SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: November 14, 2023

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay

Region & Country:Southern Asia | India

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On November 14, 2023, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B) canceled a talk by Achin Vanaik, a critically acclaimed writer and former head of the department of political science at the University of Delhi.

Vanaik’s talk was expected to shed light on the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the consequences of the recent crisis in Israel, the Gaza Strip, and West Bank. It was to take place against the backdrop of a surprise Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 that left over 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals dead and more than 200 abducted, and the subsequent Israeli military bombardment of the Gaza Strip which, as of the beginning of mid-December, has reportedly killed more than 18,000 Palestinians. The violence led to heightened tensions around speech on campuses throughout the world.

A group of students opposed Vanaik’s lecture, sending an email in which they cited remarks that Vanaik had given during a prior talk at OP Jindal University on November 1. They alleged that Vanaik’s remarks were anti-Hindu and pro-Hamas. Viral clips of the earlier lecture showed Vanaik making a comparison between Zionism and Hindutva, arguing that the former is not Islamophopic while the latter is. Following the remarks, OP Jindal Global University’s administration asked Vanaik to express regret; the professor responded that the video clips from his lecture had been taken out of context.

IIT Bombay for Justice, a student collective, criticized the cancellation, arguing that it curtailed academic freedom within the institute.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the cancellation of an event on political grounds and in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression – conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration for Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party. State and higher education officials should protect academic freedom and take all available steps to ensure the exercise of academic freedom, including during on-campus, academic events. The disinvitation of speakers on political grounds undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.