Leading centres of South Asia teaching and research in universities in the United Kingdom have issued a strong statement of protest over police action against students in the campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) that took place on February 12.
The letter, issued on Thursday through Indian and British media outlets, states: “Institutes and centres with dedicated faculty members engaged in teaching and research on India and South Asia in universities in the U.K. are watching with increasing concern the events that are unfolding at Jawaharlal Nehru University [JNU], New Delhi, including the detention and suspension of students.”
Signed by entire such centres
Significantly, the letter is signed not by individual academics but by entire centres of teaching and research on South Asia.
The institutions who are signatories to the letter are: the South Asia Institute, SOAS University of London; Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Edinburgh; King’s India Institute, King’s College London; Institute of Asia and Pacific Studies, University of Nottingham; Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme, School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies (SIAS), University of Oxford; Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge; and School of International Development, University of East Anglia.
The London School of Economics, traditionally a hotbed of politics and protest finds representation through its Gender Institute, and not by the South Asia Centre, which was established at LSE in 2015.
"Though not institutionally represented in this statement, several academics affiliated to the South Asia Centre had signed an earlier letter by 400 academics protesting the police action."
Police action on the JNU campus on February 12 was “a direct attack on JNU’s internationally renowned tradition of critical thinking, dissent, scholarship, and debate,” the signatories state.
“We stand beside the international scholars who have signed the 15 February 2016 statement in solidarity (http://kafila.org) with the students, faculty and staff of JNU. We condemn the presence of police on campus and the harassment of students on the basis of their political beliefs.”
Universities have a “duty of care to protect their students,” a lesson that the “tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula at the University of Hyderabad” illustrates.
“An open, tolerant, and democratic society is inextricably linked to the freedoms of thought and expression cultivated by universities in India and abroad. We have long valued JNU for its critical imagination and critical scholarship, which have been nurtured by the plurality of political beliefs and activism on its campus,” the signatories note. They urged the Vice Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University to “protect members of the university community and the freedom of expression and democratic dissent which is a hallmark of JNU’s history and reputation globally.”