IIT-M row: Protests continue, Athawale says action unjust

Chennai/New Delhi: Protests continued today over de-recognition of a students' body, comprising mostly dalits, by IIT-M as NDA ally RPI joined the chorus against the premier institute's action, terming it as an "act of injustice" and "attack" on freedom of expression.

Protests were held in Chennai and the national capital against the institute's decision to temporary de-recognise Ambedkar-Periar Study Circle (APSC) by the IIT-Madras management after an anonymous complaint that it was spreading "hatred" against Prime Minister Narendra Modi was forwarded to it by the Union HRD ministry.

About 200 members of DMK's students wing led by its secretary Ela. Pugazhenthi were detained in Chennai while staging a protest to demand revocation of IIT-M's decision.

The agitators demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi step in to resolve the situation. VCK founder Tho. Thirumavalavan, who led a separate demonstration by his supporters, was also detained, police said.

Expressing solidatiry with APSC, members of left-backed students unions and organisations staged a protest outside Shastri Bhavan in New Delhi where HRD ministry is located.

"The APSC was de-recognized as per the Ministry's diktat. What we feel is that there are other groups too which conduct programmes which politicize campus. "Why the ministry has objections to the group (APSC) which talks about education system, contemporary issues? So, to express solidarity with them we staged protest," president of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students' Union Ashutosh Kumar said at the protest venue.

Amid mounting outcry, RPI leader Ramdas Athawale denounced IIT-M's action as "unjust" and said HRD Minister Smriti Irani should have intervened to thwart the measure taken by the institute against the students body.

"The action has been an injustice and also an attack on the freedom of expression of the students. Even if they had attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the action (by IIT-M) was unwarranted. De-recognising the student body is not a solution to this.

"Ideally, the minister (Irani) should have intervened in the matter and put an end to the row," Athawale, a dalit leader from Maharashtra, told reporters in Delhi.

"Students bodies everywhere slam and attack governments. That does not mean you de-recongnise them. The youth criticised the government over the ghar-wapsi programme and reduction of monetary allocation to schemes related to SCs and STs," Athawale, whose party is an alliance partner of BJP in Maharashtra, said. Athawale said he will meet Irani to discuss the issue.

The speakers at the demonstration in Delhi accused the Modi government of having launched an "unprecedented" attack on the education sector while trying to paint it in a "certain colour" that suits its ideology, apparently referring to alleged "saffronisation" of education.

"Education is being painted in a certain colour. At least in the sector of education, there should be no government influence. It has to be autonomous. But (HRD Minister) Smriti Irani, this Modi government, has launched an attack on education," Kumar said.
He said the agitation will be further intensified.

Besides JNUSU, students bodies from Jamia Millia Islamia University and Left organizations took part in the protest. IIT-M is in the eye of a row over derecognition on Friday of the students group following a complaint that it was critical of Prime Minister Modi.

The move has led to a string of protests by political parties including Congress and AAP. The premier technical institute has maintained that APSC had "violated" defined guidelines of IIT-Madras, resulting in its temporary derecognition.

"As per the guidelines in force, student bodies cannot use the name of IIT Madras or its official entities in any capacity to publicise their activities or garner support without official permission," Prof Ramamurthy, Acting Director, had said, adding "this group has violated the guidelines while conducting their meeting."

The HRD ministry had forwarded an anonymous complaint about APSC to IIT-M wherein it accused the group of spreading "hatred" against Modi and instigating protests against Centre's policies. Opposition parties have alleged that HRD ministry's letter was behind the clampdown on the group.

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