The speakers were Stalin K, Nandini Sundar and Adhik Kadam.

Exclusive Did IIT Madras cancel lectures on social equity because the speakers were controversialImage: Adhik Kadam, Stalin K, Nandini Sundar/ Pic courtesy: Karthik Ranganathan
news Free Speech Thursday, September 14, 2017 - 17:47

The Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M) cancelled three lectures on the theme ‘social equity’ scheduled for the NSS Foundation Day. The organisers have said that the lectures were cancelled as all three were “controversial speakers”.    

Three speakers were invited to the event — Stalin K, a documentary filmmaker and human rights activist, Nandini Sundar, a professor of Delhi School of Economics and Social Activist and Adhik Kadam, a social entrepreneur and activist. The NSS Foundation Day celebration was supposed to be held on September 23, 2017.

Biyas Muhammed, an IIT student and who was part of the previous managerial NSS team, told TNM that all the three speakers had accepted the invite. “We conduct this programme every year. Last year we had called Bezwada Wilson (social activist). This year, the lectures were themed on social equity and the NSS team had invited Stalin, Adhik Kadam and Nandini Sundar. They had accepted the invitations also,” said Biyas.

On September 8, 2017, the IIT Madras Administration, led by the Dean of Students and Faculty Advisor of National Service Scheme (NSS), cancelled the lectures. “They informed the NSS team that speakers are controversial and did not elaborate any further on it. The NSS team members refused to send e-mails to the renowned speakers. The Faculty Advisor and Dean of Students said that they will send mails to the speakers,” said Biyas Muhammed.

The email stated, “The purpose of this email is to bring to your kind attention the fact that unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, we will not be able to hold your lecture. I am fully aware that, keeping in mind the request from our student volunteers, you must have cancelled or postponed other engagements. I am very sorry for that. We hope to find another opportunity to invite you at a later date. Thanks in advance for your understanding.”  

A member of NSS team confirmed the incident to TNM. A source from the NSS team said, “We had sent the invitation to the speakers and marked the faculty advisor in the mail. After we had invited Anand Patwardhan (documentary filmmaker) and Stalin K, the faculty advisor called us to his room, after the discussion, he told us nothing controversial or no ruckus should happen. So, we guaranteed him nothing will happen.” 

“We had mailed many people including Nandini Sundar and Adhik Kadam but the dean and the faculty advisor never objected to it. So, when we informed the faculty advisor about the speakers, he asked us to keep it on hold. First, they agreed and then rejected it. He told us that we need to take permission from dean and NSS is not an independent organisation. He claimed that these are controversial speakers. We told the faculty advisor that there won’t be any controversy, the speakers know how to speak at a non-political platform,” the IIT student.

However, in the end, the dean refused to allow the speakers to speak at the NSS foundation day, the student added.

Biyas says these speakers will not be invited at later date. “They have stated in the mail that these speakers will be invited at a later date, but that is not true and they are doing this to avoid controversy. They sent all the three speakers the same mail. Stalin also replied them if they could tell them what the unforeseen circumstances were but he added that he knows that they are not obliged to divulge it,” said Biyas.

However, the NSS team informed the faculty that they will not be able to call anybody for the lectures as it was too late. The faculty responded by saying that it was fine not to conduct any programme for the NSS foundation day. “Most of the students in NSS are afraid to question authority, they feel that action will be taken against them,” said Biyas.

“Two years ago, we had screened the documentary ‘India Untouched’ by Stalin K in the college and we had got a good response from the students. Last year, we had called Bezwada Wilson, he came and spoke about manual scavenging. But now, the administration has stated that there should not be lectures on caste and border issues. Earlier we used to inform faculty advisor about the lectures, now we need to take permission from faculty advisor and dean, they need to approve the list of speakers,” said Biyas.

However, the dean of IIT-Madras refused to comment on this matter and the communication officer has stated that they will respond after speaking to the NSS coordinator. The response will be added by TNM when received.

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