IISc's reputation damaged: Academicians, students protest cancellation of discussion on UAPA

The discussion on "Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), Prisons and the Criminal Justice System" was scheduled on June 28 but was cancelled a day before by the IISc administration

Representative Photo (Photo: IANS)
Representative Photo (Photo: IANS)


More than 500 scientists, academicians and students have written to the Bengaluru-based IISc expressing dismay over the cancellation of a discussion on anti-terror law UAPA that was to be led by student activists Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita.

In their letter, they said "regardless of one's perspective, such discussions are crucial in a functioning democracy", and the move has damaged the institution's reputation globally.

Besides students and academicians in the country, the signatories to the letter included some from foreign institutions such as Michigan State University, University of California, Cornell University, Imperial College London, University of Cambridge, Seoul National University and Princeton University.

The letter, however, clarifies that the institutional affiliations have been provided only for purposes of identification and the signatories do not reflect the views of these institutes. More than 100 signatories are students and postdoctoral fellows.

Narwal and Kalita had participated in protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. In 2020, they were arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for allegedly being part of a "larger conspiracy" in the Delhi riots case. They were released on bail by the Delhi High Court.

"We believe that it is important for members of IISc to hear about Natasha and Devangana's experience and to reflect on the laws that were used to incarcerate them. Regardless of one’s perspective, such discussions are crucial in a functioning democracy and IISc, as an academic institution, is ideally positioned to host them," the letter to Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Director Govindan Rangarajan read.

The discussion on "Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), Prisons and the Criminal Justice System" was scheduled on June 28 but was cancelled a day before by the IISc administration.

"Conversely, if the institute is unwilling to permit peaceful discussions on constitutional questions, it is hard to see how it can foster a spirit of critical inquiry that is necessary for scientific work," the letter read.

The actions of the administration reflect poorly on its "commitment to upholding academic freedom and democratic values", it read.

"They have damaged IISc's reputation, both within the country and internationally. We hope that you will take urgent corrective measures and ensure that members of IISc remain free to express and discuss a range of ideas, both about science, and about the society that we live in," the letter read.

There was no reaction available from Rangarajan on the incident and the letter.

The signatories also included some from University of Washington, University of British Columbia, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo and University of Glasgow.

While releasing Narwal and Kalita on bail, the Delhi High court had noted that "in its anxiety to suppress dissent … the State has blurred the line between the constitutionally guaranteed 'right to protest' and 'terrorist activity'". "If such blurring gains traction, democracy would be in peril", the court had said.

Their bail was recently upheld by the Supreme Court.

On the letter, Congress MP Jairam Ramesh said the academicians offer a "beacon of hope in these most trying of times".

"The courage of the academics must be applauded. They offer a beacon of hope in these most trying of times. It is not the first time that distinguished members of our scientific community have fearlessly come out in defence of democratic values enshrined in our Constitution. They have earlier challenged obscurantism and the assault on scientific temper which has the tacit backing of the ruling establishment in New Delhi," he tweeted.

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