ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Academic Freedom and Kashmir

The Kashmir University campus has been declared out of bounds for the media and the vice-chancellor has instructed university teachers to keep away from the media and avoid expressing their opinions on political matters. This is nothing short of an assault on academic freedom and fundamental rights and the silence of the national media on it mirrors the media's indifference to all the other outrages perpetrated in Kashmir.

It is not only India’s secularism and democracy which are barred from crossing the Pir Panjal range in Kashmir, so is its academic freedom. The silence of India’s media and academia on the recent assaults on academic freedom in Kashmir fits into the pattern of similar indifference to other outrages there.

First, the facts as reported in three dailies, in chronological order. The Times of India published this very brief report in its issue of October 21, 2001 from its Srinagar correspondent, under the headline ‘Kashmir Varsity Teachers Instructed Not to Discuss Politics or Talk to Presspersons’. The report is reproduced in extenso:

 

The Kashmir University campus has been declared out of bounds for journalists by its vice-chancellor Jalees Ahmad Khan Tareen. University teachers have also been instructed to keep away from the press and avoid talking about politics.

Sources said that governor G C Saxena, who is also the chancellor of Kashmir University, was upset by some lecturers talking about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir on private TV channels. The VC subsequently passed the orders whereby all print and TV journalists will require permission from the VC’s office to enter the campus. The controversy erupted when some university teachers made some anti-national remarks during a discussion in a programme on a private TV channel. A J and K minister was also participating in the discussion. The government has taken objection to the remarks made by a lady teacher in the programme and is contemplating action against her, according to sources.

 

The fundamental rights of students and teachers were thus wantonly flouted. A university campus is not a prison. It is a body corporate set-up by statute and squarely falls within the definition of ‘the State’ in Article 12 of the Constitution. In consequence the entire Part III on fundamental rights applies to all concerned, the students and the teachers included. “Reasonable restrictions” can be imposed as are appropriate to an educational institution, in the interests inter alia of discipline. This cannot serve as an excuse to deny or abridge the rights.

Section 43(1) of the British Education Act, 1986 provides an instructive parallel. “Every individual and body of persons concerned in the government of any establishment to which this section applies shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the establishment and visiting speakers.”

A university is a public body, not a cloistered establishment. Journalists are even allowed access to prisons to see for themselves and report to the public the conditions that obtain there. It is insulting to suggest that a university campus should grant less freedom of access to the press. Many newspapers have special correspondents who report on developments on university campuses. The vice-chancellor’s order is plainly a violation of Article 19(1)(a)(b) – respectively, the guarantees of freedom of speech and of assembly – of the Constitution.

However, Tariq Bhat’s report from Srinagar in The Indian Experss of October 27 was even more disturbing. It read thus:

 

Alarmed by the recent utterances of some teachers and the anti-US and pro-Taliban protests on the campus, Kashmir University is planning to constitute an ‘intelligence wing’ to spy on ‘erring’ teachers, scholars and students. The intelligence wing will record all activities of staff and report the same to the vice-chancellor for action. The idea of keeping an eye on staff, especially teachers, was mooted by chief minister Farooq Abdullah, also the university pro-chancellor, at the apex university council meeting on Sunday [October 21] sources said. “The chief minister asked the VC to constitute an intelligence wing, probe the activities of teachers and students and throw all such elements out of the university”, an official who attended the meeting said.

Abdullah also told vice-chancellor Jalees Ahmed Khan that he would be provided with personal files of the activities of faculty members for information and necessary action. The vice-chancellor informed Abdullah that he had already warned teachers to stay away from politics and concentrate on academics, the official said. Khan is said to have summoned his deans of faculties and heads of all departments and warned them of stern disciplinary action in case any faculty member was found indulging in activities bordering on politics.

“We have been barred from commenting on events unfolding in the region and Kashmir. In fact, there is a ban on even speaking to the media”, a professor said strictly on the condition of anonymity.

Repeated attempts to contact either vice- chancellor Jalees Ahmed Khan or chief minister Farooq Abdullah to get their reaction failed. J and K PRO and director information K B Jandiyal said, “A university is an autonomous body and if vice-chancellor is not ready to speak, you seek an appointment with the governor’s office for an interview”. Khan, procured from Mysore University at the state government’s instance sidelining the recommendation of a search committee, is said to be experiencing difficulties in running the university due to lack of knowledge about its style of functioning.

The state government, it is believed, earlier asked the VC to discipline the faculty especially after a senior teacher recently gave tough time to a J and K cabinet minister during a live discussion on the Kashmir crisis hosted by a private TV channel. Khan recently banned the entry of journalists into the university premises after a spate of protests by students against the US air raids on Afghanistan. When he was asked why journalists had been barred from the campus, he was furious.

“I am not interested in your politics, go away. Aapki he wajeh sey he university main students protest kartay hain (it’s because of you people that students resort to protest),” he told journalists.

 

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