On campus at Harisingh Gour University, Sagar. (Express)
A day after Madhya Pradesh Police wrote to the vice-chancellor of a Sagar-based Central university, warning of possible action “if religious and caste sentiments are hurt” at an international webinar that was to be organised by its anthropology department, the Dr Harisingh Gour University pulled out of the event — two hours before it was to have kicked off.
On Thursday, Atul Singh, Superintendent of Police of Sagar district, wrote a letter to the university’s vice-chancellor, saying he had received “references to the past history, anti-national mentality and caste-related statements of the speakers attending the webinar” and that an “agreement should be made in advance regarding the subject matter to be discussed and the ideas to be displayed”.
The SP also cautioned of possible action under Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code (statements conducing to public mischief).
Gauhar Raza, former CSIR chief scientist, professor Apoorvanand of the University of Delhi, professor Harjinder Singh of IIT Hyderabad and Dr Aseem Hasnain, Assistant Professor at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts, US, were among the speakers at the webinar on ‘Culture and Linguistic Hurdles in the Achievement of Scientific Temper’ that the anthropology department was to have co-hosted with Montclair State University, US, on July 30 and 31. On Friday, the event went ahead as scheduled, without Dr Harisingh Gour University as convenor.
On Thursday, the day the SP wrote to the Vice-Chancellor, the university administration asked the anthropology department to write to the Union Education Ministry seeking permission for the event.
In a letter to professor Gautam, registrar Santosh Sohgaura wrote, “Online webinar be postponed if permission is not received by the ministry.”
The letter further asked Gautam and his team to refrain from using the university logo, name or any university platform for the event.
Sources said that while the anthropology department wrote to the Union ministry, in the absence of the response, Prof Gautam and his team had to pull out two hours before the webinar.
The Indian Express made multiple attempts to contact Vice Chancellor J D Ahi but she remained unavailable for comment.
On July 22, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), which had been objecting to the speakers, submitted a memorandum to the police objecting to the names of the speakers.
In the letter to SP Singh, Shriram Ricchariya, Sagar district co-ordinator of the ABVP, had stated, “Gauhar Raza and professor Apoorvananad, two speakers at the webinar, are of anti-national mentality and are involved in such activities. Apoornanand has been found involved in the Delhi riots and has been questioned for the same. Gauhar Raza has written a poem ‘Ajmal Prem’ for known terrorist Afzal Guru.”
When contacted, SP Singh said that the university was only asked to record the webinar and ensure that there was mutual consent amongst all sections within the college before it is organised.
“While the letter objecting to the seminar was from one particular organisation, we had our own intelligence reports which stated that many others were uncomfortable with the webinar. It was being perceived as targeting a particular caste or community and with this in mind, the letter was written asking the organisers to be cautious as the webinar is a public platform,” said SP Singh.
During the webinar on Friday, Apoorvanand was asked by Shivam Soni, department co-ordinator of ABVP, as to why people who are identified as “Afzal Guru premi” were being called to talk and if there was a dearth of intellectuals at the university.
To this, Apoorvanand responded, “This is not the topic of discussion and I will not comment on it. Also, these charges are levied against various people, but commenting on them is not what we are here for. Let’s stick to the topic of the webinar.”
Later, speaking to The Indian Express, Apoorvanand said, “Police, instead of asking the ABVP to shut up, have turned against the organisers, which is very sad. The ABVP is wielding disproportionate influence and though the university tried to resist the pressure, the Vice Chancellor could have written back to the police stating this is our business.”
Professor Gauhar Raza called the incident “disturbing”.
“India is facing what Europe faced in the 15th and 16th centuries when the likes of Galelio and Burno were killed for offending the Church. How can state machinery act against scientific temper which is guaranteed in the Constitution? What about my feelings that were hurt with the incident?”