Two PhD Students at IIT Guwahati Face Disciplinary Action for Protest, Social Media Posts

While one of them was made to sign an undertaking in order to stay at the institute, the other has been expelled.

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Guwahati: Two research students from the reputed Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati have been severely reprimanded by the institute’s authorities for expressing their disapproval (one by taking part in a dharna and the other by writing posts on social media) of actions taken by the institute’s reigning governing body.

A fourth-year PhD student, Himanchal Singh, had to sign a six-point undertaking that he would not participate in any future protests or agitations in order to be allowed to continue his research programme. The other PhD student, Vikrant Singh, has been thrown out of the institute with immediate effect for his social media posts that IIT-G found to be ‘defamatory’.

Vikrant told The Wire that he will fight tooth and nail against his termination and is looking for legal recourse. The 30-year-old PhD research student was served with a termination letter on June 25.

Both Himanchal and Vikrant were vocal in their support for Brijesh Rai, a former IIT-G faculty member who was hell-bent on exposing alleged corruption and malpractices within the premier institute. The two students sat on a hunger strike from January 4 to 7, 2020, protesting the ‘treatment’ meted out to Rai by IIT-G.

Rai, in January 2020, was granted ‘compulsory’ retirement after his ‘anti-corruption crusade’ against IIT-G.

For taking part in the hunger strike, the Himanchal and Vikrant faced academic suspension for one semester.

In the termination letter to Vikrant, the institute’s board of governors, senate and students’ disciplinary committee (SDC) found him guilty of ‘defaming’ the institute’s reputation through social media posts and also for sending ‘offensive’ emails/letters to the institute’s functionaries and to the students’ disciplinary committee.

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Around 10 members of the SDC signed the 22-page termination letter

“I will fight this battle tooth and nail. This is about justice. IIT-G kept on piling lies upon lies, making me look guilty. This has to be corrected. I will knock on the doors of the court,” he said.

A portion of the 22-page termination letter from IIT-G addressing Vikrant stated:

“This has reference to the subject mentioned above and with regard to your indulgence in defamation of the institute functionaries through numerous social media posts your, defamatory social media posts, offensive letters/emails to various institute functionaries, as well as to the students’ Disciplinary Committee (SDC) are highly disruptive to the academic environment of the institute. You have not complied with the rules and regulations of the institute as well as violated clause 3.1.’10(c) the ordinance on code and conduct of Students. You have committed an offence of the highest order in an academic institute, and hence your behaviour is considered unpardonable.

Pursuant upon the decision of 154th (R.15411012021) meeting of the senate held on 20th April 2021 and as per decisions and acceptance of the 106th meeting of the Board of Governors (BoG) Resolutions, R_10680c133t2021 held on22.04.2021 of the institute, you are hereby informed that you are terminated from studentship of this institute with immediate effect. Minutes of BoG and senate are enclosed herewith regarding your termination.”

Brijesh Rai told The Wire, “Any academic institution should support students to grow not only academically but also for their overall development. Students should also be aware of social issues and respond to what is happening in society. Vikrant and Himanchal are being victimised for raising issues that are disturbing to the administration. Such victimisation sends a very wrong message to society. The fundamental rights of the students have been violated. Principles of natural justice have been violated.”

It was not just the protest or support for Rai that irked the IIT-G authorities.

Vikrant suspended for a period of four months till July 27. The institute on March 10 served him with an expulsion letter, stating, “This is in regard to the post in social media (Facebook) dated October 29 and your indulgence in misinterpretation of facts related to the institute without proper verification and resulting in defamation of the institute. No appeal will be entertained further.”

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The social media post in question was made on October 29, 2020, wherein Vikrant referred to one particular case about a joint entrance examination (JEE) topper who was arrested in Assam for allegedly paying money to a proxy.

In the Facebook post, he wrote, “I know this as much that this problem of proxy is not a new thing, there has been a number of issues about the conduct of JEE. These unethical means has played unfair with many honest students. Somehow, though this problem has been there, and in the knowledge of IITs, IITs have acted in a vague and sad manner. #Rajeev_Kumar, a Professor of IIT KGP had exposed this flaw back in 2011, but he was due to this allegation, forced to Compulsory Retirement.”

The post further states, “However, Later Hon’ble President #PranabMukherjee quashed it. Another Professor in IITG, Dr Brijesh Rai, has also been compulsorily retired for allegations in the same context. It hurts us to see the modus operandi of IITs when the flaws are exposed. Though it is expected with improved monitoring, and testing systems, we can achieve the required improvements in the conduct of JEE like exams. We, students, spent our well-being, and whatnot to secure a rank. It is the lives and dreams of Young Students that are at stake. It is good that these culprits were nabbed, but we need more strict rules to crack into these Unfair Businesses.”

Vikrant became more vocal after his suspension. On March 14 he wrote, “I just sent my representation against a completely illegal order of expulsion till 27/07/2021. I have sent my representation to the Board of Governors of IIT Guwahati, Chairman of IIT Council, Secretary to Ministry of Education, Hon’ble President of India, Secretary to the President of India and to the Chairman, Board of Governors of IIT Guwahati.”

In that post, he had named a few IIT-G authorities for ‘victimising’ and ‘repeatedly’ lodging false complaints against him.