Students and teachers in several parts of India have taken to the streets to protest the attack on academic institutions and what many see as a threat to India’s diversity but the country’s oldest IIT has been quiet so far.
There has not been a single protest on the campus at IIT Kharagpur. Many teachers and students attribute it to an “atmosphere of fear”. There was a small protest on Wednesday evening but outside the campus.
The fear is a recent import on one of India’s most reputable campuses. A section of students and teachers said it stemmed from alleged “periodic threats”.
A teacher said the threats started after the IIT authorities had issued a circular in May 2018 banning “political/ apolitical gathering/meeting” without permission.
The circular was issued on May 14, hours before the IIT students were to start a march in solidarity with the students of Aligarh Muslim University and protest an attack on the Aligarh campus by members of the Hindu Yuva Vahini.
The circular sent through an email by the dean of students, Somesh Kumar, read: “It is being observed that some groups with political motivation are organising some events in IIT Kharagpur. This is to inform you that such events are completely illegal and have no sanction of the institute authority. 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.”
Around the same time, registrar B.N. Singh issued a notice banning political/a political gathering on the campus and warned any violation “will be viewed seriously and appropriate action may be initiated as per rules of the institute”.
A research scholar said whenever they tried to organise any protest on the campus, the authorities had referred to the circular. “It is a matter of regret that at a time when students and teachers of IIT Bombay, IIT Kanpur, IISc Bangalore are holding protests on their campuses against the police assault at Jamia Millia Islamia and the attack by masked goons at JNU, we have remained quiet,” he said.
A professor said the situation was not like this a few years ago. “It was the same IIT where around 40 students had chanted slogans in support of Anna Hazare when then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was on the campus on the occasion of annual convocation on August 22, 2011. The protesters included one who was supposed to take his degree from Singh but didn’t attend the convocation. I just wonder what would have happened now if someone dared do so,” said the teacher.
In December 2019, a group of students and teachers had planned to organise a protest on the campus when Assam erupted against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens. They abandoned their plans. Another group of students tried to hold a protest over Unnao rape last year but had to drop the plan.
Repeated calls to IIT Kharagpur director Virendra Kumar Tewari went unanswered.
This newspaper sent him a text message that read: “A section of your students and teachers have complained that they are not being allowed to stage protests on the IIT Kharagpur campus against alleged atrocities on campuses elsewhere because of a fear of targeted action from the IIT KGP authorities. Would be highly obliged if you could share your reaction.”
Director Tewari did not react till late on Wednesday.
A teacher who had retired recently said the culture of dissent had ebbed on the Kharagpur campus. “At last year’s convocation, no one objected when human resource development minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank sang paeans to a mythical bridge from the time of Lord Ram and added that that if a computer ever spoke, it would speak in Sanskrit.”