We stand united in expressing our solidarity with Professor Sabyasachi Das who recently resigned from Ashoka University. Prof. Sabyasachi recently wrote a paper titled 'Democratic Backsliding in the World’s Largest Democracy' which hinted at BJP engaging in electoral manipulation in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, for which he came under criticism. Thereafter, expressing solidarity with Prof. Sabyasachi, Professor Pulapre Balakrishnan of Ashoka University has also resigned.
Attacks against academic freedom has become common in the recent past, with professors resigning, being issued with showcase notices, public discussions being prevented, etc., which are synonymous with stifling of democracy in university spaces. Ashoka University, which is a private university, promising excellence in education, is engaging in silencing academic freedom. The Governing Body of the university questioned the research of Prof. Sabyasachi Das shows the direct interference of an administrative body, which came out with a statement denouncing the academic pursuits of its professors. Former Vice Chancellor of Ashoka University, Prof. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, had also resigned in 2021 citing that his public writings in support of politics that honours constitutional values was perceived as a risk for the university. He too was under duress in regard to the paper written by Prof. Sabyasachi Das at the time of his resignation. Noted economist Arun Subramaniam too, had resigned at the time in solidarity with Pratap Bhanu Mehta.
At a time when private universities are being given a boost by the State through the New Education Policy, 2020 which envisions privatisation, corporatisation of education, such incidents rings an alarm regarding democracy in educational spaces. Rather than protecting and aiding critical thinking and research in university spaces, private universities are already showing the way for a new India with new educational values, which toes the line of the ruling regime.
The BJP-RSS have consistently attacked public universities and dismantled academic freedom through attacks on student activists, campaigns carrying out hate, dubious faculty appointments with faulty academic records, massive fund cuts, attacks on social justice in universities, deliberate dismantling of infrastructure, syllabus changes, among other attempts to make public universities sub-standard and stifle freedom of expression in these spaces. It is imperative that we safeguard the principles of academic freedom and protect space for critical thinking, which is indispensable for the growth of a vibrant democracy. It is imperative that we fight for strengthening of universities that protect academic freedom.