The director of the institution says that he is ‘surprised’ by Kishwar’s notice.
New Delhi: Well-known academic and activist Madhu Kishwar has sent a legal notice to the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), accusing the New Delhi-based think tank of “discrimination” in not granting her institutional affiliation to avail the Mahatma Gandhi National Professorship awarded to her by the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR).
Kishwar, the founder-editor of the feminist magazine Manushi, sent the notice on May 1, a day after she retired from CSDS as the centre’s senior-most professor. The move was followed by a press statement, released on May 9, by a group of 51 educationists demanding that CSDS “tender an unconditional apology” to Kishwar and “take all steps to rectify this shameful situation”.
The statement said, “We are appalled at the unethical and illegal treatment meted out to her, even though the CSDS’s administration has not had a single complaint against her through the twenty years that she has served that institution.”
Speaking to The Wire, Kishwar said,“It is a prestigious fellowship. Most institutions would have treated it as an honour that one of their own got it. But my CSDS colleagues feel threatened by the fact that my role as an academic, public intellectual and crusader for the rights of disadvantaged groups of our society is widely recognised despite their best attempts to snuff and marginalise it at CSDS. Wait till I make more evidence available in the public domain regarding the long and gross history of discrimination against me.”
The two-year fellowship by ICSSR, an autonomous body under the Union Ministry of Human Resource and Development, was granted to Kishwar last December. It needed a letter of consent from an institution agreeing to administer the fellowship funds to be given to her, provide her office space and furniture, allow her access to its research facilities and provide other material and managerial assistance to her.
Arguing her case, Kishwar said, “In the last 15 years, over 200 such affiliations have been given by CSDS to scholars, both from inside and outside the institution, some of whom have long retired. In September 2015, a scholar was given affiliation after she resigned from the centre. Never in the history of CSDS has anyone been refused institutional affiliation nor has an ICSSR fellowship holder ever been denied affiliation by any institution. So obviously, I would conclude this treatment meted out to me is an act of discrimination by CSDS.”
The legal notice, which Kishwar made public the same day through the website Swarajya, says, “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.” It further named five scholars outside of the centre who were granted affiliation after winning ICSSR and University Grants Commission (UGC) fellowships in 2014-15.
The notice termed the denial of the affiliation as an “malafide, arbitrary, discriminatory and unfair” act and demanded that it be “reversed forthwith” so that the fellowship doesn’t lapse and cause her “irreparable damage.”
‘We never denied affiliation’
Reacting to the charge, CSDS director Sanjay Kumar said, “On January 13, Kishwar wrote an email to me requesting institutional affiliation for the fellowship upon which I replied on January 14 that since a lot of our faculty members are going to retire in the next 3-4 years, we have formed a committee to formulate a guideline on the issue as it concerns the centre’s commitment for space to the scholars. I wrote that I can consider her application only after the committee prepares a note on the subject. By then, the committee was already formed and given the time duration of 15 days to submit the note. However, barely half an hour after that mail, she wrote back saying, ‘You need not bother to represent my application to this farcical standing committee with its farcical notions of self-governance. Now leave it to me to figure out things by myself.’ So I am quite surprised at her move to send a legal notice to the centre after that.”
Kumar said, “Our lawyer is preparing an answer and we should be able to send it to her in a couple of days.” The committee comprises of four senior faculty members, besides the director.
The May 9 press statement also accused the institution of acting against Kishwar because she “doesn’t toe its ideological line.” Kishwar endorsed it, saying, “My ideological differences with the ruling coterie at CSDS have a long history. But after my research on Narendra Modi’s tenure as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, I began to be treated like an intellectual leper… My own colleagues unleashed the most vicious slander campaign against me. You can find plenty of evidence of it on the Internet.”
She added, “I have never been close to BJP. In fact, I had written numerous articles which have been highly critical of BJP. Nor was I ever close to Modi or any other BJP politician. I decided to go and study Modi for myself. The product of that 14 month long research is a book entitled Modi, Muslims and Media plus a series of 15 articles I published on the Manushi website. I requested the director several times that I would like a discussion on my book among the faculty. But this simple request was not granted.”
Kumar responded, “Well, I didn’t know (that) I am a Leftist. Anyone can see where at least the last five directors of the centre stand politically from their writings. I want to ask those who signed on that press statement why they didn’t want to see the formal evidence of the centre’s denial of the affiliation to her? There is none because she herself didn’t want me to pursue it.”