Avoid political talks: IIT-Bombay advises students

In response to recent disturbances surrounding guest lectures on political topics, IIT-Bombay has introduced new guidelines to regulate such events. These interim rules require permission from a review committee to invite external speakers for talks that may have political implications. Additionally, police approval is necessary for protest gatherings held on campus, and organizers and speakers must obtain consent for video-recording events, a TOI report stated.

The registrar of IIT-Bombay issued a document stating that while the institute encourages open discussions on educational subjects, it must remain apolitical in its endeavors. The document stressed the importance of avoiding activities or events that may invite socio-political controversies, detracting from the institute’s primary mission or bringing it disrepute.

This decision comes after a PhD student, Omkar Supekar, filed a complaint with the police regarding a guest lecture on the Palestine situation. The lecture, organized by Professor Sharmistha Saha from the department of humanities and social science, featured guest lecturer Sudhanva Deshpande discussing Hamas and terrorism. Supekar, who was not enrolled in the course, entered the class and recorded the lecture on his mobile device, subsequently posting it online. The incident led to a protest by a right-wing group, the Vivek Vichar Manch, which demanded the arrest of Saha and Deshpande. Members of the outfit displayed hoardings with Saha’s name and photograph at the campus gate, shouting slogans.

In support of Saha, the faculty issued a letter condemning the threats and attempts to tarnish her reputation through anonymous phone calls and social media posts. The protestors labeled her a traitor, issued death threats, and called for her termination from IIT Bombay. The faculty clarified that Saha neither expressed any opinion about terrorism nor about Hamas during the lecture. They attributed her silence to the intimidating atmosphere in the class, created by the protesting student.

To investigate the incident, the institute director has appointed a fact-finding committee, with proposals for “strict action” against those found guilty. Director Subhasis Chaudhuri has assured immediate action against the protesting students. However, the institute’s decision has faced criticism from some quarters. Students from the Ambedkar Periyar-Phule Study Circle described the guidelines as “new set of gag rules,” questioning the extent of freedom allowed to students and campus residents.

A senior professor acknowledged the need for guidelines in light of recent events. He clarified that while certain guidelines were already in place, they were not consolidated into a single document. The professor also highlighted that a committee will be established to create more comprehensive guidelines for faculty events, focusing primarily on politically connected topics. Technical, artistic, and literary events that are non-political will not require approval.

When asked about the humanities department’s ability to avoid organizing politically charged lectures, the professor explained that the policy applies to external speakers or recorded talks. The review committee will assess each case on its merits. Regarding seeking permission from the police for protest gatherings, the professor mentioned that Mumbai police regularly imposes Section 144 as a precautionary measure to maintain peace, and the institute aims to comply with this regulation.

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William Murphy

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