After Ramjas Violence, University in Baroda Postpones Workshop Fearing Backlash

The workshop, to be conducted by professor Ghanshyam Shah, was supposed to be about the politics of caste and social movements.

Maharaja Sayajirao University in Vadodara. Credit: http://www.msubaroda.ac.in

Maharaja Sayajirao University in Vadodara. Credit: http://www.msubaroda.ac.in

The Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) in Vadodara on Sunday, March 6, indefinitely postponed a workshop to be held by retired Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Ghanshyam Shah on the politics of caste and social movements. The workshop, organised by the department of political science at MSU, was apparently cancelled because the university had received news that some people planned to disrupt the workshop.

“On the March 5 evening, the organiser of the workshop called me with lots of apologies that the VC and the registrar asked her to postpone the workshop because they received news that some people would disturb the workshop,” Shah told The Wire, adding that the university had said they would not be able to provide him with security.

According to sources at the university who spoke to the Ahmedabad Mirror, this cancellation came in light of recent events at Delhi’s Ramjas College, where students of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (student wing of the BJP) disrupted a college event and turned violent against students and teachers who protested against their interference. “The university fears a backlash similar to the one at Delhi University’s Ramjas College over the exclusion of JNU student Umar Khalid from a seminar. Keeping this in mind, authorities took the decision of cancelling the workshop,” a source at the university was quoted as saying.

What was this event that the authorities feared would invite backlash? According to Shah, 15 participants had registered to present papers at the event. For him, he told The Wire, the focus was going to be on “different theoretical approaches to understanding caste and politics”.

“I was to focus more on the political economy of caste and democratic politics – showing a relationship between neoliberal political economy causing social security, rising unemployment and reinvention of caste as social capital, reinforcing primordial clannish mindset. I was also to talk about Dalit question – atrocities, untouchability – and an egalitarian social order,” he added.

For Shah, assuring academic freedom to discuss different ideas is the university’s responsibility. “It is a prime responsibility of the academic authority who manages a university to maintain and develop discussion in the campuses and anyone who disrupts academic activities should be severely dealt with. It is the responsibility of the university authorities to protect and encourage rather than discourage academic discussion. Once the authority succumbs, disruptive forces they will gain strength and will dictate what is to be discussed, taught in the university. Anyone who is not interested in discussions s/he can keep away but has no right to prevent those who are interested in discussion, knowing different approaches to an understanding phenomenon and points of views,” he told The Wire.

The head of department of political science, professor Lajwanti Chatani, had not responded to The Wire‘s request for comment at the time of publication, but she told the Times of India that the workshop was postponed for no particular reason. “I know that there are lot of things being talked about the workshop. But it will be held on March 29 or March 30 at the same venue,” she was quoted as saying.