The IIT-Madras banned a Dalit students association following an anonymous complaint that it had criticised the Central government’s policies and spread “hatred” against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hindus.
The prestigious technical education institute acted after the Union human resource development ministry forwarded the complaint, which alleged the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC) was mobilising scheduled caste and scheduled tribe students against the government’s policy on the use of Hindi and the ban on beef.
Reacting to concerns that the ban amounted to curtailing the freedom of expression, the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras said on Friday that students groups were expect to adhere to certain guidelines. It said the APSC had violated these guidelines while conducting its meetings.
Reacting to the APSC’s contention that action was taken against it arbitrarily, IIT-Madras’ dean of students Sivakumar M Srinivasan said the group’s members will be given a hearing when the institute reopens after a break.
“IIT-Madras hasn't violated freedom of expression. The students group violated the guidelines of the IIT campus. The students will get a fair hearing after the institute reopens in August. IIT-Madras stands by its students,” Srinivasan told the media.
The human resource development ministry conducted an inquiry following the complaint, which enclosed one of APSC's pamphlets reproducing parts of a speech by Dravidian University professor RV Gopal that accused the NDA government of favouring big business and criticised several bills.
The pamphlet mentioned the ‘ghar wapsi’ programme of right wing groups and the ban on beef in some states. The complaint claimed the APSC was trying to create hatred against the “Prime Minister and Hindus.”
Prisca Mathew, under secretary in the human resource development ministry, wrote to the management of IIT-Madras on May 15 and sought a response to the complaint.
Mathew wrote in her letter: "I am directed to forward herewith a copy of anonymous letter alleging serious complaints received from students, IIT-Madras, along with pamphlet issued by Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle on the above mentioned subject and to request that comments of the institute may please be sent to this ministry at an early date."
A week later, IIT-Madras’ dean of students Srinivasan sent an email on May 22 to coordinators of the APSC that said the group had been "derecognized" for “misuse of privileges”.
Srinivasan said members of APSC failed to follow the code of conduct for student bodies which states that activities should have the dean’s approval. “The members did not go through me or take my permission for the posters or the activity,” he said, referring to posters mentioned in the complaint.
Members of the APSC dismissed the dean’s allegations that the association was involved in “divisive” activities. They pointed out the group had not misused any facilities.
They further said the action by the human resource development ministry and the IIT was based on an anonymous complaint by right-wing groups and they were denied a chance to explain their position.
The APSC was formed as a discussion forum on April 14, 2014 to promote the teachings of social reformers BR Ambedkar and Periyar EV Ramasamy and had arranged discussions on political, economic and social issues, the members said.
On Thursday, the APSC sent a letter to IIT-Madras director Bhaskar Ramamurthi against the “unilateral” and “undemocratic” decision to ban the association.
“…our organisation is engaged in propagating Ambedkar and Periyar thoughts, in helping depressed castes and the caste Hindus to realise the evilness of caste-based discrimination taking place in modern India and expose the ideology functioning behind such discrimination,” the letter said.