The issue of free speech has now reached the door of Delhi’s St Stephen’s College, with the institution suspending a student, Devansh Mehta, in connection with starting an online magazine and the unsavoury incidents that followed.
The chain of events has been such that at each stage there was scope for resolving the matter amicably but it is regrettable that neither side showed any sign of reconciliation.
First, it was the online publication that was banned. Apparently the provocation was that it had an interview of the principal, Valson Thampu, without his approval. Then a one-member committee was set up to look into the matter.
While this was underway, the philosophy department, to which the suspended student belonged, announced an award for him for his conduct and performance, but the principal cancelled it.
Then some students reacted by bringing out a spoof on the principal, and finally this led to Mehta’s suspension. He has now challenged the magazine ban in the Delhi High Court, which has stayed his suspension.
Even after so much has happened it is still mystifying as to what the offence of the student was.
It cannot be said that in either of the two cases — starting the e-magazine or putting up the spoof — Mehta was the only person involved, even though he could have had a central role in both. Also the question remains what was so offensive in it that it had to be banned.
If not taking the principal’s approval was the only lapse, it was a minor one for which no disciplinary action was really required. If there was any offending material in the magazine, the students could have been asked to remove it.
Instead of exploring easy options, the college administration instituted a panel, which even the teaching community found unnecessary. Cancelling the award, which is based on long-term performance, only amounted to linking it with the magazine episode.
The students too made an act of transgression by involving the Delhi chief minister and the judiciary.
A college is a place where students learn to think independently, and this enhances a college’s reputation. In many colleges there is an official magazine, whose publication is funded by the college itself.
But there is no harm if some students on their initiative publish something that is not profane or offensive. This is something that is not injurious to discipline in any manner.
By acting in the manner they did, the college authorities have proved they too have been infected by the climate of intolerance prevailing in the country, which is certainly not healthy. It is now for Mr Thampu to put his best foot forward and bring the whole thing to a close.