of a particular religion. This has happened within debates of APSC against Hinduism and this is condemnable no matter which religion they are making such statements against.
Additionally, while speaking for ‘oppressed classes’ is fine and appreciated, one would expect respect for sentiments and abstention from using casteist, hateful statements against a community. This has been a regular trend at most of APSC debates with fiery statements against ‘Brahmanical hegemony’ and ‘Brahmanical invasion of South India’. We would still maintain that such statements at an individual level are fine and stifling them would clearly amount to curtailing freedom of speech. Although for an organization, funded and nurtured by IIT Madras, whose voice is said to represent the voice of the student body of IIT Madras, to make such statements is atrocious and unacceptable.
During the much hyped and televised debates on the issue, we have seen many statements from the members of APSC, and from ill-informed reporters looking for a scandal which suggests that there is a lack of freedom of speech in IIT Madras and that there is stifling of debates on issues, due to the fear of government repression. However, does freedom of speech amount to the institute funding a group which makes casteist, political statements, and distributes pamphlets which says ‘Manu Dharma reigns in the campus?’ (See poster ‘Manu Dharma’) (Even though a different group’s name is on it, this was shared by the body on their FB page)
The body, APSC, has been de-recognised for the simple reason that they did not follow standard procedures common for all such institute bodies while conducting their activities. Their activities can be termed as nothing short of divisive and politically motivated. If the institute is not authorized to stop providing money and infrastructure meant for educational purposes to a political body, then we don’t see any relevance for an administration, in the first place. It is pertinent to note, contrary to popular perception, the institute was not acting on the direction of MHRD.
The MHRD merely asked for comments on this particular issue which was brought to their notice by a student. The letter which was sent contained no instructions, or requests for banning the body. The truth is that the body has not been banned in the institute, unlike what members of APSC and the media howl about. They have merely been de-recognised. They are free to conduct their activities on their own. They merely cannot use the name of IITM in their pamphlets and communication (as they have been doing), and they do not get institutional funding for their activities.
De-recognising a body that has not only misused institutional funding and carried an unapologetic political agenda in the name of fostering discussion but also made despicable comments against a religion/specific castes was the least that could have been done by the institute. Members of the organization should stop using ‘Death to freedom of speech’ as a mask and a rallying cry for their own protection. And the media, for once, should check out the facts of the issue before sensationalizing the issue.
Swarajya received the above post from a group of IIT Madras students. Their identities have been withheld on request.
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