IIT-B Puts Sweeping Restrictions On Holding 'Political' Events On Campus After Row Over Israel-Palestine Talks

IIT-B Puts Sweeping Restrictions On Holding 'Political' Events On Campus After Row Over Israel-Palestine Talks

The instructions come in the backdrop of two events related to the ongoing violence in the Middle East on the IITB campus attracting heated reactions from the students and activists across the political divide.

Musab QaziUpdated: Thursday, November 16, 2023, 11:15 AM IST
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Achin Vanaik and Sudhanva Deshpande | File Photo

Mumbai: Following an uproar over two talks about the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB) has introduced sweeping restrictions on holding events, especially those deemed to be 'political' in nature, on campus. 

According to these 'interim' guidelines, released by the premier institute on Tuesday, inviting external speakers and screening documentaries, even for academic purposes, will need to be cleared by the authorities. The students have been prohibited from organising any event except through the bodies recognised by the institute. The students have termed the directives a 'gag order', claiming that they infringe on their constitutional liberties.

The instructions come in the backdrop of two events related to the ongoing violence in the Middle East on the IITB campus attracting heated reactions from the students and activists across the political divide. A documentary screening and virtual talk by theater artist Sudhanva Deshpande on Monday was panned for 'promoting violence and armed conflict' and resulted in a complaint to the police and a protest outside the institute. A day later, the authorities cancelled a lecture by writer Achin Vanaik, after he was called a 'Hamas supporter' on social media. This led to criticism from a section of students, who complained of 'intimidation' and 'loss of academic freedom' on campus.

The new guidelines, which were shared by the Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC), a student group at the institute, set out to keep the discussion on the campus 'apolitical' and limited to 'educational subjects' by keeping a check on the 'potentially controversial' content, academic or otherwise. The faculty members have been asked to obtain approval from the heads of their respective academic units if they want to invite external speakers or screen movies. There's no such restriction though on 'purely non-political' events.

The institute also plans to appoint an 'External Speaker Review Committee' to screen the invited guests on the campus. The panel will be responsible for vetting all the details related to the events planned by the students, faculty, and staff members.

The institute plans to release a more detailed set of guidelines for organising events on campus.

"While IIT Bombay encourages free and open discussion on education subjects, it must also remain apolitical in all its endeavours. Hence, it's imperative that our students, faculty and staff members stay away from activities/events on campus that may invite socio-political controversies, diverting IIT from its primary mission, or may bring IIT Bombay into disrepute," read the instructions.

Calling the guidelines 'comical, APPSC said that they effectively prevent students from organizing events, seminars, demonstrations, and protests. "One wonders what would the students and other campus residents be allowed to do freely then? Bury their heads in the computers and never look up? What would we learn in such an environment; to never form any communities?" the group posted on X (Twitter).

"The institute allegedly has a mandate to "carry out the vision of the GoI (Government of India)". What exactly is this vision? Is it to create a stunted generation that will follow the orders but will never be able to think for itself?" the statement further read.

IITB Faculty Body Extends Support to Colleague

The Faculty Forum of IIT Bombay, the official teacher body at the premier institute, has expressed support to the assistant professor Sharmista Saha of the Humanities and Social Sciences department, who was targetted for inviting actor Sudhanva Deshpande to speak to her students.

They claimed that she received anonymous phone calls and social media posts tarnishing her reputation and threatening her with physical violence. They also condemned 'biased information and false claims' that Saha supports Hamas and terrorism.  

Our colleague neither expressed any opinion about terrorism nor did she express any opinion about Hamas. She was not able to respond either to the film or to the comments made by Mr. Deshpande because of the intimidating atmosphere prevailing in the class," read a statement from teachers.

Saha declined to respond to the controversy as she told FPJ that she was contractually prohibited from speaking to the media. 

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