AIIMS Accused of Setting 'Arbitrary' Restrictions for Event on Ambedkar, Caste

While the administration claims restrictions were imposed due to elections, faculty members say other events were not subject to the same conditions.

New Delhi: The AIIMS’s administration has imposed conditions on a discussion on caste-based discrimination at institutes of higher education, prompting a section of the faculty to object.

According to the Indian Express, doctors from a group called the AIIMS Front for Social Consciousness wanted to hold a discussion titiled ‘Ambedkar’s views on Social Relations: Caste discrimination in Institutions of Higher Learning’ on May 13. When they wrote to the administration to book a lecture hall, they received permission, but with ‘arbitrary’ restrictions.

The administration told the organisers that the discussion should not be political, media coverage cannot be allowed and that a press release cannot be issued without “specific approval of the director AIIMS, as this is being held within the AIIMS premises”.

The organisers said these restrictions are an “infringement of their fundamental rights” and “arbitrary and illegal”. They have decided to postpone the event to request that the restrictions are revoked.

An Indian Express report said a meeting was called with the director to discuss the matter. The faculty members were apparently told by the director that the event can take place after the Lok Sabha polls end on May 19.

A faculty member, in a communication to the administration, said, “The director stated that he supports all kinds of academic discourses, not only related to medicine but other subjects — for example, sociology, political science, etc — that has the effect of making students… more responsible towards society. The order in question, the director clarified, is issued in view of the election.”

Also Read: India’s Universities Are Falling Terribly Short on Addressing Caste Discrimination

Some faculty members were not convinced with this explanation, as they said a discussion titled ‘A talk on Astrology and Medical Sciences’ was given permission and was also covered by the media. “Conditions should be same for everyone; the administration cannot pick and choose. Putting up such conditions appears to be a gag on freedom of press and academic freedom,” a senior faculty member told the Indian Express.

AIIMS’s registrar Sanjeev Lalwani told the newspaper that the administration has followed the guidelines to give permission to hold a discussion. “Approval has been given under the terms and conditions approved by the competent authority. The rules are common and apply to every non-academic activity at the institute… they are not specifically changed for any individual,” he said.

In the past, the medical institute has been accused on several instances of propagating caste discrimination. In 2007, a committee constituted by the Centre found “rampant discrimination” against SC and ST students. The committee was headed by former UGC chair Sukhdeo Thorat and found evidence of “informal segregation” in hostels and social isolation in dining rooms, on sports fields and at cultural events of SC and ST students.

The institute initially rejected the committee’s findings, but later agreed to implement the guidelines suggested by it. The director was said to have been a “main actor” in the caste-based discrimination and was said to have played a major role in instigating the anti-reservation stir in the institute.