Stiff price for seeking leniency for student

Varsity stick for professor

By K.M. Rakesh in Bangalore
  • Published 11.09.18
Prasad Pannian

Bangalore: The Central University of Kerala has suspended a department head who had written a Facebook post protesting a Dalit student's arrest for allegedly breaking the glass pane of a fire alarm cabinet.

Prasad Pannian now continues as a professor in the university, located in the northernmost Kasargod district.

Ganthoti Nagaraju, the student, had to spend five days in jail after allegedly breaking the glass pane, which a university source said was an act of frustration spurred by the pain of losing his mother.

When the student was arrested on August 9, Pannian wrote a Facebook post expressing concern that such an extreme action had been taken over a matter that could have been settled within the campus.

"That an act of misdemeanour has been criminalised is deeply disturbing. As far as I understand, this is a minor offence that should have been settled on the campus itself," Pannian wrote.

On August 14, the university issued an order prohibiting teachers from speaking to the media.

"It has come to the notice of the university authority that some employees are speaking to the media regarding the matters affecting university and giving different types of explanations on the working of the university. Sometimes they write in social media also create controversies (sic)," the gag order read.

On September 7, the university cited the Central Civil Services Conduct Rules 1964 to suspend Pannian from the post of head of the department.

A campus official, who asked to remain anonymous, said the university had been under a "Sangh parivar invasion" since the Narendra Modi government came to power at the Centre.

Ganthoti Nagaraju 

"Being a central university, we are at the mercy of the Union government. Our pro-vice-chancellor, Dr K. Jayaprasad, is also the Kerala vice-president of the Bharatiya Vichara Kendram (a Sangh parivar think tank)," the official said.

"Massive changes have occurred in the university's outlook towards freedom of speech and expression since 2014. A university thrives on dissent, but people here are not allowed to speak their mind."

The official said Nagaraju had been in mental agony after losing his mother.

"He was visibly upset and might have done that in deep frustration," he said.

Jayaprasad justified the actions against Pannian and Nagaraju.

"Pannian has violated service rules by criticising university authorities on several other occasions too. We also have a complaint from another faculty member against him," he told The Telegraph on Monday.

"We had issued several warnings to him for whipping up a climate of tension through social media messages."

Jayaprasad said the final action on Pannian would be based on the decision of a yet-to-be-formed committee.

As for Nagaraju, "his being a Dalit had nothing to do with the action", Jayaprasad said.

"If one can be booked for smashing the windscreen of a public bus, destroying the property of the university is also an offence."

The controversy has turned the spotlight on certain other actions the university authorities had taken in recent months.

Vice-chancellor G. Gopakumar had ordered a deduction of two months' increment from the salary of Gilbert Sebastian, assistant professor with the department of international relations and politics.

The reason cited in the order was that Sebastian had written to the vice-chancellor opposing the university's sacking of a teacher on charges of sexual misconduct.

Kerala High Court stayed the move in July on a petition from Sebastian.

On Thursday, the university expelled Akhil Thazhath, a student of MA (international studies), weeks after he had criticised on Facebook the replacement of hostel and office staff with people who have Sangh parivar backgrounds.

According to the official who spoke to this newspaper, Thazhath was contemplating legal action against the vice-chancellor and pro-vice-chancellor for expelling him.

Jayaprasad argued that some people on the campus had a tendency to break rules and then blame the RSS.

"We are ready to face any court case as we have done no wrong," he said.