Indian gag order on academia that aimed to curtail freedom and right to protest has been rolled back following widespread protests by members of the academia and civil society, who termed the act ‘an attempt by the government to control centrally funded varsities, restricting their academic liberty and freedom to hold protests’.
The Human Resource Development Ministry, responsible for higher education in India pulled the plug on its directives passed in May 2018. The original directive had asked public universities, or central universities as they are called in India, to follow CSS (Central Civil Services) rules, according to which government employees cannot “make any statement of fact or opinion which has the effect of an adverse criticism of any current or recent policy of the central government or a state government”.
The Indian University Grants Commission sent a notification to central universities earlier this year to assert that CSS Rules of 1964 would apply to their staff and academics as well. India has 45 central universities that are regulated by the national government.
According to the CSS rules, no government employee “shall contribute in the editing work or managerial practises of any newspaper, electronic media or periodical publications (excluding the preceding sanctions by the government)”. Government servants were also restrained from issuing any statements to the press or making any public statements against government policies or actions. The Human Resource Development Ministry has now withdrawn its decision, calling the rulings optional, not mandatory, for the institutes.
Apoorvanand, a Hindi professor at University of Delhi said the rules restricted “teachers from writing, speaking and participating in meetings and seminars which authorities find unsuitable”. He said the move had forced some notable names to leave public universities and join private ones hoping they would remain relatively free there,” he continued.
The Federation of Central Universities’ Teachers’ Associations (FEDCUTA) had labelled these actions as “an attempt to restrict” college and university teachers on saying or publishing content, deeming these rules ‘unconstitutional and illegal’. FEDCUTA had also expressed concerns over the actions of newer central universities, such as the Central University of Kerala, which recently enforced CSS rules for suspending a faculty member who criticised university management for partaking in a student’s arrest.
In another development, the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) that barred professors from holding protests was also revoked by the administration of Delhi University. ESMA was deemed necessary by the Human Resource Development Ministry in order to control frequent strikes by DU teachers and professors.