‘Student Thrown Under Bus’: Alumni on TISS Probing Kashmir Thesis
Many alumni students were disappointed at TISS’ decision to not back the dissertation by an MA student on Kashmir.
After demands for criminal action and massive criticism surfaced on social media over a dissertation by an MA student from Tata Institute of Social Science, Hyderabad, the public-funded institute said it has ordered an enquiry into the research paper.
Even though the complete context of the student's research has not been published publicly, several people on Twitter and right-wing web portal OpIndia, which has been called out multiple times for spreading hate and misinformation, outraged over the title of the dissertation which read: ‘Engendering Conflict: Understanding the Impact of Militarization, Conflict and Pandemic-induced Lockdown on Domestic Violence in India Occupied Kashmir’. The student is pursuing her masters in the Women’s Studies Department at TISS Hyderabad campus.
Twitter users resorted to threats and called for 'strict action' against the student and her mentor on the research paper for 'invoking anti-India sentiments'. Several tweeted calling for the government to defund the institute for allowing such research to happen under its purview.
Following the social media outrage, the institute put up a statement saying it does not "endorse" the title and "necessary action has been initiated for fact finding."
To a questionnaire sent by The Quint asking why it felt an enquiry was necessary on a student's dissertation that was guided by TISS faculty, and if the decision was an outcome of an online outrage campaign, a senior official at TISS, Hyderabad said:
“TISS respects the sovereignty and integrity of the country and does not endorse any views challenging the same. As an academic Institution, TISS encourages scientific inquiry and ethical conduct of research on all themes including on sensitive matters. Both these aspects are being investigated in this particular case by the Institute”.
However, the criticism haven’t stopped with one dissertation. Several users are now digging up other research papers published by students in different TISS campuses on topics which have been politically sensitive.
‘TISS Should Have Stood By Student’
TISS' decision to order an enquiry into the matter has left many alumni students displeased. Vaivab Das, Alumnus (Batch 2017-19), School of Gender Studies, TISS Hyderabad said, "I am quite disappointed at how the entire scenario has turned into an Olympics of "who can separate themselves from the concerned student first". It is fascinating to find TISS administration taking cognizance of misleading articles from certain news agencies, which are generally found in the red-list of "sources to be not cited in academic research."
What concerns me the most is the weaponization of alternative narratives to fuel political polarisation and to further police institutions of higher education. It is not the first time the term "India Occupied Kashmir" has been used in Academia. Various scholars have agreed and disagreed on the usage of term but their engagement never moved institutions to take punitive action on one's thought encoded in a research project. One should remember the gravity of the present moment. In the recent case, the troll army found a perfect enemy - an educated woman, who doesn't toe along the dominant nationalist thought, and in TISS, they found a perfect victim, who can be scared into introspection through threats of defunding and government crackdown."
Another alumnus from the batch of 2016-17, Upendra Dwivedi said, “All universities and academic systems across the world have certain principles and rules to go by, and if respect for homeland's integrity and not using prejudiced and unofficial nomenclature for a legitimate territory of the country is one of them, it is entirely the universities' prerogative.”
“However, TISS as an institution should hold far more clarity about such cases, what is their vision or policy for research output and the associated nomenclature? They should reject the approach to research and nomenclature before it gets approvals from committees and the guide and not do fact-finding only after public outrage. If their approval was rooted in their academic convictions, then they should have the integrity to stand with their students despite the outrage.”
Pallavi Pratibha, Class of 2019 of TISS Hyderabad, said, "In 2018, when a dissertation on sexual assault in Bihar shelter homes created uproar, TISS enjoyed the gains and credibility from it. Right now, they have shrugged off all responsibility. There have been guides involved in the process. TISS has given approval.”
However, a Twitter user by the name of Shubhendu, a Supreme Court advocate according to his profile, said he has always been ashamed “of my association with the institution.”
He further wrote, “ There are many more research projects with a similar narrative. The liability lies squarely with professor and institution.”
The Quint has also reached out to the student and the mentor concerned but has not received a response yet. The article will be updated if and when they reply.
Space for ‘India Occupied Kashmir’ Discourse in Academia
Even though the phrase ‘India Occupied Kashmir’ maybe politically contentious, there is no legal restrictions on the use of the phrase.
Dr Shrimoyee Ghosh, lawyer and legal anthropologist, who has published several research papers on Kashmir and its history of conflicts says, “This case is about issues of academic freedom and academic expression. An "occupation" is a legal term in international humanitarian law, it doesn't automatically indicate an illegality. Kashmir is politically and territorially disputed between India and Pakistan, and different parts are administered by different nations, amidst constant violent border-shelling and a counter-insurgency war waged against the people.”
She added, “The laws of international legal status determination and the applicability of international laws, human rights standards and definitions is something all scholars-- international lawyers, constitutional lawyers, social scientists must and should be deeply interested in investigating. It's a pity that they are not precisely because of the kind of repression any such curiosity faces."
This is not the first time that TISS has been involved in a controversy over a topic on Kashmir. In 2015, a talk by Professor Dibyesh Anand from the Westminster University on Kashmir was allegedly disrupted by the authorities and the students were denied a space to hold “healthy academic discussions.”
In 2016, when the government had cracked its whip on the Jawaharlal Nehru University with sedition cases being slapped on student leaders and on Hyderabad University over the Rohith Vemula incident, several students and faculty had joined hands to “oppose attack on academic freedom”.
(The story was first published on 24 June and has been updated on 27 June at 3 PM.)
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