Mumbai: A group of around 150 people on Saturday staged a protest in front of the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B) against a virtual talk on the Israel-Palestine conflict by theatre director and actor Sudhanva Deshpande at the institute.
The agitation, which was organised by Vivek Vichar Manch, Maharashtra, a social organisation, saw protesters raise slogans and carry placards against Deshpande and a faculty member from IIT-B’s Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) department, which had organised the event. They demanded that the duo be arrested for “glorifying terrorists and their heinous acts”.
Protests erupt over Deshpande's Palestinian comment
Deshpande has come under fire for praising Zakaria Zubeidi, a Palestinian militant and cultural activist, and terming the Palestinian resistance movement a “freedom struggle”. A group of students has submitted a complaint against the actor to the city police, while Israel’s counsel general in Mumbai Kobbi Shoshani also lashed out at the remarks.
“IIT students have made a name for themselves around the world. Why do things like these on campus? It’s wrong to support any terrorist,” said Ashok Tidke of Vivek Vichar Manch.
He added that such events lead to “brainwashing” of students. “Why should educational institutes be targeted in this manner? I have seen very few educated people resorting to anti-social activities. But there are students who come from the hinterland who may get swayed by such remarks,” he said.
Deshpande has released a statement defending his remarks and decrying “disinformation campaign” against him. He said that while Zubeidi is a former military commander of Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the armed wing of Fatah, a Palestinian political party, he had given up arms and was advocating cultural resistance when Deshpande met him in Occupied Palestine in 2015.
Lecture cancellation sparked criticism
A day after Deshpande’s remarks on Monday, the premier institute had cancelled another lecture on the Israel-Palestine conflict by writer and academician Achin Vanaik. The eleventh-hour cancellation and the complaint against Deshpande prompted criticism from the student community, which condemned “intimidation” and “loss of academic freedom” on campus.
An online petition by the students of the HSS department, which had organised the two events, claimed that the department has been targetted due to its critical research and discussions. IIT-B for Justice, a student group at the institute, claimed that the objection to these events is part of an ongoing trend to block any academic activity that’s deemed to be at variance with the ruling dispensation.