Video Editor: Sandeep Suman
“Dear Superheroes..... This is the most difficult letter I have ever written. We live in complicated times. India is bursting with creativity. But the dark shadows of authoritarianism are also hovering over us, putting us all in often uncomfortable and sometimes dishonourable positions.”
Amid massive outrage over his resignation from Ashoka University, academician Pratap Bhanu Mehta penned an emotional and honest letter to his students, restating his decision to step down, expressing his gratitude to his students and urging them to stop their protests.
Mehta’s students read out his letter for The Quint. Here are excerpts from his letter:
‘Overwhelmed by the Outpouring of Affection, Support and Solidarity’
Mehta started the letter by expressing his gratitude for the show of solidarity by the students of Ashoka University, following his sudden departure. “We are still processing the train of events that led to my resignation. I was personally overwhelmed by the outpouring of affection and support you have displayed over the last week,” Mehta said in his letter.
“Your solidarity means to me more than I can ever express in words. It is affection that will overwhelm me whenever I will remember this week. But the deeper reason why this is difficult to write is this. Ashoka as an institution stands indicted before your bracing moral clarity and deep political wisdom. Your protests instantly grasped what we, your elders, failed to adequately understand,” Mehta wrote to his students.
‘Your Rebellion Was Grounded in a Concern for Freedom and Democracy’
Mehta appreciated his students for connecting the dots, focusing their protest not just on Ashoka but on ‘values larger than Ashoka’.
Quoting George Eliot’s poem, "the right to rebellion is the right to seek a higher rule, and not to wander in mere lawlessness.", Pratap Bhanu Mehta applauded his students’ "rebellion" which he said was ‘grounded in a concern for freedom and democracy’ and for carrying it out with ‘dignity, grace and some serious artistic creativity’.
“In all candour, this episode will be seen to have hurt Ashoka's reputation. But in a larger sense Ashoka's reputation will be enhanced, not by what the university did but what you did,” Mehta wrote in his letter.
‘You Have Accomplished Ashoka's Mission’
Calling his students’ outpouring a ‘victory of sorts’, Mehta expressed gratitude to them for teaching the professors of Ashoka University by example.
“I imagine your voice will, in the long run make Ashoka a better university and get it to recommit to its ideals and values. You should be proud of yourselves. You should be confident that you will create a better world. You have already accomplished Ashoka’s mission,” Mehta said in his letter.
‘Only Honourable Thing to Do Consistent with My Values’
Restating his decision to step down from Ashoka University, he said, “In institutional contexts, principles and values cannot be replaced; individuals always can. So my plea to you is this. It is time for me to move on.”
“Teaching at Ashoka, particularly the last couple of years, has been an absolute joy. It reinforced the one conviction I have carried my life without fail: students never ever let you down. So giving up the company of Ashoka students and colleagues, disrupting our lives, and leaving a fine university, is not an easy decision. But it is, for me, the only honourable thing to do, consistent with my values, values I think you share. I also believe it is in the best interests of the university,” wrote Mehta, explaining his sudden departure.
‘Your Mission is Larger Than the Fate of Two Professors’
Urging his students to end their protest and work with the faculty and trustees of the university, Mehta said, “I hope the trustees and faculty will work with you to secure your renewed trust and confidence. With your guidance they will be able to secure the institutional autonomy and freedom Ashoka needs. You embody the courage, reasonableness and understanding of democratic values that will take the university forward. I request you to work with them to make Ashoka a success.”
‘I Am Eternally Grateful to You’
“My conversation with you on these matters has been a source of immense pleasure. But the good thing about his conversation is that it continues wherever we are, through the texts I so enjoyed with you this year: Plato, Mahabharata, Montaigne, Hobbes, Marx, Beauvoir, Kant and many others. But what you taught us is something more valuable: that liberal values are more about having a character than they are about professing a creed. It is a character you have in ample measure. I am eternally grateful to you,” Mehta signed off, thanking his students for their support and solidarity.
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