We denounce Hindutva’s assault on academic freedom at the Manipal Association of Higher Education

InSAF India denounces Hindutva’s assault on academic freedom at the Manipal Association of Higher Education

In May 2021, Professor Deepa Kumar, a faculty member at the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University, USA, was due to record a Tedx talk on Islamophobia, her area of expertise, for the students of Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), Manipal, India. The recording was to be played on 30 May, followed by discussion and Q&A session with the speaker.

The talk was organized by students following guidelines set by Tedx. However, as soon as the talk was advertised, a Hindu right-wing campaign was launched, vilifying Dr Kumar and demanding that the invitation to speak be withdrawn. Within twenty-four hours, the Vice Chancellor of MAHE, who is known to be a keen supporter of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, cancelled the talk. At the very least, what may have been an opportunity to engage in discussion and exchange of ideas was shut down in an authoritarian manner -- the antithesis of the role a university plays in society.

Dr Kumar was going to speak about her book Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire (2021). The

Vice Chancellor and many others had seen copies of her speech. Yet, they chose not to give any explanation for cancelling the talk. What remained in social media, on the other hand, was a vicious hate campaign against Dr Kumar, characterizing her as a “terrorist” for participating in a panel in the World Social Forum on Palestine, Kashmir, and Iraq in 2004. The bullies on social media carried the day with the full backing of the authorities. Manipal University became just another microcosm of Hindutva politics at large, where mob violence flourishes under the protection of those at the helm, whether a university, in this case, or the nation itself. Overall, it creates an atmosphere of fear, mistrust, and radical isolation that tears our social fabric apart.

Such incidents of shrinking academic freedom are unacceptable and InSAF India condemns the silencing of the voices of the students and faculty of MAHE. Each instance of targeted bullying by Hindutva groups is an assault on the intellectual and scholarly mission of the university with an increased risk of violence against faculty and students who are supportive of academic freedom.

InSAF India and India Civil Watch International have collaborated to provide an online safe-space platform for the event and will host Professor Kumar’s talk on 13 September 2021 that will be open to MAHE students and the public. More details about this event will be published in due course. Please get in touch with InSAF India for further information or sign up to our newsletter for updates.

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