The Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IITB) has warned its students against engaging in religious preaching on campus, after authorities found some senior students and external organisations proselytising and distributing pamphlets outside the institute gate and hostels.
In an email to all the students at the premier institute, Soumyo Mukherjee, dean, students affair, wrote that these activities are against the rules and regulations of the hostels, adding those who participate in them will be punished.
Another email by editors of Insight, IITB’s in-house magazine, suggests there have been many recent instances of different religious and cultural groups from outside the institute visiting campus, with the help of senior students and staff and indulging students, especially freshmen, in proselytising activities.
“We came across multiple instances of pamphlet distribution around hostels and outside the main gate, inviting students to these group activities. These cultural groups claim to be conducting sessions to benefit students, but in truth have been found proselytising religious beliefs on campus,” read the mail.
According to sources, several groups cutting across religious lines are active on campus. While students belonging to Tableeghi Jamat — the movement to promote Islam — court other students in the hostels, Hindu neo-spiritual groups often promote workshops on yoga and stress management. Some Christian groups allegedly distribute pamphlets and a few Hindu students are said to be running a daily ‘shakha’ (meeting of the local unit) at IIT-B.
Mukherjee, who found out about these activities through some student mentors, said extreme religiosity could distract students from academics. “The students might not be studying and reading religious texts instead,” he said, adding that the institute is trying to reduce students’ overall involvement in extra-curricular activities.
While accepting that preaching one’s belief is a constitutional right, he said, “I don’t have problem with a discourse, but proselytising with the intention of converting someone is different. In a hostel, some constitutional rights have to be given up for the sake of discipline,” he said.
The decision has not gone down well with some students who believe that these activities are harmless. They point out that only a small group of students is involved in religious activities in a campus that is buzzing with all kinds of extra-curricular activities.
“IIT students are not robots. Just because they stay in a hostel, doesn’t mean they study for 24 hours a day. Some may go for movies, others may partake in religious activities,” said an MTech student.
A PhD student said the impact of such activities on academics can’t be generalised. “Some students become more focused in their study as religion keeps them away from useless activities. On the contrary, many students, who are involved in festivals such as Mood Indigo, lose out on academics,” he said.
However, some students agreed with the step taken by the institute. “We don’t know what these external groups are putting the students through,” said Shreeyash Menon, an editor of Insight.
Others suggested that grouped religious activities may lead to conflicts at the premier institute. “Unlike JNU, IIT-B is a technical institute. One should refrain from these activities to preserve its prestige,” said another PhD student.