A Case for Dignified Debate

 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the articles are those of the individual authors only. The Fifth Estate does not endorse any of the views mentioned in the article. The views are not to be construed in any manner as the official views of IIT Madras

The recent move by the administration to de-recognize the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC) has caught the attention of the media and there has been a nationwide debate regarding this. Due to misinformation from several quarters, many students feel that we have significantly digressed from the matter at hand. Rather than debate the validity of the contents of the pamphlets, I seek to address a few ethical issues concerning the whole affair.

The first question to be asked is this – suppose we have a group composed of people who share a particular subjective opinion. Does that opinion become the opinion of the ‘group’?
The answer, in general, is NO.[1] This especially is the case when the said group/institution has a well-defined constitution.  Freedom of expression ensures the people involved in the group have a right to their opinion. But, that need not be the case for the group/institution itself. Government institutions like Public Works Department, for example, have no right to have a political opinion even though government employees can have it.

IIT Madras is a government institution. It cannot have political opinions of its own, as any  government agency cannot have a political affiliation. It also cannot act on the basis of subjective statements without the basis of facts. But, it can organize debates concerning political issues where students with different opinions can interact. (For example, the EML team has invited speakers from across the political spectrum and has remained neutral as a team). This is indeed necessary for their intellectual development.  When a group is a recognized student body of a government institution and is allowed permission to use its resources, it is presumed that it will respect the rules and restrictions laid down for them — including taking a political stance consistent with its constitution after necessary approval from the Dean/Faculty-advisor.

Consider the claims in some of their posters.

“The Modi government, while carrying forward its Hindutva agenda, it is [sic] simultaneously assisting the multinational corporates loot mother India.”
— from the pamphlet “Contemporary Relevance of Dr.Ambedkar”

 

“But in the contemporary days, when caste is supporting the economic exploitation, it can only be annihilated by taking forward struggle against caste simultaneously with the struggle against re-colonization”.
— from the pamphlet “Contemporary Relevance of Dr.Ambedkar”

 

“The promotion of Sanskrit as knowledge source and their try[sic] to establish through mythological claims as science and tech are part of Brahmanical hegemony, the core of Hindutva politics of BJP/RSS.”
— from the pamphlet “Contemporary Relevance of Dr.Ambedkar”

 

“In the name of ‘swadesi’ they (the Modi government) are selling mother India and dividing her children in the name of communalsim [sic]”
— from the pamphlet “Name boards – A Hindutva Project”

 

From the official statement given by the DoSt and IIT Madras, I infer that such statements from group were the reasons for de-recognition of the group. While these can be valid opinions of a person/ an independent group of people, this cannot be the opinion of a recognized student body which uses the institute’s name since these are heavily contested and politically charged claims. The same issues can be discussed in a much better way while retaining the respect for the debate itself. Consider the poster ‘’Manu Dharma reigns at IIT Madras’’. The fact they shared the poster on Facebook cannot be held against them – it could have been to endorse only a part of it. There is also no issue if they made a valid case, based on facts and sound arguments, for reservations here. But, if they supported the statements like ‘’Manu Dharma Reigns at IIT M’’ – that would be unethical.

The second question to be asked is – are they inviting debate in an acceptable manner? The APSC claims to be about “the healthy discussion on socioeconomic issues on scientific basis to promote the scientific temper among the student which is allowed by the Indian constitution”. The institute has recognized this body to do exactly what is claimed in the APSC’s constitution.  But statements like 1-4 hardly invoke rational debate. Prima facie, these seem merely politically motivated without sufficient proof.

How can the same issues be discussed in a better way? Consider the first claim. It can be restated as follows to encourage debate and discussion:
‘’There are several facts and indicators <insert relevant facts> to show that the government’s policies are helping the corporates disproportionately and disregarding the interests of the poor. Hindutva ideology, followed by the ruling party, might lead to majoritarianism. Let us discuss the issue.’’ – This statement seems coherent with the stated agenda of the group and with the dignity expected at our institute.

As for MHRD’s actions, it is standard government procedure to ask for comments from the respective department when a complaint is filed. This circular  gives the standard procedure to deal with the anonymity of complainants. If this is taken into account, it is possible that the MHRD knows the identity of the complainant and has verified their identity but has withheld the information to protect them as per the Public Interest Disclosure & Protection of Informers’ Resolution -2004 (PIDPI). Given this, MHRD’s enquiry is entirely justified.

The inquiry by the Board of Students regarding this is still pending where the said group will be allowed to present their stand. In light of the evidence in terms of the posters, and the call for comments by the MHRD, the provisional derecognition by the institute seems fair. I find it appalling that several people have misrepresented the facts claiming that the group was “banned” because of their opposition to our Prime Minister. This is not a debate about the ideas of Dr. Ambedkar or about the government of Mr. Modi, but about basic ethics and decorum to be followed by a responsible student group in an institute like ours.

To conclude,  I would love to be a part of the debates and discussions regarding the issues raised by APSC and sincerely hope that they can articulate their views better in the future.

 

Dheeraj M. N., is a final-year Dual Degree student n the Electrical Engineering Department

 

[1] In fact, in a famous Supreme Court decision, it was stated that certain aspects of Indian constitution cannot be amended despite the majority in the parliament. Suppose, hypothetically, a large majority of the people decide that they are against democracy and feel that communism is better. They cannot amend the constitution to make India non-democratic by imposing their personal opinions.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual authors only. The Fifth Estate does not endorse any of the views mentioned in the article. The views are not to be construed in any manner as the official views of IIT Madras.
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