Tuesday, March 5, 2024

“Persecuted for Muslim identity and political beliefs”: 500+ academics express solidarity with Professor Sameena Dalwai

More than 500 academics have signed a statement of support for OP Jindal Global University Professor Sameena Dalwai, stating that she is being persecuted for her Muslim identity and political beliefs.

Professor Dalwai who teaches at the Centre for Women, Law and Social Change, Jindal Global Law School has recently been the target of an online campaign as well as an FIR.

The statement traces the origin of the problem to be from an email exchange on November 7, 2023, about Palestine. “Dalwai was targeted as being “Hindu-phobic’ after the mail got leaked “even though her email called for tolerance of opposing ideological views within the safe space of universities,” it said.

A lecture delivered by political scientist Achin Vanaik on the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict had earlier triggered a controversy. In his talk, Vanaik said that Zionism and Hindutva were different as the former was “not anti-Muslim” while the latter was “fundamentally and foundationally anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic”.

Concerning the ruckus that the lecture caused, Dalwai has written a mail to fellow faculty members defending Vanaik’s talk. In the screenshot of the email which went viral, it could be seen that she has largely written about the deterioration of academic spaces referring to “Jai Shri Ram” slogans being chanted on campus and “right-wing” students and faculty organising events.

The FIR by Sonipat police, on the other hand, has been filed without any student complainants for allegedly ‘outraging women’s modesty’, because Dalwai used the dating app Bumble as a pedagogic device in her class.

The statement, signed by Professor Achin Vanaik, Nivedita Menon, Ramachandra Guha, Tanika Sarkar, Chaman Lal, Nandita Narain, Nandini Sundar, Niraja Jayal and lawyer Lawrence Liang, and many others, stressed the need to preserve university spaces and the spirit of democracy they carry from the attacks of the regime.

Other signatories include prominent academics and professors from SOAS, McGill University, the University of Kent, Cambridge, the University of California, and Indian universities, as well as activists, writers and students belonging to different organisations and institutions across the world. 

“Autocratic regimes fear critical thinking and educators that foster it. In the series of relentless attacks on Indian universities, Prof. Sameena Dalwai is the latest… We believe she is being persecuted for her Muslim identity and her political beliefs, by people who define India with a narrow, ignorant lens,” it said. 

The statement while responding to the FIR, said that the class from which the video was leaked was an activity for the topic ‘Desire, sexuality and gender’ within the subject ‘Gender and Society’ that Dalwai teaches to third-year law students.

“The dating app was used as an innovative teaching tool to practically appreciate how attraction and dating, just like marriage, follow the identity markers of caste, class, religion, skin colour, and language. This activity on 23 September was recorded by miscreants in class, without the knowledge of the professor and other students, and was shared on social media in November following the email exchange. Haryana Women’s Commission picked up this video and decided to investigate. They visited the university, elicited student responses without the university administration being present, and then held a media spectacle in which Prof. Dalwai was declared guilty. Twitter posts became evidence, emotive language replaced logic, confidential university documents were posted on social media. The whole process showed utter disregard for legal procedures and a vicious political agenda,” it added.

University administration has been criticised for its biased approach as it served a show cause notice to Professor Dalwai without carrying out an enquiry or allowing her to defend herself. Dr Dalwai was warned on twin charges of ‘harming the dignity of women’ and ‘discrimination of students on religious and ideological basis’. 

“By succumbing to political pressure thus, Jindal University has set a damning precedent for future attacks on academic freedom,” the statement highlighted.

It called the action by the Haryana State Commission For Women charging her with harming the dignity of women an utter travesty, as Dalwai has consistently shown her commitment to social justice through her writing and teaching, defending the rights of women across caste, class and religions. 

“Ironically, the Haryana Women’s Commission has charged Sameena Dalwai for outraging the dignity of women, while completely ignoring the battle against sexual harassment by women wrestlers of Haryana,” the statement added.


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