On 16 June, four faculty members of the South Asian University in New Delhi were suspended, alleging “misconduct” and “inciting” a student’s protest against the administration. Maktoob approached the faculty members to learn about the suspension and allegations the varsity’s administration made against them.
Responding to the accusations, one of the four suspended faculty members requesting anonymity said, “The faculty members were only requesting the university officials to follow a due process and to initiate a dialogic intervention to come up with an amicable solution concerning the students’ protests and their demands.”
“We are facing the wrath of the same arbitrariness we were arguing for, and administration has been using against the students, which is an unstructured process,” he said.
In September last year, the students protested against the varsity’s decision to cut the stipend for students pursuing master’s degrees at the institute.
Following this, the university expelled five students, prompting an indefinite mass hunger strike by students. One of the students, Ammar Ahmad, collapsed during the hunger strike and later suffered a cardiac arrest.
Soon after, these four faculty members, including others, wrote a letter to the varsity’s officials saying that “arbitrary actions of the administration” have “sharply worsened the university situation,” which they say the administration never responded to.
The months-long protest seeking a rise in stipend ended in December last year as soon as the vacations were announced; however, the administration’s frenzy didn’t stop with the holidays. On 30 December 2022, show cause notices were issued to five faculty members for ‘inciting protests.’
In a recent development, on 16 June, four of those five faculty members received a suspension letter.
Responding to why only four teachers were targeted when there were more than a dozen signatories to the two emails sent to the administration questioning the procedural lapse, the faculty member said, “It is a classic case of nitpicking. It is also about instilling fear in others, indirectly telling them the fate of every sane voice that flags the importance of following due processes and fundamental issues in violating the rules and regulations of the university.”
Moreover, Maktoob was also informed that barring a few, no faculty member reached out to the suspended teachers, let alone demonstrated any solidarity.
As one of the faculty members mentioned, “The silence of colleagues is more tragic than this arbitrary suspension. This informs us how deep the rot in the system is.”
Maktoob was also informed that the faculty members who have been suspended have always held a principled position on matters of significance.
When asked about being a part of a study circle constituted to discuss pertinent issues – Aijaz Ahmed Study Circle – he responded, “The allegations are completely baseless, be it supporting the protesting students or being a part of any study circle on the campus.”
He asserted, “Branding Aijaz Ahmed study circle as a ‘Marxist study circle’ is once again to be understood as part of a larger campaign that gains massively from selective usage of Marxism and Marxist ideology. This is simply an efficient way of putting a narrative in place”.
He added Aijaz Ahmed was a world-renowned scholar, and his works might have attracted students to name the study circle after him.
The faculty member remarked, “What the university administration fails to understand is that students are intellectually autonomous and do not need to be spoon-fed by faculty members. They can name their ventures after anyone. Who are we to dictate?”
However, the professor believes in having an inclusive academic environment on the campuses and considers it an important aspect of any educational institution.
He said, “Universities work on certain principles and are spaces that nurture cultural tolerance, so whatever students learn can develop a culture of debating and sense of questioning and differentiating between right and wrong.”
“Suspending the students for merely learning a particular ideology is in any way wrong and baseless,” said a social science faculty member who is now suspended.
What is Aijaz Ahmad Study Circle that led to the suspension of faculty members?
Aijaz Ahmad Study Circle was founded in 2020 by students who identify themselves as followers of Marxism to fill the ‘lack of political space to accommodate and exchange the thoughts of Marxist students’ on the campus.
The study circle is a brainchild of three Marxist students, Apoorva Yarabahally, Sandra Elizabeth Joseph, Sukanya Maitey, and some Ambedkarite students.
Apoorva, a law student, told Maktoob, “The campus lacked the structured political body to discuss Marxism, so we founded one, but the intellectual space is collectively shared and utilized by the students of all ideologies.”
However, she refused to associate the suspended faculty members with the study circle.
“Ever since its formation, we only held two events around Social Justice, caste, and capitalism, and none of these teachers was a part of it. They are in any way not involved in any of our initiatives or activities”, she said.
Apoorva is among the students facing expulsion from the administration for protesting the reduction in the monthly stipend of the students.
Another suspended faculty member refuted the claims of inciting student protest and told Maktoob that they wrote a letter to the university’s administration questioning them about inviting police inside the campus.
The professor said 13 people wrote to the administration in October and 15 in November. “But they are only targeting 4 of us,” he said.
He explained that the suspension notices issued against four professors stem from the three statements of fifteen faculty members at different intervals. Still, the institution has targeted only four of them.
He said, “The University claims that the professors have instigated students to protest and engage in indiscipline by merely issuing these statements.”
He explained, “The first statement was about the entry of police.”
“The second statement issued by the professors came after the university expelled, rusticated, and suspended five of the students, and the third statement pointed out the legal loophole in the proceedings,” he added.
He said, “We only resisted the intervention of police through administration in an academic institution, which is contradictory to the university’s by-laws, and hence we received the show cause notice and later a suspension.”
The faculty members will remain suspended during the pending investigation, and the university has not provided a time frame for their suspension.
The four faculty members have now decided to follow a due legal course of action to tackle the ‘arbitrary move of suspending them.’
They said, “We have sought legal help and will do whatever it takes to ensure that our rightful claims don’t go in vain because we are not wrong. We will follow a due process that we have been advocating for.”
The four professors suspended are Snehashish Bhattacharya (Faculty of Economics), Srinivas Burra (Faculty of Legal Studies), Irfanullah Farooqi (Faculty of Social Sciences), and Ravi Kumar (Faculty of Social Sciences). The suspension notice was issued on 16 June.
Moreover, Jawaharlal University Teachers Association has released a statement on the suspension of 4 professors at SAU and strongly condemned the arbitrary action taken against them.
Calling it an attempt to intimidate and silence the dissenting voices, a strong-worded statement said, “JNUTA strongly condemns this unprecedented harassment, coercion, and intimidation of the SAU faculty by the administration.”