New Delhi: In an unprecedented turn of events, an associate professor at Assam University – situated in Silchar town of Assam and run by the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) – was sacked on November 28 on the basis of a complaint made to the ministry by Shreehari Borikar, the national general secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad (ABVP).
The university has, however, reinstated him two weeks later following Gauhati high court’s intervention.
According to local news reports, the university registrar’s office handed over the termination letter to Charvak, an associate professor at the central university’s Department of Mass Communication, “around 4.15 pm on November 28 without prior notice”, terming his appointment “illegal”.
Though he was appointed as a reader in the department in 2008, the decision to terminate him, according to a source at the university registrar’s office, “was taken by an internal enquiry committee based on the 2010 guidelines of the University Grants Commission on minimum qualifications for appointment of teachers”. According to those guidelines, the readers’ position has been replaced by that of associate professor, a designation that Charvak presently holds.
The formation of the enquiry committee was announced through a notification on October 24 by the university registrar. It said that vice chancellor D.C. Nath had constituted a four-member committee headed by R.R. Dhamala from the Department of Political Science, to “review the matter (of illegality of appointment) on case-to-case basis” not just to look into Charvak’s appointment, but also that of two other faculty members, “Pronobesh Chakraborty and Indu Sharma” besides mentioning “and some other faculties”. The notification said the review would be based on “the documents available at (the university’s) Recruitment Cell for selection/appointment/promotion and the documents available at Administration”. It mentioned the complainant as “Shreehari Borikar, national general secretary, ABVP,” who was stated to have submitted a “memorandum no. nil dated May 16, 2015, addressed to the honourable union minister of MHRD.”
The HRD minister then was Smriti Irani. Clearly, Irani didn’t take any action over Borikar’s complaint. Some media reports in June 2016 had stated that Irani’s removal from the ministry by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was possibly due to the “displeasure” of the RSS and the ABVP.
After Prakash Javadekar took over the ministry, things seem to have moved in this case in favour of the complainant. In a letter date November 26, 2016, UGC wrote to the Assam University VC seeking “certain information” on the complaint (made by Borekar) “of alleged irregular appointment” of Charvak as a reader by stating the 2010 rules.
The recent notification by the university registrar further said that the enquiry committee set up by the VC “is advised to submit its factual report to the registrar by November 13, 2017”. None of the faculty members named in it was either called by the committee to present their cases in defence nor was Charvak given any prior intimation about the sacking order. The other two faculty members named in the notification have not been sacked by the university.
Local media reports stated that Charvak, upon failing to get any reason from the authorities behind his sudden termination letter, filed a writ petition in the high court on December 6.
The HC, on December 8, directed the university to place before it for verification “the records of the proceedings of the case” (by the enquiry committee) which justified Charvak’s removal.
However, the university instead decided to withdrew its earlier order. The HC, in this final judgement on December 16, said, “Without going into the aspect as to the justifiability and validity of such an order of cancellation of appointment, it has been brought to the notice of this court that by a subsequent order dated December 13, 2017, the earlier cancellation dated November 28, 2017, has been withdrawn with immediate effect.”
Charvak has rejoined work on December 18.
Meanwhile, the university’s decision led to a huge protest from the teachers’ association and the students’ union. Posters opposing the decision were pasted all over the university campus even as the Federation of Central University Teachers’ Association (FEDCUTA) and Assam University Teachers’ Association (AUTA) issued press releases condemning the move.
“In the general body meeting of AUTA, held on December 7, 2017, the members of AUTA unanimously condemned the action taken by the Assam University administration against Dr Charvak” and “resolved to demand unconditional withdrawal of the order,” said a press release issued by the AUTA this past December 8.
It was followed by a press note released on December 14 by FEDCUTA which said: “This kind of interference in the day-to-day functioning of central universities by the MHRD at the behest of the student wing of the ruling party has led to much turbulence and turmoil in universities, such as Hyderabad Central University, Central University of Haryana, etc.”
“Charvak is locally known for his rationalist outlook to life. He is a former journalist and had also worked with All India Radio and Doordarshan in Agartala. He sometimes writes poignant articles in local newspapers which are widely read. He doesn’t use his surname Mukhopadhayay as a token of protest against caste system. ABVP local unit leaders, active in the university, ostensibly led by a couple of right-wing faculties, had long been targeting him. Together they complained against him to the MoHRD through ABVP leader Shreehari Borikar,” Kushal Deb, a former student of the department taught by Charvak, told The Wire.
Arghyadeep Barua, a former student of the department presently working in Gurgaon, told this correspondent, “Dr. Charvak has been a guide and mentor to many students. I joined the department primarily because of my interest in filmmaking and editing but after attending a subject he teaches on Development Communication, I was exposed to many new things and my perception towards life and journalism changed. That way, he is a professor who has a lot of influence on the students.”
A former cultural secretary of the university students’ union (2014-15), Barua said he decided to enter students’ politics because of Charvak and some other fellow students as an independent candidate.
Though the present students’ union members contested the elections, held this past November 9, as independent candidates, some of the candidates were supported by ABVP besides the Congress’s NSUI and some Left affiliated students’ bodies. Some local media reports said those backed by ABVP lost the elections.
The president’s position is presently headed by Milan Das, said to be close to RSS. Though Das initially agreed to speak to The Wire about the issue which triggered a huge uproar in the campus through a text message, he didn’t respond when contacted.
Charvak too refused to speak on the issue. However, his lawyer Sabyasachi Chatterjee told The Wire, “That the university authorities couldn’t provide any justification behind that cancellation order and instead withdrew it, shows their questionable motives. Dr Charvak is an eminent scholar and reputed journalist. Only political intolerance to his rationalist positions has been the root cause of this drama.” Chatterjee said, “We may look at taking further legal recourse as he may again be targeted by the university administration on some pretext or the other.”
Attempts by The Wire to reach out to the university VC and Borekar remained unsuccessful till the report was filed. Any later response from them in this regard would be added.