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New Delhi: The Central University of Kerala has warned members of its faculty against delivering statements that are “anti-national” and “against the interest of the nation.”
Indian Express has reported that a circular was issued on September 2 by the university registrar Rajendra Pilankatta, in which there was mention of strict disciplinary action against staff and faculty who gave “provoking statements” of the nature described above.
The report has it that the university’s move comes in the direct aftermath of the suspension of a political science assistant professor Gilbert Sebastian, who described organisations under the rightwing Sangh Parivar and the Narendra Modi government as ‘proto-fascist.’
Apoorvanand, quoting from The News Minute had written for The Wire that, “In the online class, Gilbert allegedly said that the Sangh Parivar in India can be considered as a proto-fascist organisation. He pointed to Spain under General Franco, Portugal under Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, Argentina under Juvan Peron, Chile under Augusto Pinoche, the Apartheid regime in South Africa, Hutu government in Rwanda as examples of proto-fascists.”
The move had invited protests from the student community.
In April, at a class on Fascism and Nazism for first-year Masters students, Sebastian allegedly also criticised the Modi government’s decision to export COVID-19 vaccines and said that the move was unpatriotic.
In the course of an inquiry by a committee the university set up to look into Sebastian’s lecture, he was suspended first and then reinstated in early June after he offered an explanation. K.P. Suresh, dean of academics, M.S. John, professor in the Department of International Relations and Politics and Muralidharan Nambiar, controller of examination, had been appointed as members of the internal committee.
The incident was even reported in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s mouthpiece, Organiser.
Later in June, the executive council met, decided Sebastian’s lecture was “anti-national” and that a circular should be issued.
Sebastian, meanwhile, wrote to the university Vice Chancellor against the minutes recorded in the executive council meeting, which had it that he had withdrawn his utterances, expressed regret and assured authorities that he would not repeat them.
In his letter, Sebastian said that he had expressly been clear that he was not regretful and that his views had been misconstrued.
“EC’s observation that my ‘statement in the class was anti-national’, [was] uncalled for and regrettable as it is an unfounded allegation,” he said.
The Kerala university’s move is the latest in a long line of interference from authorities and government figures into academic freedom, often to safeguard the interests of rightwing groups and the Union government in the garb of national interest.
Earlier in 2021, official guidelines were revised to state that India’s publicly-funded universities, professors and administrators needed prior approval from the Ministry of External Affairs if they wished to hold online international conferences or seminars on matters relating to the security of the Indian state or issues which are “clearly related to India’s internal matters”. This order was scrapped following pitched criticism.
In addition to curtailment of syllabus to avoid texts which may have been or are critical of the government, universities have also been facing disruption of classes or seminars by rightwing groups. In situations, students, scholars and faculty members have been charged, arrested, suspended, expelled or attacked. The Wire had reported on two academics’ compilation of six tables which show the degree to which individual academic freedom has been affected in the last few years.