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IIT bar on protests irks students

Kharagpur: Students of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, have accused the authorities of robbing them of their right to protest following a circular barring "political/ apolitical gathering/ meeting" without permission.

The circular was issued on Monday, hours before IIT boys and girl were to march on the campus in solidarity with the students of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).

"Are they (the authorities) upset because we wanted to stand by the AMU students? Is this part of a saffron agenda?" asked a student.

The AMU students have been on a hunger strike since May 11 to protest police action against them. Several students were injured allegedly in a police action assault during a clash between them and a mob, mostly comprising Hindu Yuva Vahini members, which raided the campus demanding removal of a portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah from the students' union office.

The incident has triggered a debate across the country on whether such right-wing outfits have the right to dictate how to treat historical figures.

A section of IIT students, under the banner of Ambedkar Bhagat Singh Study Circle, IIT Kharagpur, was preparing to march in support of the AMU students when the authorities issued the clampdown.

The students went ahead with the protest but the campus has been on the boil since.

"After the directive issued by registrar B.N. Singh, came a follow-up mail from the dean of students affairs, Somesh Kumar.... There seems to be an attempt to paint the protestors as anti-nationals," said a research scholar, who was part of the protest.

The mail from Kumar read: "It is being observed that some groups with political motivation are organising some events in IIT Kharagpur.... IIT Kharagpur is an institution of national importance and we do not encourage any activity, which escalates tension in the society in the name of political affiliation, religion, caste and region. Our sole aim is to promote development of science and technology and nationalistic fervour among students."

An MTech student said: "It was not the norm before.... Why this sudden zeal to control our activities? Don't students have the right to protest?"

The student said the oldest IIT had a tradition of protests on issues affecting the student community and the weaker section of society.

Students associated with the study circle had held a protest march after the Kathua rape and murder. A candle-light march had been held after the firing in Nandigram on March 14, 2007, that left 14 people dead.

"Suddenly, there is a bar on organising even apolitical programmes... Is it fair?" asked a student.

Registrar Singh told Metro : "They have to give prior information about the event. Then we will take a call. In a technical institute, you know what kind of events are allowed."

When asked what he meant by "nationalistic fervour", dean Kumar said: "As someone working in the newspaper you should know its meaning."

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