Organisers of the cancelled lecture by Islamic scholar Amina Wadud at Madras University said that the first objections to the programme had been raised a few weeks ago.
“We had sent out invites of the function to a few community debaters. While we received many confirmations, we also got an email from a representative of a Muslim outfit. The mail expressed shock over us inviting someone who does not accept the Quran completely, supports homosexuality and mixed prayer congregations,” said a source from the department of Islamic Studies.
“A day before the talk, when the vice-chancellor and two other professors received a text message from the police seeking cancellation of the event, we spent a long time trying to convince university officials that we should not buckle under pressure,” said a faculty member. However, officials dismissed the matter and said that the event should be cancelled since it was a police warning, he added.
University officials, however, said they decided to cancel the event only to ensure there were no problems.
On Wednesday, a group of faculty tried to convince the vice-chancellor and other senior officials to send out an apology note and once again invite Prof. Wadud but were asked not to talk about the issue. “The administration does not seem to understand that the incident marked the humiliation of a respected academic and violation of our rights,” said a professor. Support for the initiative also seems to be muted with only six faculty members condemning the move publicly.
Incidentally, this is not the first time the department has reached out to Prof. Wadud. “We wanted her to conduct workshops as early as 2011, when the curriculum was revamped, and contemporary Islamic Studies was included as a subject,” said a senior student. An application to enable her visit was sent to the university even then, but there was no reply. “So this time, when she announced she was coming to India, we wanted to make sure we did not miss the opportunity,” the student added.
The problem is made worse by the fact that the university provides very little money for such programmes. “There are no funds earmarked for hosting foreign scholars. So we often depend on external agencies to organise such programmes,” said a faculty member.
Seventy activists, filmmakers, artists and writers have also hit out at the university for giving in to police “warnings”. Meanwhile, many students of the university have decided to go to Calicut to meet the Prof. Wadud.
V-C rejects criticism
In a separate communication, University of Madras vice-chancellor R. Thandavan sought to reject criticism that the institution had failed to defend its academic freedom. The university, he said, stood for providing opportunity for free and fair academic discussions on relevant and contemporary issues.
“The University of Madras has always been a platform for such discussions and debates among scholars and academicians.”
Prof. Thandavan said the University cancelled the event on the advice of law and order agencies. “I am sure the public will understand the cancelling of the event was an administrative compulsion and not a choice for an academician like me.” Having organised various events on crucial issues on society, he had been in the forefront of academic freedom, he added, rejecting criticism about his academic and administrative credentials from some quarters.