On September 2, 2021, the Central University of Kerala reportedly issued a circular threatening disciplinary action against faculty members and university employees who made statements deemed “anti-national” and “against the interest of the nation.”
The circular was allegedly prompted by statements made in April 2021 by Gilbert Sebastian, an assistant professor at the Department of International Relations and Politics. While teaching MA students in a course called “Fascism and Nazism,” Sebastian reportedly called the Modi government and ruling party “proto-fascist” and criticized the government’s Covid-19 vaccine policy. He was briefly suspended over the comments. Although a university inquiry committee cleared Sebastian after he offered an explanation and the vice chancellor reinstated him, the varsity executive council continued to assert that Sebastian’s remarks had been anti-national and requested that the university’s vice chancellor discourage such comments in the future.
According to The Indian Express, the university issued the September circular in response to the council’s request. As reported by The Telegraph, the circular stated that any university employee or member of the faculty that made such comments would be subjected to “[s]trict disciplinary action.” In response to the circular, an anonymous teacher at the university told The Telegraph that the administration “has created an atmosphere of fear on the campus with such decisions, although most of [the faculty] are against curtailing academic freedom.”
Scholars at Risk is concerned by a university threatening disciplinary action against scholars for exercising their academic freedom and right to freedom of expression – conduct which is protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party. University authorities have an obligation to refrain from taking action to restrict or chill expressive activity and academic exchange. Politically motivated threats of disciplinary action for engaging in such activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.