Restriction on academic freedom


After e comes f. Similarly, education is a road to freedom. Leo Tolstoy rightly said that the only purpose of education is freedom. Then what is the purpose of education when academic freedom is restricted?

In the 2023 Academic Freedom Index, India is among 22 countries (out of 179) where institutions and scholars enjoy “significantly less freedom today than 10 years ago.”

But is there any sign of improvement after the publication of the report in February last year? Recently, over 600 alumni of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) criticised their alma mater over the two-year suspension of a Dalit scholar for taking part in an anti-government protest using the name of the institute.

The alumni urged the TISS administration to repeal the suspension of Ramadas Prini Sivanandan, who took part in a demonstration outside Parliament during a protest programme on the National Education Policy in January under the banner of the Progressive Students Forum, TISS.

The alumni in its statement said that the action by the TISS is opposite to the democratic values and constitutional ethos of social justice, inclusivity and free thought that have been instilled by the institute over generations.

There was another incident that happened at the TISS in January this year. The students of the institute organise the Bhagat Singh memorial lecture every year from 2018 onwards. It was held at the campus amphitheatre till 2020, before Covid forced a shift online in 2021 and 2022.

In 2023, human rights activist Harsh Mander was to speak at the event at the amphitheatre. But the institute denied permission. Thereafter, it was held online. The students informed the institute administration in December 2023 that in 2024 Magsaysay Award winner social activist Bezwada Wilson would deliver the lecture.

Interestingly, the institute, which had been regarded as a liberal campus, came up with a notice on 16 February, saying about the lecture, which was scheduled to be delivered on 17 February, “not to associate the above events with TISS in any capacity.”

However, the event was organised over Zoom by the Students Organising Committee, an independent forum of TISS students. Wilson, a campaigner for the eradication of manual scavenging and caste atrocities, delivered the Bhagat Singh Memorial lecture on ‘Human rights and constitutional values in contemporary times: Role of university and public’.

A student observed that the institute had been trying to restrict student-led activities for one year. The student further said, “In the name of issuing new guidelines, the institute has been creating hurdles before students’ activities. The students are major stakeholders and have a say in the institute. Efforts to curb their voice are undemocratic and unacceptable.”

India performed poorly in the academic freedom report about campus integrity because of political interference. The situation has been deteriorating further since the publication of the report.

Sabyasachi Das, an assistant professor at Ashoka University, resigned as a result of the controversy over his research paper on India’s democratic backsliding.

Recently, Unacademy, an online education platform, fired an instructor, Karan Sangwan, after a video of him talking to students about voting for educated candidates went viral. All these incidents are in sync with the Academic Freedom Index, which described the autonomy of Indian institutions to express views on political issues as very poor.

We must not forget Albert Einstein’s views about restriction on academic freedom. He said, “It is evident that any restriction on academic freedom acts in such a way as to hamper the dissemination of knowledge among the people and thereby impedes national judgement and action.”

Sujit De,