De-recognition of APSC in IIT Madras: The Unspoken Side – Some IITM Students

Indian Institute of Technology Madras

Swami VivekanandaThe Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC) has been de-recognised for the simple reason that they did not follow standard procedures common for all such institute bodies while conducting their activities. We, a few students of IITM, are saddened by the fact that a straightforward debate based on facts has not occurred on this issue. – Some IITM Students

Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle LogoFor the last few days, we have witnessed a media spectacle around the issue of IIT Madras de-recognising a body called Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC). While IITM has tried to set the facts clear with an official statement, the initial media reports which twisted the truth and the subsequent statements to the media that stretched it further, have created quite a different perception of the whole issue in people’s minds. We, a few students of IITM are saddened by these developments, by the fact that a straightforward debate based on facts has not occurred on this issue and that the media is pursuing spectacular and outlandish statements instead of the truth. They are ready to hear only one side of the story and hence, we would like to set this straight. We, as students of the institute, have some concern for what’s happening in it, and the perception of the institute held by the people. Therefore, we are writing this article.

There are numerous student bodies, functioning in the institute, which foster debates on socio-economic and political issues. The institute funds these organizations covering their day to day running costs, allows the usage of the institute infrastructure for their running, and these organizations are allowed to use the name of the institute and the logo in their official communications. In return they are expected to follow certain guidelines for their activities. This is made to ensure that no political or offensive statements or activities are carried out by these organizations. While this has been described as the death of freedom of speech in the institute, this is merely done because the institute which funds these organizations sees them as a part of the institute and anything that they say are seen as directly attributable to IITM which, at the end of the day, is a government institute.

There have been instances where speakers from outside the institute have taken a political stand on issues but not the student body themselves. This being said, let us also emphasize on the fact that unlike most other colleges in India, IIT Madras does not allow political activities within its campus. While discussion on political activities have never been discouraged, and debates happen constantly on most issues, outright political activity is something that the institute has not tolerated and we’ve been better off because of that.

APSC was formed as a student body in April, last year with the motto of initiating discussions on ‘Socio-political-cultural’ issues. While they have been maintaining that what they do has always been to foster a debate among the students regarding these issues, it is really obvious that they have been acting from day one with a clear political agenda. This can be seen from the way their posters and pamphlets are written and from the way the debates are conducted. While there is nothing wrong in taking a stand on issues relating to the political sphere and in individual students protesting against what they see as State overreach, the issue reaches the point of precipitation when an organization funded and provided for by the institute takes a blatant political position and tries to drive a wedge among the students.

To understand the political nature of this body, take a look at the email that was sent across for a debate on ‘Language Politics in India’ or the position taken by them on the issue ‘Name Boards – A Hindi(u)tva Project’: 

Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle

While there is nothing wrong in taking a stand on an individual issue and fostering a debate on it, it is a violation of the trust that the institute places in you when you use it for political gains; as is happening here, obvious to even a layman. Statements such as the government is acting with a ‘fascist, Hindutva agenda’ and that the ‘Government is trying to selling mother India to the corporates’ hardly qualify as statements that foster a debate, as opposed to what the APSC says. See the poster ‘Contemporary Relevance of Ambedkar’:

Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle, IIT, Madras

While the guidelines set by the institute certainly have to be followed on these issues, there is also a question of decorum during debates. There is an unwritten rule in India that during debates, we try to avoid hurting the sentiments of any group. While this in no way should impede a debate on relevant issues, and while this should not stifle a healthy discussion on issues related to rights of individuals, it should never reach a level of indecency where one’s calling for the death of a particular religion. This has happened within debates of APSC against Hinduism and this is condemnable no matter which religion they are making such statements against.

Additionally, while speaking for ‘oppressed classes’ is fine and appreciated, one would expect respect for sentiments and abstention from using casteist, hateful statements against a community. This has been a regular trend at most of APSC debates with fiery statements against ‘Brahmanical hegemony’ and ‘Brahmanical invasion of South India’. We would still maintain that such statements at an individual level are fine and stifling them would clearly amount to curtailing freedom of speech. Although for an organization, funded and nurtured by IIT Madras, whose voice is said to represent the voice of the student body of IIT Madras, to make such statements is atrocious and unacceptable.

During the much hyped and televised debates on the issue, we have seen many statements from the members of APSC, and from ill-informed reporters looking for a scandal which suggests that there is a lack of freedom of speech in IIT Madras and that there is stifling of debates on issues, due to the fear of government repression. However, does freedom of speech amount to the institute funding a group which makes casteist, political statements, and distributes pamphlets which says ‘Manu Dharma reigns in the campus?’ See poster ‘Manu Dharma. Even though a different group’s name is on it, this was shared by the body on their FB page:

Manu Dharma Reigns IIT Madras

The body, APSC, has been de-recognised for the simple reason that they did not follow standard procedures common for all such institute bodies while conducting their activities. Their activities can be termed as nothing short of divisive and politically motivated. If the institute is not authorized to stop providing money and infrastructure meant for educational purposes to a political body, then we don’t see any relevance for Smriti Iranian administration, in the first place. It is pertinent to note, contrary to popular perception, the institute was not acting on the direction of MHRD.

The MHRD merely asked for comments on this particular issue which was brought to their notice by a student. The letter which was sent contained no instructions, or requests for banning the body. The truth is that the body has not been banned in the institute, unlike what members of APSC and the media howl about. They have merely been de-recognised. They are free to conduct their activities on their own. They merely cannot use the name of IITM in their pamphlets and communication (as they have been doing), and they do not get institutional funding for their activities.

De-recognising a body that has not only misused institutional funding and carried an unapologetic political agenda in the name of fostering discussion but also made despicable comments against a religion/specific castes was the least that could have been done by the institute. Members of the organization should stop using ‘Death to freedom of speech’ as a mask and a rallying cry for their own protection. And the media, for once, should check out the facts of the issue before sensationalizing the issue. – Swarajya, 30 May 2015.

» The IITM students who wrote this article wish to remain anonymous.
» The Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle statement is here.

Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle

3 Responses

  1. IIT Madras versus Aligarh Muslim University: Dissent or Hypocrisy? – Niti Guest – Niti Central – 1 June 2015

    “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” – Groucho Marx

    This definition of politics – correct or not – suits the Opposition today the most. For the way they have manufactured controversy at IIT Madras.

    Facts first

    More than a year ago, IITM’s Dean of Students approved the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC) as an “Independent Student Body”. The approval was conditional upon the group following the prescribed code of conduct. The Dean of Students, who has now taken the decision to withdraw the approval, apparently was also the Faculty Advisor of APSC.

    Responding to IITM students’ complaint about APSC’s distribution of controversial pamphlets and creating hatred atmosphere among the students in the campus, MHRD asked for the institution’s comment. IITM derecognized the group, alleging that the APSC specifically violated two of the seven guidelines – ‘not informing the faculty advisor about their activities, or getting posters and other promotional material approved by him and using IITM’s name and logo on publicity material without adequate permission’.

    IITM merely withdrew the approval to use IIT’s name and logo on publicity material. IITM didn’t ban the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC).

    Why unnecessary to make it political

    It is a matter of simple disciplinary action by an educational institution whose vision is to be in dynamic equilibrium with its social, ecological and economic environment. Anyone, associated with the institution, who does propaganda – using institution’s funds or infrastructure – attacking a religion or a community, violates the sanctity of that vision.

    These are not even the general guidelines on the premise of which the IITM has withdrawn approval; this is what the first words which introduce the IITM mean.

    Even if we talk about the legality of rights to students bodies to engage in such activities, there is a problem. In ‘Kerala Students Union vs Sojan Francis on 20 February, 2004’, the Kerala High Court held that “once students are admitted to an educational institution they are bound by the code of conduct laid down by the educational institutions through the prospectus or college calendar and it is implicit that they should observe the code of conduct necessary for the proper administration and management of the institution…wisdom of laying down those restrictions cannot be challenged by the student after getting admitted to the educational institution. The right to admission not being absolute there could be regulatory measures for ensuring educational standards and maintaining excellence in education.”

    While the APSC has claimed that they only facilitated “the healthy discussion on socioeconomic issues on scientific basis to promote the scientific temper among the student”, a postgraduate student at IITM Aditya Narayanan posted in The Fifth Estate – campus news body:

    APSC group could be more inviting to those holding contrarian views by moderating the tone of the language used. Otherwise, they would only be attracting people who are already convinced of their arguments, cutting themselves off from the rest of the campus community and defeating the very purpose of beginning a dialogue.

    This proves there is strong difference of opinion on the issue among the IITM students themselves.

    How Opposition turned into a controversy

    Lack of issues to attack the Modi Government at the national level has landed the dirty tricks department of the Congress in a petty confrontation between an educational institution and a student body.

    PL Punia is the Chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes which has sought an explanation from the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras for de-recognizing the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle. Hence, Congress is exploiting a Constitutional body by using its stooges it placed in high positions.

    DMK, which has its origins in the Periyar’s Dravidian Movement, is bound by political compulsions to support and protest in favour of the APSC controversy which has been painted in colours of casteism now.

    The radical left parties who are losing their ground faster than their leaders losing their position in Delhi have finally got some fodder for survival.

    Hence, the protest by these political outfits is political vendetta. But, at the expense of disrepute to a prestigious institution and furthering caste divide!

    No violation of freedom of expression

    There has been a lot of hue and cry over the argument that this is a violation of freedom of expression. Well, the so-called ‘protectors’ of freedom of expression, think again! A High Court decree will disappoint you. In the Kerala Students union case mentioned above, the Kerala high court said:

    We are of the view, guideline (9) banning political activities within the campus and forbidding the students from organizing or attending meetings other than the official ones within the campus is not designed to prohibit any of the fundamental rights of the students guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) or 19(1)(c).

    Media bias

    Once again, the media has done its bit in blowing the non-issue out of proportion. While media’s bias against the Modi Government and a particular community has come out in the open on more than one occasion. Non-existent coverage of the recent disturbing events at Aligarh Muslim University by the highly ‘aware’ 24*7 media highlights the bias in the present context. There was hardly any report on AMU professor’s alleged statement “We want removal of madarsa… Where homo sexuality is rampant…Maulanas are part of it.” The professor who has been teaching at AMU for around 30 years added that condition of Muslim youth will only improve if madrasas are banned.

    The human rights cheerleaders and thekedars of women empowerment didn’t utter a word when Asma Javed, who made headlines four years ago when she became the first woman to run for student body president at the Aligarh Muslim University, was found dead in her apartment on May 13.

    The vanguards of anti-corruption movements haven’t debated even once the alleged corruption at the AMU. On the basis of a preliminary report of an enquiry committee, AMU on May 28, cancelled the results of MBBS and BDS entrance test for the year 2015-16 conducted on April 26.

    This Opposition, scoring political points at the expense of social harmony, is far from being a healthy Opposition. This politically correct media discredits its role as the fourth pillar of democracy.

    The combination of desperate Opposition and biased media doesn’t bode well for the nation.

  2. Something awry in IIT Madras: The full story – Radha Rajan

    Student activism and disruptive intellectualism inside IIT Madras is beginning to look dangerously like student rowdyism bordering on violence.

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