Wary of protests, university mars convocation with tight security

Yogita Rao,TNN | Jan 13, 2014

MUMBAI: The convocation ceremony at the Mumbai University‘s Kalina campus on Sunday was marred by protests over the suspension of professor Neeraj Hatekar as well as strict levels of security.

Heavy police bandobast was deployed around the campus and barricades erected at several points leading to the venue in anticipation of demonstrations at the event. But the fortification had the unwitting effect of harrowing several degree holders who came just to attend the ceremony. Although university officials claimed all degree holders and medallists were present, others maintained that some students were turned away for security reasons.

Security personnel—who were allowing entry on production of identity cards and invites—”sent away a few students for not bringing the hall-tickets for their degree exams”; in some cases though, they were overruled by a senior official.

While the convocation ceremony proceeded at the sports complex on the campus, peaceful demonstrations carried on outside. Over 150 students belonging to various groups, including the University Community for Democracy and Equality, Save Mumbai Universitycampaign, Students’ Federation of India and the Aam Aadmi Party gathered outside the university gates to demand the revocation of Hatekar’s suspension.

They were joined by students and faculty members of the university’s economics department. While the students wore black armbands, the faculty came in black clothes.

The protesters tried entering the campus, but were rebuffed. To add to that, some hostel residents were turned out when they took out a silent march on the campus before the convocation ceremony, said economics student Aditya Ketkar. These students had informed the university authorities and the Bandra-Kurla Complex police on Saturday about their intended protest. But on Sunday morning, after an hour’s argument with the police, they were ordered to move outside the varsity gates.

“After seeing the university authorities’ insensitivity and their move to curb our freedom of speech, the campaign team is considering holding a relay hunger strike,” said a student. The security personnel allegedly confiscated banners and placards prepared by students on the campus around 10pm on Saturday. But these were returned a few hours later.

On Sunday morning, around 2,500 students were present at the sports complex, an unusually large crowd for a convocation event, which normally witnesses an attendance of not more than 300 awardees, degree holders and faculty members. More than 2,000 of these were students from affiliated colleges who had come to participate in Youth Day events.

A N Rai, director of National Assessment and Accreditation Council, was invited “at the last minute” by the university as the chief guest for the convocation after Raghunath Mashelkar, former director general of the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, backed out citing health issues. Pro-vice-chancellor Naresh Chandra, while addressing the students, read out Mashelkar’s apology letter. Though Mashelkar’s convocation address was distributed, Rai independently addressed the audience on the need for quality education and accessibility.



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