Science Congress Postponed Indefinitely After Officials Anticipate Student Protests

The Congress was to be held at Hyderabad's Osmania University, where there have been protests after the recent suicide of a Dalit student.

New Delhi: The Indian Science Congress (ISC) 2017 has reportedly been indefinitely postponed, anticipating protests from the students of Osmania University, where the event was to be held in January. This was to be the 105th edition of the congress and it is the first time something of this sort has happened.

According to the Indian Express, the university in Hyderabad said it would not be able to host the ISC, scheduled for January 3-7. This was announced by the Ministry of Science and Technology based on information they had got from the general president of the Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA), Achyut Samanta. “Vice Chancellor of Osmania Universty has infomed (sic) that they are not in a position to host 105th Indian Science Congress scheduled from 3-7 January, 2018 due to certain issues in the campus,” the ISCA website says.

According to The Hindu, the venue for the ISC is usually decided a year in advance, to prepare the logistics and coordinate with various Nobel laureates who are expected to be in attendance.

Officials at the university thought student would organise protests against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was slotted to attend the congress, on the issue of discriminating against Dalits. On December 3, Eramina Murali, a 21-year-old Dalit student pursuing a postgraduate degree in physics, committed suicide at the varsity; students have been protesting ever since.

There has been simmering discontentment about the lack of employment opportunities for young people in Telangana, particularly in the government, which the university felt would translate into protests against state chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao as well, according to the Indian Express. Students at Osmania University have said that a shortage of employment opportunities was behind Murali’s death. His suicide note reportedly said he thought he would fail his exams, but other students have claimed the note was not in his handwriting.

The Indian Express reported that on Tuesday, Hyderabad police commissioner V.V. Srinivasa Rao visited the university premises to inspect the areas where the ISC was to be held. “After the inspection, he was informed about a meeting of Dalit, Backward Caste, Minority and Left students’ organisations in which they resolved to protest the presence of Modi and KCR on the campus. Accordingly, a report was sent to the state and central governments stating that trouble was expected in the campus during the congress,” an official told the newspaper.

“Only last night (Tuesday night) the vice-chancellor of Osmania University informed us that it would not be possible to host the Science Congress on the scheduled dates because of disturbances on the campus… One student has committed suicide and there are some other reasons as well. … The news has come as a shock for us. It has never happened earlier,” Gangadhar, general secretary of the ISCA, told Indian Express.

Gangadhar added that the ISCA executive council had planned an “emergency meeting” for December 27 to discuss what to do next. No announcements have been made yet on whether it will be shifted to a new venue or simply held at a later date.

An official in the Ministry of Science and Technology told The Hindu that the prime minister may have had to “skip” the ISC even if it did take place on the designated dates as the opening day coincided with the closing day of parliament’s winter session. Reports earlier had said that Modi would inaugurate the ISC outside campus to avoid the student protests. The university had also closed its postgraduate hostels and messes on December 12 and announced that they would reopen only on January 15, after the ISC was originally supposed to be closed.