Four professors were suspended last month allegedly for ‘inciting’ students.
The South Asian University (SAU), which comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), suspended four professors from the university earlier last month, allegedly for “inciting” students; however, these professors claim that their suspension was “arbitrary” and against the principle of “natural justice”.
The four including Dr Snehashish Bhattacharya from the Faculty of Economics, Dr Srinivas Burra from the Faculty of Legal Studies, Dr Irfanullah Farooqi from the Faculty of Social Sciences, and Dr Ravi Kumar from the Faculty of Social Sciences, have been charged with “misconduct” for allegedly “inciting” a group of students to protest against the administration of the University, which goes against the rules of conduct for the faculty members. They were suspended on 16 June and will remained suspended till further notice.
On the condition of anonymity, one of the suspended faculty members told The Sunday Guardian, “The University have defied the laws of natural justice and have arbitrarily placed four of the 15 faculty members who had written a letter to the administration in support of the protesting students. We have been targeted to settle scores. In our letter, we were simply trying to tell the administration to resolve the issue with the students amicably and nothing more than this; does this amount to inciting the students?”
Officials from SAU confirmed to The Sunday Guardian that the four faculty members have been placed under suspension after issuing show-cause notices to them and that the faculty members failed to provide answers to the questions that were put forward to them by a “Fact Finding Committee” of the University.
SAU was set up in 2010 with the idea of providing quality education to meritorious students from the SAARC nations. The university which comes under the Ministry of External Affairs, India, was built after a Memorandum of Understanding was signed among all the SAARC nations and India decided to be the host country for the University. Every year, the university admits students from SAARC nations under the allocated quota for the number of seats given to each of the member countries.
However, students of SAU had been protesting since September last year after the University decided to reduce the stipend provided to Master’s students from Rs 5,000 to Rs 3,000 and also demanding that the university’s sexual harassment committee should include a representative from the student community as laid down in Indian law. However, students allege that instead of resolving the issue, the University administration called the police inside the campus on 13 October last year to help disperse the protesting students from outside the office of the acting President’s of SAU. This had angered some of the faculty members of the University and 15 faculty members of SAU had written a letter to the University administration to resolve the issue amicably.
Another suspended faculty member told this newspaper: “On 1 November last year, the faculty members met with the acting president and the administrative staff and requested them to initiate mechanism to de-escalate the situation, but instead what the university administration did was suspend and rusticate five students from the University. This led to at least 15 of our faculty members writing to the administration about their high-handedness. Because of this letter, the administration singled out four teachers and issued show cause notices to them on frivolous charges of inciting student protest through the letter, association with a Marxist study circle and visiting one of the students Ammar in hospital.” It is pertinent to mention here that during the protest where the students had undertaken hunger strike, one of the suspended students Ammar had suffered a heart attack and had undergone treatment for almost two months at a private hospital in Delhi. The suspended faculty member quoted above added that the university in May this year asked the four faculty members to appear before a “fact finding committee” that will “enquire about our involvement in the students protest”. “When we went to the fact-finding committee, the faculty members were asked to provide answers to a long list of 136 to 250 questions while sitting in front of them and the timeline given was till the end of the day. The committee also said that our answers would have direct bearing on the decision of the case. They just wanted to take action against us, this was clear to us from that very day,” the suspended faculty member quoted above said.
The Sunday Guardian reached out to SAU’s acting Registrar and the Public Relation Officer for a comment on the story; however, this newspaper did not receive any response till the time of going to press. It is also important to mention here that for the last four years, SAU does not have a permanent President who acts as the Vice Chancellor of the University, nor does the University have an executive council and not even the governing body of the college. This is because of the political change among the SAARC nations. Sources also said that the executive council appoints the President of the University, but since the executive council did not meet since 2016, there has been no new appointments.