After the cancellation of the lecture Israel-Palestine: The Historical Context by former Delhi University (DU) Professor Achin Vanaik at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay, a student collective from the university has issued a statement condemning the restriction of academic freedom within the institute.
The student collective, IIT Bombay for Justice, shared their statement on Instagram via their account @iitb4jjustice. The statement highlights, “On 7th November, 2023, students at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences received yet another email announcing the cancellation of a proposed talk citing ‘unforeseen circumstances’.”
According to students, a clear justification for the cancellation was not provided. “There was a Twitter campaign by a radical right-wing group of the campus, and we believe it was under the pressure of those students that the administration took this decision,” says a member of the collective whom EdexLive spoke to, on the condition of anonymity.
The student further points out that this incident is part of an ongoing trend aimed at controlling academic freedom. To recall, Prof Achin Vanaik’s lecture at OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, sparked controversy due to his pro-Palestine stance amidst Israel’s Gaza bombing, leading to accusations of being ‘pro-Hamas’ and ‘anti-Hindu.’
According to the students of IIT Bombay, this is not an isolated incident. Previously, the screening of the film Arna’s Children, which focussed on Palestine, faced heckling and intimidation. “Just a day before, a screening, was subjected to heckling and intimidation by an attendee, who recorded parts of the event without the consent of those present….Subsequently, the course-related discussion planned after the screening had to be stopped,” states the statement by the student collective. Another screening of Little Palestine, depicting a Syrian refugee camp, was also cancelled, according to the collective.
Students highlight the suppression of any discourse on Israel-Palestine, especially in support of Palestine. “The Israel-Palestine issue is treated as something you cannot talk about. Right-wing student organisations are pressuring the administration to silence any discussion on the issue,” alleges a student, frustrated by the censorship that extends to the point where engagement with the topic is restricted.
The collective alleges that these crackdowns on discussions are done in the name of protecting the “Brand IIT”. “All of this has resulted in a complete dearth of spaces where it could be possible to conduct debates, discussions and conversations necessary for understanding a social issue as a whole; spaces that “’go against the interests’ of the ruling dispensation,” writes IIT Bombay for Justice in its statement.