“I like teaching. it’s not just my profession, it’s also my hobby. And I have one year and nine months left on my tenure. I have only resigned as the acting principal of HK Arts College, not as the professor and head of Department of Economics,” said a resilient Hemant Kumar Shah, while speaking to The Quint early on Wednesday, 13 February.
Professor Shah is in the spotlight after he resigned as the acting principal of HK Arts College, Ahmedabad, as a mark of protest after Dalit leader and independent MLA from Vadgam Jignesh Mevani was disinvited from the college’s annual day programme.
Mevani is a former student of HK Arts College, but invitating him stoked resentment among student leaders affiliated with the BJP, who allegedly issued threats to the college’s Trust. The trustees denied access to the auditorium, located on the campus, due to which the event had to be cancelled.
Shah, who is a former National Executive Member of the RSS-affilaited Swadeshi Jagran Manch, told The Quint that he values his freedom of speech and expression more than the office he once held.
“I believe freedom is supreme for human beings and all other values, including equality and justice, are derived from freedom. If I am not able to hold those values in my office, why should I remain in the office at all? If the Trust is not allowing me to function with my freedom, I should not remain in the office.”Hemant K Shah, Proffesor, HK Arts College
Shah Clears the Air on Why Event was Cancelled
Vanrajsinh Chavda, who had raised the issue with the trustees, told The Quint that several students and professors of the college were firmly against inviting Mevani as the chief guest of the college. However, Shah claims not a single student who is currently studying in the college came forward with such a complaint.
“On Sunday afternoon, a meeting was convened, which included 18 professors, along with me and the vice principal. The professors said that since the Trust has denied permission to access the hall to hold the event, the event itself should be cancelled. Only I, along with the vice president and a professor from the English Department, Sanjay Bhave, didn’t have an issue with inviting Mevani.”Hemant K Shah, Proffesor, HK Arts College
Yet, Shah relented and decided to cancel the annual event altogether. However, the way the issue was raised didn’t sit well with him.
“If my professors are not standing with me on freedom of speech, expression and thought, I should not manage them and the college.”
“HK Arts College is one of the best Arts colleges in the country and is renowned for its liberal ideas and movements. I felt that this is an attack on freedom of expression and speech, and I felt that our human rights are more important than the office I was holding.” Shah further added.
Shah, a Former Swadeshi Jargarn Manch Member
Incidentally, Shah was a national executive member of the RSS-affilated Swadeshi Jagran Manch, which he left in 2008-09. Shah said he was part of SJM without ever becoming a Swayamsevak.
“In 2008-09, I raised my objection against Vasundhara Raje, Scindia, Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Narendra Modi because they were bringing FDI to their respective states, which was not necessary. I was of the point of view that if we are going to be critical of Manmohan Singh’s policies, why can’t we criticise those of the BJP ruled-states? My views were not appreciated, and I quietly distanced myself from the organisation.”Hemant K Shah, Proffesor, HK Arts College
Shah believes that his act of defiance will have some impact on the academia in Gujarat. He added that he has received several calls from his peers lauding him for his bravery.
“Many professors are afraid of speaking their minds against the government’s educational policies. I feel the academic freedoms has been curtailed and the situation is quite pathetic because if you speak openly, you are sidelined. So I feel my resignation may have some small impact among the academia.”