Mumbai: Last week, a screenshot – ostensibly of a dissertation by an MA student of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences – made its way onto social media.
The title of the dissertation, ‘Engendering Conflict: Understanding the Impact of Militarization, Conflict and Pandemic-induced Lockdown on Domestic Violence in India Occupied Kashmir’ took centre-stage in what became a storm of outrage online. Many demanded criminal action against the student and her research guide.
While the context of the student’s research remained unknown, the phrase “India occupied Kashmir” grabbed eyeballs as the student and her research guide began to be subjected to severe cyber bullying.
Several people, mostly those subscribing to right-wing political views, demanded “strict action” against the MA student in the Women’s Studies department and accountability from both her research guide and the institute. Some even demanded that a sedition case be registered against the MA student and TISS.
The dissertation is published by #TISS calls Jammu & Kashmir as Indian Occupied Kashmir. Both professor and the student should be booked for sedition. @cyberabadpolice @republic @ZeeNews @aajtak @Tamah_RIK pic.twitter.com/o2DAuoYDuM
— अमित रैना Amit Raina (@rainaamit) June 19, 2021
Several people expressed their “disappointment” in the government and tagged the home minister, defence minister and education minister demanding immediate “defunding” of the institute. The issue gained further momentum after it was reported in a right-wing web portal ‘OpIndia’.
Eventually, the institute gave in to the pressure and issued a statement on social media claiming that it did not “endorse” the research title. Though the statement added that “Necessary action has been initiated for fact finding”, the barrage of online criticism has continued.
Adding to my previous tweet. The approval of a topic is supervised by centre coordinator, dean acad., research coordinator etc Then the dissertation is catalogued in the library and uploaded as its e-resource. Institute can’t just say post facto that it doesn’t endorse the title. https://t.co/Ukr5Zt4tjg
— Raghav Pandey (@raghavpandeyy) June 20, 2021
The phrase ‘India occupied Kashmir’ is politically contentious but there is no legal restriction on its usage.
While the research report is not in the public domain, some parts of what is claimed to be the MA student’s dissertation were also circulated on social media. In one of the chapters, the student appears to have focused on the concerns of domestic violence prevalent in the valley and the difficulty faced by the Kashmiri women in speaking up, fearing the backlash on Kashmiri men from the administration.
The MA student writes that they fear that raising their concern “will contribute to the larger Indian state rhetoric of vilifying Kashmiri men which will then validate the Indian state’s imperialist intentions on the pretext of “protecting” and “rescuing” Kashmiri women.”
While the response to these excerpts on the social media was on expected lines, the response from the TISS administration, which normally does not endorse or distance itself from student papers and dissertations, appeared unusual.
Responding to a questionnaire sent by The Wire asking why it felt that an inquiry was necessary in the matter, a senior official at TISS responded that the institute “respects the sovereignty and integrity of the country and does not endorse any views challenging the same”.
“As an academic institution, TISS supports scientific inquiry and ethical conduct of research on all themes including on sensitive matters. Both these aspects are being investigated in this particular case by the institute,” the statement read.
The Wire had asked if the institute supports the MA student and her guide and whether such an inquiry by the institute would dissuade young researchers from engaging in sensitive matters in the future.
The Wire also reached out to the guide for her response but has not heard back yet. Her response will be incorporated in the story as and when she replies. Many students, under anonymity, however, accused the institute of muzzling independent voices and disallowing any kind of critical thoughts related to Kashmir.
This is not the first time that TISS has been accused of denying space for academic discourse on Kashmir. In 2015, when Professor Dibyesh Anand from the Westminster University was invited for a talk at TISS, he was allegedly first denied space and later heckled for engaging in a discussion on issues concerning Kashmir.
Note: This article was first published at 8:10 pm on June 21, 2021 and updated at 12:00 pm on June 22, 2021.