news Monday, June 01, 2015 - 05:30
Prof Bhaskar Ramamurthi Director – IIT Madras Chennai 31 May 2015 Respected Sir, I write to you to express my shock at the events which have culminated in the derecognition of the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle student group at IIT Madras. As a Member of Parliament representing Tamil Nadu, I am deeply saddened by the developments which have taken place in our state, which is the birth place of rationalism and home to the social reformist Periyar. The Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle was functioning as a recognized voluntary student group and had taken up a great initiative to discuss important, contemporary social issues. Some of these issues such as caste-based discrimination and the pathways to social justice form the bedrock of our post-independence political discourse. When students, especially those who are studying at the best institutions in this country, are engaging with such issues, they deserve our unflinching support. I find the decision of IIT Madras to derecognize the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle to be objectionable, unfair and unsustainable. Firstly, a ban on a student group for professing a certain ideology and belief is a direct attack on the scientific temper that IITs were built to propagate. Furthermore, it is said that one of the reasons for the derecognition is that this student group engages in “controversial activities”. Such a stance would be entirely unjustified on our part as community leaders, where on the one hand we strive to promote equality in society-at-large but penalize students for doing the same within the university campus. Also, I find the action taken to be wholly unsustainable, as it violates the basic principles of natural justice. It has been reported that the members of the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle were not even given an opportunity to respond to the allegations made in the anonymous letter addressed to the Ministry of Human Resource Development. By taking this decision in great haste, you have struck a mighty blow at the roots of our democratic traditions. Universities are institutions of higher learning and their ultimate purpose cannot be achieved when the freedom of speech and expression of students is curtailed. Instead, IIT Madras must create spaces where meaningful discussions, debates and deliberations can take place, without fear or favour. We often say that today's students are tomorrow's leaders. This is especially true in Tamil Nadu, where past student movements have brought about some of the most important political and social changes, beginning from the anti-Hindi imposition struggle to the most recent protests in support of net neutrality. It is during the college years that political opinions are formed and young people become informed voters in our democracy. Often, it is these young voters who determine the course of politics in our country. It would be meaningless to expect them to play a role in deciding the Government, if they are not even allowed to engage in social issues or or have opinions about Government policies. Of late, a number of incidents have taken place in our state which have made us realize the importance of the Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression. Authors such as Perumal Murugan and Puliyur Murugesan have been at the receiving end of the intolerance of the self-appointed guardians of societal norms. A television channel came under attack for a show on the relevance of 'thaali' in modern society. Today, as a society, one of our biggest challenges is to ensure how this basic fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution can be protected. Here, I am reminded of the words of one of the greatest thinkers, Albert Einstein, who said: “ Laws alone cannot secure freedom of expression; in order that every man may present his views without penalty, there must be a spirit of tolerance in the entire population.” With this in mind, I strongly urge upon you to rescind your decision to derecognize the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle immediately and ensure that no punitive action is taken against the students who belong to this group. We look up to the IITs to not just build better technology, but build a better society too. Sincerely, Kanimozhi Member of Parliament, DMK      

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