India: Two 'liberal' university staffers quit after signing Kashmir plebiscite petition

The July 25 petition was signed by 85 of the university's students and alumni ? as well as two employees of the university and an assistant professor.?In photo: Ashoka University (Source: University website) Photograph:( Others )

WION New Delhi India Oct 13, 2016, 10.20 AM (IST)

Two senior members of the administrative staff of Ashoka University in Sonipat, in the northern Indian state of Haryana, have quit after signing a petition to the governments of India and the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir, asking for a plebiscite in the entire the state — in the part controlled by India and the part controlled by Pakistan — and that the Indian army be withdrawn from civilian areas in the state, that the army not be asked to look after law and order, and that it only be asked to defend the country's borders, the Indian Express reported Thursday.

The July 25 petition was signed by 85 of the university's students and alumni — as well as two employees of the university and an assistant professor. 

The Indian Express added that the assistant professor, Rajendran Narayanan, he teaches in the math department, is also under pressure to quit. The Express quoted an unnamed professor as saying: "... the Math department has been informally asked to look for his replacement from next semester starting in January." 

The Express added that before Ashoka, Narayanan had been a visiting lecturer at Cornell University. 

According to the Express report, the two employees — Saurav Goswami, deputy manager of academic affairs, and Adil Mushtaq Shah, programme manager of academic affairs — sent out farewell emails on October 7. 

The report in the Indian daily adds: "Although they quit on personal grounds, many on campus say the management had made its 'displeasure' known to them after the petition went public." 

It quoted an unnamed student as saying: "Until two weeks ago, they (Goswami and Shah) had no intention of leaving; they were busy planning guest (speaker) sessions for December. And then, out of the blue, we find emails announcing their resignation. It seems too much of a coincidence that the only two employees who signed the petition resign together and leave the university the same day." 

On October 9, the Express said 168 of the university's fellows wrote to vice-chancellor Rudrangshu Mukherjee, voicing their concerns. "The possibility that a university which claims to be a liberal institute, and which encourages change-makers to take action, has resorted to emotional coercion is unacceptable to us," they wrote. 

Mukherjee, the Express said, wrote back the following day promising to meet with the students soon to discuss the matter. 

When WION spoke to Professor Mukherjee, he refused to answer any questions saying he had "no comment". 

The university, however, had been quick to respond to the original petition. The Express reported that it held a meeting of its governing body and on July 26, a day after the petition, passed a resolution condemning the misrepresentation of Ashoka University in the public domain. 

On July 28, the university issued a statement saying: "Only a handful of individuals, including a few students of Ashoka University, had signed the letter, and it, in no way, represents Ashoka's point of view. Ashoka University does not endorse the views held by these individuals, and no point, supported them. In fact, Ashoka University condemns such behaviour, and had asked the individuals not to use the good name of the University to represent personal views and ideas."

Strangely enough, the petition does not in any way purport to have come from the university. It begins by saying: "We, the undersigned — current students, alumni of the Young India Fellowship of Ashoka University — write to voice our deepest anguish and grave concern at the violent turn of events in Kashmir in the past few days." 

It does not anywhere say that this might be the university's position. In fact, it goes out of the way to proclaim that the views are privately held. And ends by saying: "(The opinions presented in this letter are privately held by the undersigned and do not represent the views of Ashoka University.)"