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'Undemocratic & Regressive': Students on SAU's Mandates of 'No Protests'

The declaration form issued by SAU, a SAARC university, was included in the admission guidelines for 2023-24.

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"Completely undemocratic and against the interest of students," said Tathagat, a PhD student at the South Asian University (SAU), as he described a recent undertaking form issued by the Delhi-based university.

The undated undertaking form, accessed by The Quint, asked the students to "declare" that they would "neither join any agitation or strike nor participate in any activity that has a “tendency to disturb peace and tranquility of academic environment” on the campus.

The students were also asked to "declare" that they are not suffering from “any serious or contagious ailment and/or any psychiatric or psychological disorder.”

SAU, an international university funded by eight SAARC countries, issued the 'General Declaration' or 'Undertaking' as a component of the admission guidelines for the 2023-24 session. This document was emailed to students in July who had successfully secured provisional admission to the University.

“This measure is completely undemocratic and counters the interests of the students. It reflects the broader trend on campuses nationwide, where colleges and institutions seem to view their own students as a threat and are unable to trust them," said Tathagat.

The Quint contacted the SAU administration, including the PRO, for comment on the two clauses but no response has been received yet.

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Students Speak Up: Undertaking Rooted in Past Events

Several students said that the undertaking is in response to events that transpired on campus last year. 

"In September 2022, a group of SAU students began protesting the reduction of scholarships for MA students. The protests continued to gain momentum over several weeks but tensions heightened in October when the University administration called in the Delhi police to disband the demonstration," a student told The Quint, on condition of anonymity.

"This is the first time that newly accepted students at SAU are being asked to sign an undertaking that explicitly states the need to comply with certain rules." 
Tathagat, newly admitted PhD student, SAU
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On 16 June, SAU suspended four faculty members for supporting students who had been protesting for months. As per news website Scroll, Professors Snehashish Bhattacharya, Srinivas Burra, Irfanullah Farooqi and Ravi Kumar have been held guilty of supporting the students in a month-long student protest in September 2022 in light of the reduction in the monthly stipend for Master's students and scholarships.

Meanwhile, PhD student Tathagat added, “After the suspension of the four professors, an atmosphere of silence has settled in. It's absurd that they (administration) acknowledge that there will be issues but don't provide a way for us to voice our concerns or resolve them with the authorities.”

On Friday, 28 July, The Quint reached out to the Public Relations Office (PRO) of SAU via e-mail, seeking an explanation behind the adaptation of the clause on strike/agitation in the declaration and whether this declaration point has been incorporated after previous protests on campus took place.

When The Quint reached out to the PRO again on Monday, 31 July, via call, he said that "the University hasn't responded to the questions yet."

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SAU Students Defend Freedom of Expression and Peaceful Protest

A PhD student, on condition of anonymity, told The Quint, "The Constitution of India, under Article 19, recognises the right to peaceful protest. India is the land of Mahatma Gandhi. How can we be expected to not exercise this fundamental right? We cannot be robbed of our freedom to protest peacefully, voice our opinions, and collectively organise for causes we believe in."

The student said that the university experience should be similar to "being in a temple of knowledge where we seek truth and understanding but unfortunately, we haven't been freely allowed to voice our perspectives on what's right and wrong at SAU."

Ever since the undertaking form was issued, students at SAU have been raising concerns regarding the issues they might face on campus but won't be able to protest against.

"A protest is the most democratic way of raising our voice. This declaration point in the undertaking nips our impulse to question and raise concerns to the authorities in the bud," said another SAU student on condition of anonymity.
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Student Slams SAU's Decision as "Regressive"

Apoorva Yarabahally, a final-year LLM student at SAU, was among three students expelled from the university on 17 February. They have taken their case to the Delhi High Court.

Apoorva alleged a student, who was rusticated on 4 November 2022, attempted suicide after the university forced him to leave the hostel or give an apology. "He was admitted to the ICU. Some of us students demanded that the university cover the student's medical expenses, which resulted in our own expulsion," she claimed.

Yarabahally said that the "draconian measure to cut off the right to protest hits at the heart of education itself. Protests are integral to learning — to learn how to resist exploitation, to learn how to raise your voice when basic amenities and your rights are taken away from you."

Another student, on condition of anonymity, called the SAU's decision "regressive." They told The Quint, "We are a big public university of international character, and we lack student representation in any of the grievance committees. We don't even have a students' union. The release of this undertaking has completely absolved the administration of any accountability on their part, suppressing any voice we may have had after what happened last year."

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An SAU professor, on condition of anonymity, told The Quint, "Any intelligent academic would outrightly dismiss the clause as ridiculous. It is completely outrageous and goes against the ethos of any space that claims to be a university."

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The Quint also spoke to a newly admitted student on condition of anonymity. They said, "The SAU's move to do away with the right to agitate is completely unconstitutional, leaving us without proper support since our first day on campus. We feel helpless knowing about the past expulsion of our seniors and the suspension of the professors, which adds to our anxiety. Given the current situation, we freshers are unsure of the kind of communication that is okay with the authorities."

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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