Mumbai: TISS draws flak after telling staff keep off Anti-CAA protests

Updated: 21 December, 2019 08:16 IST | Pallavi Smart | Mumbai

A circular asking teaching and non-teaching staff of social sciences institute to keep away from demonstrations during 'duty hours because we are government-funded' draws condemnation

The circular issued ahead of the protest on December 19
The circular issued ahead of the protest on December 19

A Circular issued by Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) asking its teaching and non-teaching staff to not participate in protests while on duty, as the institute is funded by the Government of India, has landed it in controversy even as protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) raged across the nation. The notice has led to dissent on campus with faculty and students terming the move illegal and draconian.

The circular issued by the administration states, "This is for the information of all staff and faculty that TISS being an institute funded by the Government of India, the staff and faculty cannot join any form of protest while on duty. This is against the Conduct Rules and their absence from duty to join the protest will be treated as unauthorised." The circular, which has the director's approval, was issued later in the day on December 19, just before the August Kranti Maidan protest. It's timing has led to a lot of discussion among students and faculty members, with many of them terming the decision illegal.

'It's our duty'
Requesting anonymity, a professor of the institute said, "Academics from across the country have been critical about government decisions and actions, whether or not they receive salaries from the University Grants Commission. This is because most of the decisions regarding politics pertain to how social science as a subject sees the future of society. Given the fact that government policies are connected to one theory of social science or the other, it's the duty of academics to
respond to different government policies.

Decision shocks many on campus as TISS has had a culture of supporting social movements and engaging with politics and policies
Decision shocks many on campus as TISS has had a culture of supporting social movements and engaging with politics and policies

"The fact that social scientists should not critisise government policies just because they get salaries from there, takes away their strength and autonomy. Never before has such draconian clauses been invoked in a purely mechanical and administrative pattern." According to many on campus, this decision questions the legacy of the institute, which has played a major role in large-scale social development across the country. "This is the first time such a circular has been issued by the institute. It has certainly shocked everyone, as it is not expected from an institute like TISS, which has had a culture of supporting social movements and engaging with politics and policies. The new administration seems to be in no mood to respect TISS's legacy," expressed another professor from the institute.

Here's a suggestion
When contacted, president of TISS Teachers' Union, Bal Rakshee said, "The circular is a part of the rules and regulations governing the institute. However, we had suggested that those who want to attend the Kranti Maidan protest should take half-day casual leave. After this about 15-20 faculty members participated in the protest. There is nothing wrong in that.'

Students, too, expressed their dissent in the matter. A student who has been playing a major role in mobilising the movement against CAA and NRC in the city, said, "The teachers have certainly supported us but it is unfortunate that they cannot openly come out with their opinions. It is really upsetting to see that the faculty and staff are being restricted in this manner. This shows that the institute administration has completely given in to the pressures of the government." 

Deputy director of the Mumbai campus of TISS, M P Balamurugan said, "Given the situation across the country, the Conduct Rules of the institute had to be reiterated. The administration felt the need to communicate this to the faculty and staff, especially after what happened on Monday, when students boycotted studies and professors participated in the on-campus protest. We presumed that the faculty members would participate in the Kranti Maidan protest, too."

Prominent TISS protests

TISS faculty members have joined students to protest against government policies and decisions in the past and there have been instances when the administration has helped students. One example given by most on campus was from the year 2016 when students protested against the death of University of Hyderabad student Rohith Vemula. "Many of us were detained. But the institute's culture was so different then that the director had helped to release the students. As opposed to this, the current director did not pay any heed to our requests when some TISS students were detained following a protest against the Aarey Metro car shed. Even during the agitation regarding scholarships, the administration had turned against students. But the faculty members supported us," said a student.

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First Published: 21 December, 2019 08:10 IST

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