• Magazine of the International Sociological Association
  • Available in multiple languages
Global Express

Statement of the International Sociological Association concerning academic freedom and violence in India

March 26, 2016

We, the members of the Executive Committee of the International Sociological Association, express solidarity with students, teachers, writers, creative artists and activists in India fighting for the rights to freedom of expression, life and liberty, in the context of increasingly virulent attacks and mob violence against all opposition to right wing fundamentalist violence and discrimination. We are particularly concerned about mob attacks on minorities and the curtailment of food freedoms (falsely posited as a “beef ban”) in India. The conversion of a large section of the electronic media into propaganda machines in support of right wing majoritarian nationalism and the systematic and violent targeting of intellectuals, students and advocates through unethical reporting and profiling is unprecedented and particularly worrying. The position of students from vulnerable social groups – especially dalit-bahujan and minority students – is a matter of immediate concern.

We support the view that the Constitution of India sets out a plural framework and refuses any scope to define the country in religious terms.

In an environment of anti-intellectualism, and majoritarian attacks on individual and collective attempts at informed debate and social critique both within and outside institutions of higher education, our responsibility as members of a professional association is especially grave. As sociologists we believe that allowing the untrammelled use of the charge of sedition to quell dissent and freedom of expression, amounts, to reiterate Amartya Sen’s words, to be too tolerant of intolerance.

We endorse the petition (below) submitted by over 200 sociologists across India to the President of India, protesting against the attacks on sociologists, Professors Vivek Kumar and Rajesh Misra, by students belonging to the student wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Universities are meant to provide a space for free and informed debate and mutual learning. The growing turbulence on university campuses and the shrinking space for open and free debate especially intolerance of opposition to the agendas of Hindutva is a matter of serious concern to the international community of sociologists committed to fundamental freedoms and free speech.

In the aftermath of the death by suicide of Rohith Vemula, a doctoral scholar in the School of Social Sciences in the University of Hyderabad in January 2016 (the ninth case of suicide by a doctoral scholar belonging to a dalit bahujan social group in this university) after being evicted from his hostel along with four others, and facing social boycott within the university campus is a sign of how deep rooted systemic discrimination is and the tragic toll it has taken. While there has been a growing disquiet on university campuses across the country for a few years consequent on the growing presence of students from socially vulnerable groups in higher education, the death of Rohith Vemula has triggered an unprecedented protest within the country and abroad, most importantly among students, especially dalit bahujan students, who bear a disproportionate burden of the weight of the most insidious forms of discrimination within the education system.

We commend and support the efforts of teachers and students in several small colleges and in universities across India to question caste discrimination and majoritarianism by promoting an understanding of anti-caste philosophies and lifeworlds both within academic institutions and outside in the face of virulent attacks from the right. The experience of noted Tamil writer Perumal Murugan, a college teacher, who was forced to leave his town and move to the state capital is but one example. We also celebrate the eloquence and deep understanding with which young research scholars like Rohith and several like him have developed sustained critiques of Hindutva politics and its far-reaching consequences, fashioning a new tradition of protest drawing creatively from the rich array of resistance in the sub-continent.

We extend our support to the struggles of the students and teachers of Jawaharlal Nehru University and commend their efforts to sustain a public debate on the complex question of nationalism through open lectures. We place on record our appreciation of their commitment to building upon the struggles of Rohith Vemula and students and scholars like him from campuses across the country – putting in place new signposts for a transformative sociology that interrogates disciplinary boundaries and exclusions within institutions of higher education thereby building bridges between the academy and the world outside.

President Margaret ABRAHAM Hofstra University, USA
Vice-President (Research) Markus SCHULZ New School for Social Research, New York, USA
Vice-President (National Associations) Sari HANAFI American University of Beirut, Lebanon
Vice-President (Publications ) Vineeta SINHA National University, Singapore
Vice-President (Finance and Membership) Benjamin TEJERINA University of the Basque Country, Spain
Members of the Executive Committee
Rosemary BARBERET City University of New York, USA
Dilek CINDOGLU Abdullah Gul University, Turkey
Filomin GUTIERREZ University of the Philippines Diliman, Philippines
John HOLMWOOD University of Birmingham, UK
Guillermina JASSO New York University, USA
Kalpana KANNABIRAN Council for Social Development, Hyderabad, India
Marina KURKCHIYAN University of Oxford, UK
Simon MAPADIMENG North-West University, South Africa
Abdul-Mumin SA’AD Federal College of Education, Nigeria
Ayse SAKTANBER Middle East Technical University, Turkey
Celi SCALON Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Sawako SHIRAHASE University of Tokyo, Japan
Grazyna SKAPSKA Jagiellonian University, Poland
Evangelia TASTSOGLOU Saint Mary's University, Canada
Chin-Chun YI Academia Sinica, Taiwan
Elena ZDRAVOMYSLOVA European University St. Petersburg, Russia


4 March 2016

Shri Pranab Mukherjee
President of India
New Delhi

Dear Shri Pranab Mukherjee:

We the undersigned sociologists, including serving and retired teachers and researchers from universities and institutes across India, are deeply disturbed by ongoing events in the country and feel the urgent need to make the following public statement:

The Constitution of India guarantees to all citizens the right to their beliefs and to the peaceful expression of these beliefs. We strongly affirm the autonomy of the university and the academy as vitally important places for the exercise of this right. We are therefore deeply concerned at the growing attacks on students, faculty and staff of various universities by organisations which seem to have the backing of the authorities and the police. Students and faculty are being abused, attacked and threatened for their ideas and positions while the attackers appear to enjoy immunity from the law.

In particular, we write in support of our colleagues Prof. Vivek Kumar (JNU) and Prof. Rajesh Misra (Lucknow University). Prof. Kumar’s talk as an invited speaker on 21th February at an event at Gwalior University was violently disrupted by the ABVP. Prof. Misra was also threatened by the ABVP for merely posting on his FaceBook page on 23rd February an article published in a newspaper, and the university authorities have asked him for an explanation rather than those issuing the threats.

We firmly believe that scholars must have the freedom to speak write and reflect on social issues and their voice should not be muzzled. Curbing scholarly freedom is against the national interest as it undermines our collective ability to analyse and understand our diverse society. We also reiterate our faith in the strong academic traditions that have nurtured a variety of critical scholarly perspectives which have enriched the nationalist movement as well as public discourse in independent India.

This issue is not available yet in this language.
Request to be notified when the issue is available in your language.

Invalid or Required Email.
Not saved
We have received your notice request, you will receive an email when this issue is available in your language.

If you prefer, you can access previous issues available in your language: