Vandalism in M.S. University: academics' plea

Special Correspondent

Urge Manmohan to intervene

"Incident is an assault on university autonomy"Seek reinstatement of Dean

NEW DELHI: Eminent academics have urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene and ensure that an independent enquiry is ordered into the vandalism in the Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda in May.

In a letter to Dr. Singh, they demanded that either the Governor, in his capacity as Chancellor of the University, or the University Grants Commission be asked to set up such a committee.

Freedom of expression

Expressing the academic community's concern over the violation of freedom of expression at the university, historian Romila Thapar and the former Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University, Deepak Nayyar, wrote to the President in May.

In their representation to the Prime Minister, written on June 10, they are joined by sociologist Andre Betaille.

Recalling the incident, they said members of a political party were permitted to enter the university, destroy the work submitted for examination by an Arts Faculty student and get him arrested. "When the Dean [Shivaji K. Panikkar] intervened to protect the student, he was suspended by the Vice-Chancellor."

This, according to the academics, was not only an attack on freedom of expression but also an assault on university autonomy.

State subject

Conceding that higher education was a State subject and M.S. University was not a central university, the three academics noted: "Even so, we are writing to you because we believe that actions such as these are not confined to a single State. They can quite easily become a mechanism of curbing the pursuit of independent knowledge at a university."

Also, in their opinion, this was not the university's internal matter, as it involved outside intervention in its functions. "Therefore, an enquiry conducted internally by the university cannot suffice. A pre-condition of such an enquiry is that the Dean be reinstated and the charges against the student be withdrawn, pending enquiry."

As the actions of the Vice-Chancellor were under scrutiny, he should not be involved in its constitution. And, the committee should include academics and concerned citizens from other universities and States, they said.

Of the view that such an independent committee would set the right precedent, they said: "University functionaries, even in universities that are not central universities, should not be allowed to behave in an authoritarian manner and should be reminded that there is a wider university community beyond the particular State and its government to which they are accountable."

Unaware of any follow-up action that may have been initiated by the President in response to their letter, the academics said they were seeking Dr. Singh's intervention not just in his capacity as Prime Minister "but also as a person who has been a distinguished academic and recognises the sanctity of university autonomy."

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