Wednesday, May 29, 2024

TISS Mumbai issues notice defending student leader’s suspension, calls BBC documentary, ‘Ram ke Naam’ ‘propaganda’

Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) issued a public notice in response to recent news reports of the arbitrary suspension of Ramadas, a left student leader, and Dalit Ph.D. scholar, for participating in protests and questioning the ruling Hindu nationalist government. TISS referred to the BBC documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as “western media propaganda” and labeled the award-winning documentary “Ram Ke Naam” as “controversial” and “propaganda.” Furthermore, human rights activist Harsh Mander described as “controversial” speaker in the official notice.

Ramadas, a Dalit student from Kerala’s Wayanad and a research scholar in Development Studies in TISS Mumbai campus, was arbitrarily suspended for two years by the administration. The administration also debarred his entry across all TISS campuses.

The TISS administration alleged that the news reports were “malicious propaganda.”

“In January, 2023 he (Ramadas) called upon students of TISS to assemble for screening of banned BBC Documentary at Mumbai Campus (Old), despite the fact that, same was not approved by the Administration of TISS. The said BBC documentary was banned by the Government of India being propaganda movie of western media,” read the public notice.

On January 17th, 2023, BBC released the first part of its two part documentary titled “India: The Modi Question”. This documentary explores Prime Minister Modi’s early political career and investigates his involvement in the 2002 Gujarat Muslim genocide. On January 21st, 2023, India blocked the film and banned people from sharing clips on social media, citing emergency powers under its information technology laws. Twitter and YouTube have complied with the move. Interestingly, the Bombay, Kerala and Madras High Courts have issued Stay Orders against the Rules. Protesting the ban on the documentary, many student collectives in various universities, including TISS, conducted documentary screenings.

The public notice further said: “Subsequently, in March 2023. Mr. Ramadas KS attempted to invite controversial speakers for Bhagat Singh memorial lectures, a proposal which was rightfully denied by the TISS Administration as it was not organized by the Official Student Union of TISS. In response, Mr. Ramadas KS resorted to disruptive mid-night protest outside the residence of the then Vice Chancellor, demonstrating a disregard for basic human rights and causing disturbance, fright with loud slogans at midnight. This unruly agitation caused serious disruption, anarchy and mayhem in the campus in the night where all other family and students stay in residences and hostels.”

Human rights activist and writer Harsh Mander was the key speaker denied permission to deliver his talk at TISS Mumbai to commemorate the martyrdom day of Bhagat Singh. In response to the cancellation, students protested in front of the Director’s Bungalow on 21st and 22nd March 2023. Following the protest, the administration gave permission to the left student body but denied permission to guest speakers or experts outside the varsity.

The public notice went on to say: “Again, during January 2024 Ram Janmabhoomi Pran Pratistan, Mr. Ramadas KS posted pamphlets on social media site for an unauthorized screening of a Controversial Documentary “Raam ke Naam” at the Mumbai Campus (Main), despite lacking approval from TISS Administration. This documentary, deemed propaganda by the Government of India, was not sanctioned for viewing during the Pran Pratistha Diwas.”

Ram ke Naam is a 1992 documentary that explores the campaign waged by VHP to build the Ram temple at the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, as well as the anti-Muslim violence that it triggered. The documentary by renowned filmmaker Anand Patwardhan won a National Award for the best investigative film by Government of India. It also won a Filmfare Award for Best Documentary and other international awards.

Interestingly, the documentary was screened, and Patwardhan himself was invited for a discussion in an official program on the campus. Documents accessed by Maktoob showed that it was screened on February 26, 2017, during the Sameeksha Annual Fest of the School of Social Work (SSW) at Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

Ramadas is a former general secretary of the Progressive Students’ Forum (PSF), a left students’ collective at TISS Mumbai that vehemently opposed the administration’s move in a statement. Ramadas who is an active student leader in TISS Mumbai is now a member of Central Executive Committee of SFI and Joint secretary of SFI Maharashtra.

The suspension of the student leader has sparked outrage among student collectives at TISS and other universities. The Ambedkarite Students’ Association, Muslim Students’ Federation, and Fraternity TISS have released statements declaring their solidarity with the left student leader.

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