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IISc, Bangaluru, 'undermining' critical inquiry: Faculty, students, scholars tell director

Counterview Desk 

Faculty and students of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, among others, in a representation to Prof Govindan Rangarajan, director of IISc, protesting against the administration to stop a discussion on the “Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), Prisons and the Criminal Justice System”, in which two young activists, Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, were to speak, have said the move “damaged IISc’s reputation, both within the country and internationally.”
The two activists shot into prominence after they participated in the movement against the Citizenship Amendment Act, leading to their arrested under the anti-terror law UAPA accused of being part of a “larger conspiracy” in the Delhi riots case. Both were set free on bail in June 2021.
Worse, the representation said, when the student-organizers of the event decided to replace the talk with an informal interaction outside the designated building, the administration “dispatched members of the security team to disperse this informal gathering.” The act “reflects poorly on its commitment to upholding academic freedom and democratic values”, it added.

Text:

We are a group of scientists and academics. Our group includes members of IISc, alumni and well-wishers of IISc from other institutions.
We are writing to express our dismay at the actions taken by the IISc administration to stop a discussion on the “Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, Prisons and the Criminal Justice System” that was to be led by Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita on 28 June.
We understand that this event was initially planned as a talk at the Centre for Continuing Education (CCE) that had been approved by the CCE chair. On 27 June, the Registrar of IISc abruptly canceled permission for the talk. This led the student-organizers of the event to replace the talk with an informal interaction outside the Sarvam complex. At this point, the administration dispatched members of the security team to disperse this informal gathering. It was only after the intervention of members of the IISc faculty that the security team backtracked.
Natasha and Devangana are activists who participated in the movement against the Citizenship Amendment Act. In 2020, they were arrested under the UAPA and accused of being part of a “larger conspiracy” in the Delhi riots case. However, while releasing them on bail, the Delhi High court noted that “in its anxiety to suppress dissent … the State has blurred the line between the constitutionally guaranteed ‘right to protest’ and ‘terrorist activity’. If such blurring gains traction, democracy would be in peril.” Their bail was recently upheld by the Supreme Court.
We believe that it is important for members of IISc to hear about Natasha and Devangana’s experience and to reflect on the laws that were used to incarcerate them. Regardless of one’s perspective, such discussions are crucial in a functioning democracy and IISc, as an academic institution, is ideally positioned to host them. Conversely, if the institute is unwilling to permit peaceful discussions on constitutional questions, it is hard to see how it can foster a spirit of critical inquiry that is necessary for scientific work.
The actions of the administration reflect poorly on its commitment to upholding academic freedom and democratic values. They have damaged IISc’s reputation, both within the country and internationally. We hope that you will take urgent corrective measures and ensure that members of IISc remain free to express and discuss a range of ideas, both about science, and about the society that we live in.
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