The OP Jindal Global University in Haryana’s Sonipat has asked author, social activist, and former Delhi University professor Achin Vanaik to express regret over a teach-in session on the history of Palestine.
Jindal University Registrar Dabiru Sridhar Patnaik wrote to Vanaik after he delivered a lecture at the varsity on November 1.
In his letter dated November 13, Patnaik said, “For our students and faculty, it was informative to learn that Zionism is not anti-Muslim. But it was unnecessary and objectionable that you added that Hindutva is anti-Muslim.”
Patnaik said the remarks about the motivation of suicide bombers (and terrorists, intended to explain that they are more determined to die for their cause than to kill) came across as an expression of sympathy towards them instead of an unalloyed condemnation of the violence and death they cause.
“We cannot contest the charge that some of your remarks were irresponsible and influenced your audience to take positions about developments in India which are not comparable to developments in Palestine and Israel. We live in challenging times. We must exercise the precious privilege of academic freedom with grave responsibility and mindfulness of context and the perceptions of others,” Patnaik added.
“I earnestly hope that you will acknowledge these observations, made in my capacity as the Registrar, are reasonable. They call for your regret for bringing upon our university charges of insensitivity and irresponsibility,” Patnaik added.
When asked about the letter, Vanaik told The Indian Express, “I clarified what I actually said in contrast to what was alleged and regretted any misinterpretation and confusion caused”.
He also said he had responded to Patnaik by writing to him on November 14.
Earlier this month, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay had cancelled Vanaik’s proposed talk expected to throw light on the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the repercussions of the recent violence in the region.
Meanwhile, Jindal University Vice Chancellor C Raj Kumar issued a letter of warning to Dr Sameena Dalwai regarding a lecture at the varsity where she allegedly showed a dating profile to students.
The 14-second video shared on X (formerly Twitter) purportedly showed Dalwai displaying a profile on a dating website.
In a letter dated November 13, Kumar said in his letter her “actions have clearly undermined the university’s spirit”.
Kumar said the alleged violations included violation of the privacy and confidentiality of students and harassment by discriminating against them based on ideology and religion. He said that Dr Dalwai as a faculty member was expected to exercise diligence by obtaining prior consent of the class and issuance of trigger warning.
“You could have consulted with your fellow teachers, the Dean, or other colleagues. Unfortunately, this was not done. While social experiments may have pedagogic value, faculty members are duty-bound to foresee the ramifications of such experiments,” it stated.
“When students, who are the learners, become the subject of such experiments, abundant caution ought to have been exercised. You have failed in exercising due diligence and acted irresponsibly and thereby failed the university in its promise to create a safe space for its students,” it said, adding that there would be no further condonation on their part for such acts.
The letter added that while harassment of students by discriminating against them based on ideology and religion, may have been unintentional, as mentioned in her reply, “it does not mitigate the impact it has on certain groups of individuals”.
“Propositions for debate can be intellectually provocative, but not disparaging others’ viewpoints. In your case, your sensibilities might have been driven by a critical spirit, but that did not reflect in your tone and tenor and in the choice of words. You have departed from the ethics of constructive conversation… Our university is a democratic and inclusive space, and we pride in the fact that we have carefully nurtured this ecosystem. Your actions have clearly undermined this spirit,” it stated.
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Flagging the video of the “problematic” lecture by Dalwai, Renu Bhatia, Chairperson, Haryana State Women’s Commission, visited the vice chancellor to discuss the issue and speak to “affected” students on November 8.
Bhatia said the compromise of privacy and dignity of students, especially women students, by the use of a dating app and obscene material by a faculty, amounts to harassment.
A professor at the university, under the condition of anonymity, had said this was not the first time they have faced similar incidents. “Professor Sameena Dalwai was an organiser of the session by Achin Vanaik. The dating app screening has garnered attention because she was one of the organisers of the lecture, which has also created a backlash,” he added.