It is disappointing and unfortunate that the Students’ Union has to come up with such a statement merely within one month of getting elected. However, there is an immediate need of bringing some issues to the notice of larger students’ body.
The institute filed a legal case against five students on 27th March 2018 in respect of the student agitation on GOI PMS issue which was going on. The case was filed very arbitrarily and specifically targeted few students for an agitation which had mass participation across four campuses. Since then, three court hearings have been held at the Bombay City Civil Court (28th March 2018, 19th June 2018, 23rd August 2018). In the court hearing held on 19th June 2018, the court granted interim relief to the administration and prohibited student association from holding demonstrations within hundred metres from the main gate of TISS campus in light of the allegations made by the administration. The students abided by the court order and removed any remaining demonstration material from the gate and parking area immediately. There were anyway no protest demonstrations happening in campus on the GOI PMS issue even before that court order was passed and there have been no student demonstrations in the campus on the issue since the passing of the order.
Surprisingly, in the court hearing held on 23rd August 2018, the advocate representing the Registrar, TISS has made further false allegations that the students have been continuing the demonstrations in campus in violation of the order. As evidence, the advocate has produced the copies of the documents pertaining to March 2018, i.e. even prior to filing of the case and a statement released by the TISS SU 2018-19 on 14th August 2018 w.r.t the public gathering called in solidarity with the attempted assassination of JNU student leader Umar Khalid and against the burning of the Indian Constitution. It is shocking that the submission made by the institute comes despite of prior intimation by the Students Union regarding the gathering and its need. The documents submitted before the court look nothing less than a sting operation where the screenshots of posters of the gathering as well as CCTV footages of students holding gathering have been produced. The gathering saw participation of large section of general body of students to condemn the incidents and the administration is well aware that it was not a protest demonstration and no protest was held against the administration on the GoI-PMS or any other issue. The allegation made by the TISS-advocate is supported by a letter from one of the security officers saying that the students took slogans against the RSS and the BJP govt. The security officer has also named few students in that letter against whom legal case has been filed along with naming two Student Union members, who are recently elected and are not part of the legal case. As per the documents submitted before the court itself the gathering was in no way associated with the GOI PMS issue and dealt with a completely different issue.
In this scenario, the general body of students need to note how the administration is indulging in a process of demonizing the students Union representatives as well as the calls participated by the larger general body. This also indicates administration’s discomfort with students raising any issues of significance in the campus in future and it is clearly a move of the administration to curb any democratic voices within the campus, whether or not it concerns the administration. It is surprising that the institute can take such a stand, being a social science institution which promotes critical thinking and social work.
Alongside, the SU has been facing troubles in communicating with the administration on various issues. In the meeting that was held with the administration to discuss show cause notice on disciplinary action issued against 27 students and GOI PMS issue, the administration gave only an hour for discussion and walked out saying that they had another meeting. The SU has been seeking meeting with the administration to discuss the GOI PMS issue, but no meeting is being ensured. The students’ union mail is being moderated to a large extent and hence we are facing trouble in reaching out to students. The moderation of mails was tightened during the days of protest so as to ensure that our voice is not accessible to larger academic community. We, being the elected representatives of the students, believe that it is our collective responsibility to come on a consensus regarding how to deal with the criminalization of students and curtailing of voices of the students. The administration’s move to delegitimize students’ gatherings called for addressing our fundamental rights, needs to be questioned as this is nothing less than an attack on the democratic space in campus.
Recently, the SU has appealed several times to the administration to rollback disciplinary action initiated against 27 students in May 2018. But the administration has brought out an “office order” on 29th August 2018, suggesting that an inquiry officer is being appointed to look into disciplinary action. This move to appoint a single official without any independent or impartial process as the authority to look into the matter is completely undemocratic and unconstitutional. We have time and again questioned the administration’s move of issuing show cause notices to students and how the entire process has lacked due process. We also feel that the students who participated in a legitimate protest cannot be made to be interrogated by the administration or any aligning officer. Hence, the SU rejects the appointment of such an officer and also the undemocratic processes that are being initiated against the SU representatives. What is surprising is that, even after protest demonstrations have stopped within, the campus the institute is continuing to target students and express vendetta instead of having a constructive dialogue with the students on an issue of social importance and to trade this adversarial attitude against its own students for an effective resolution.
We appeal to the administration to consider the following:
1. The administration must stop attacking the SU representatives, who have been democratically elected by the students of the institute. Issuing legal notices against students, stopping their registration and JRF, not allowing students to contest elections and the way current Union’s gathering has been misrepresented by the admin in the court is a breach of dignity as well as democratic rights of students.
2. The administration should stop criminalizing students protest and roll back legal notices and show cause notices immediately, and the administration should stop maligning students who are raising their voice on issues of significance in campus.
3. The administration should allow for a free communication to happen between SU representatives and the larger general body and hence stop moderating the emails that are being sent by the SU representatives.
4. The administration and concerned authorities should prioritize student issues and allot appropriate time towards it.
5. Various bodies like the Equal Opportunity Cell, SC/ST Cell, Office of Students’ Affairs need to take proactive measures to safeguard rights of the students and take strong stand in favour of students. The administration needs to open channels for dialogue and conversation in order for us to find best possible solutions to the issues faced by students.
We, the Students’ Union register a strong disagreement with the attitude of the administration, the increasing surveillance on our activities using CCTVs and the lack of transparency in terms of dealing with the issues of students. The obstinate stand and unjustified actions of the administration are ruining the culture of dialogue and trust that existed within the campus between administration, faculty and students and the administration’s actions are a clampdown on critical thinking on campus and attempt to suppress student voices and instill fear. At a time when all voices of dissent is violently suppressed across the country we appeal to the larger student community of TISS to strongly resist this encroachment on our right to express and voice out against any injustice.
Tata Institute of Social Sciences,