Dileep Padgaonkar may be good enough for the Government of India which appointed him its interlocutor for J&K, but the noted journalist might not be allowed to speak about his experiences at Symbiosis University's seminar on Kashmir, as the institute wants to remain "apolitical".
After several right-wing organisations opposed the event, alleging that it was “separatist,” Symbiosis University has now postponed its seminar, ‘Voices of Kashmir', indefinitely.
The institute will “revisit and rethink” the content and make it “more balanced” as several organisations approached it “raising concerns over the anti-India sentiments the event would evoke,” Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce Principal Hrishikesh Soman told The Hindu.
On Monday morning, Symbiosis Founder-Director S.B. Mujumdar held a meeting with the Hindu Janjagriti Samiti and Panun Kashmir supported by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), and agreed to alter the contents of the three-day seminar, earlier scheduled for February 3, 4 and 5.
Mr. Soman said though politics was an important part of life in Kashmir, Symbiosis wanted to keep it separate. “An educational institute is not a proper forum, a platform to discuss this. If the seminar turns political, we will stop it immediately.” He said the panel of speakers and the entire schedule would be reworked. This is perhaps the reason why Mr. Padgaonkar, who was earlier listed as the keynote speaker, might not be a part of the event after all.
Speaking to The Hindu over telephone, Mr. Padgaonkar said any issue related to Kashmir was political. He was scheduled to talk about the process of preparing a report on Jammu and Kashmir as a government-appointed interlocutor. “The essence of democratic debate is to discuss the various points in a healthy manner. Even speaking about culture in a place like Kashmir involves talking about human rights and development. In principle, the bluff must be called on any attempt to prevent a healthy debate,” he said.
Postponement a mutual decision: Symbiosis
Reiterating that his institute has not “bowed down” to pressure, Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce Principal Hrishikesh Soman said the decision to postpone the seminar, ‘Voices of Kashmir', was taken “mutually over an open and friendly chat” with several organisations. “The organisations felt that the event should be more inclusive. We do not want any unnecessary controversy. If these people are so passionate about the issue, then there must be some valid reason. We, as academicians, want to listen to their views and respect them.”
Asked if such interference in educational institutes was a dangerous trend, Mr. Soman said: “As a responsible institute, we feel that the larger goal of students being more awareness of Kashmir, getting exposure to the music, food, literature and media in Kashmir is more important.”
The postponement of the seminar comes two days after the institute cancelled the screening of Sanjay Kak's film on Kashmir, Jashn-e-Azadi, as the right-wing ABVP had objected to it.
Sunil Dhar, a member of Panun Kashmir, told The Hindu: “Sanjay Kak's film on Kashmir, Jashn-e-Azadi, shows the atrocities by the Indian Army. This is completely anti-national. We had a doubt that even the seminar would have the same tone. We were told that the organisers themselves hadn't watched the film. So we met Symbiosis Founder-Director S.B. Mujumdar and he said the seminar would be postponed, and that he would look into the content himself.”