It was outrageous that the IIT Madras ‘banned’ the APSC on 22nd May 2015 by derecognizing its right to existence on the campus of the institution to which they as students belong. The Government of India through the HRD ministry had killed free speech and the right to dissent, right to discussion and debate, rights provided by the Constitution of India, within the precincts of the campus where only the diktats of the director of the Institution were sought to be imposed following a meeting held by the APSC in April. The entire chain of events and the actions of the authorities was so ludicrous that we are amazed that the head of an educational institution in Chennai should consider the very name of the group to be controversial and provocative, and needed to be changed, or that a criticism of the Modi government’s land policy, was creating ‘hatred’ against the honourable prime minister. Other policies that were criticized such as the beef ban and ghar wapsi were regarded as a manifestation of hatred against the Hindus!
The action was taken on the basis of an anonymous complaint, or so we are told, about an event organized by the APSC on April 14, 2015 the birth Anniversary of Ambedkar even as the GOI was mouthing false platitudes about the greatness of Ambedkar. Following a communication from the Ministry the director forthwith terminated the APSC’s right to exist on the campus on the grounds that the group had misused their “ privilege” by organizing a meeting where the speaker had been critical of the Modi Government. Clearly the director, acting through the Dean of Students, holds the view that constitutional rights do not exist inside the IIT campus which sees itself as acting as a loyal toady of the Government in power.
The IIT director and the HRD Ministry need to be reminded that debates and arguments over the kind of society we need to build is integral to educational institutions where more than in any other part of the public sphere a free expression of views be guaranteed at all times. Clearly the Government in power believes in (mis)using its power to crush all dissent. But, as Phule pointed out in his formulation of the truttiya ratna, cultivating the third eye, which can see beyond what is otherwise visible, is the true purpose of education. It is the capacity to analyze social reality, not just accept the view of the dominant groups as gospel truth enforced in institutions such as IIT Madras which is as it is notoriously infamous for its casteist/brahminical and rightwing ideology and dominance. IITM had never implemented the reservation policies resulting in very dismal representation of dalits and tribals both in the faculty and on the student front; dalit faculty representation is still less than 1% presently (of a total faculty strength of 550). In 2008, IIT Delhi also was in the news for terminating 12 dalit students citing “poor academic performance”. So far at least 20 dalit students from all IITs have committed suicide in the past decade,” says a PhD student from IIT Delhi. There are many such instances of discrimination and persecution of dalit students and faculty in the IITs that are never covered by the mainstream media. A recent survey among first year students (2013-14 batch) belonging to various SC, ST and OBC categories at IIT Mumbai, has revealed that an alarming 56% of them feel discriminated in very subtle manner. The dropout rate of dalit students at IITM is among the highest in the country .
This depressing scenario must be ended forthwith. APSC has clearly understood the true purpose of education and that is something no government can ever take away from them whatever bullying tactics they may use to try and make the students conform. In any case the high-handed actions of the MHRD and the IIT director have led to such a huge outcry mobilizing democratic opinion across the student community and across India forcing the IIT authorities to back down on 6th June 2015. Many other campuses are setting up their own chapters of the APSC. This is a victory for all those who refuse to give up on their fundamental rights regardless of which Government is in power.
We salute the spirit of the APSC and join them in their struggle to uphold their right to think, debate and criticize what they believe to be wrong no matter what.