Forget about the government prosecuting people for what they say on social media, universities seem to be  jumping on the bandwagon too. While controversies at the English and Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad never seem to end, the decision of the university to issue show-cause notices to students for criticising it on Facebook posts have led to a fresh bout of protests against the administration.

Ironically, the protests against the notices resulted in more show-cause notices being served to students, which led to counter-protests, as students threatened to intensify their agitation.

It all started with a Facebook post titled “Obscenities in EFLU” put up by a student Arjab Sarkar on October 1, in which he criticised the "Clean EFLU" campaign for being oblivious to the plight of the sweepers who, he said, clean up the “real filth”.

This post was followed by another one where Sarkar allegedly criticised the university administration’s decision to fence the Heritage Well, a stepwell in the campus that is a heritage structure and and a common haunt for those on the campus.

On October 5, Sarkar was served a notice from the university, asking him to explain why disciplinary action should not be taken against him for his post which the university claimed was a “derogatory Facebook comment against the university”.

This resulted in an intense reaction from his peers as 300 students announced an indefinite protest against the authorities. Demonstrators also took out a mock funeral at the campus on October 14 calling it a "Requiem for EFLU".

“Nothing is allowed on the campus,” said Ashwin Paul, a Masters student at EFLU. “The university has barred any sort of association among students so forget political unions or student bodies, even a movie club can’t function. Student elections haven’t been announced even three months after the semester started in violation of the University Grants Commission’s guidelines and the authorities are making students go back and forth all the time.”

Notices for protesting against the notices

However, the very social media sites that the university seemed to have a problem with has provided more students a platform to join in the agitation and voice their concerns. Many of the students have put up profile pictures announcing “RIP EFLU” while others have created Facebook pages to put out information, updates on the daily happenings and garner support of the larger activist community.

The burgeoning support for the demostrations, however, has not deterred the university from issuing more notices to students. After the protest march last week, 12 more students were issued show-cause notices citing their involvement in the protests and the alleged threat they posed to harmony on the campus.

“Although more than 300 students took part in the protest rallies, 12 who were threats capable of incitement and violence to quote the admin [administration] were singled out,” Paul said. “These threat tactics have been used for a while to silence all questions with the admin telling us that we have no right to question their decision.”

Continued problems

It is not the first time that the university has come under fire for its crackdown on students. It had issued a notice on October 10 as well to a member of the Students Federation for putting up a banner that announced a movie screening without taking appropriate permissions from the authorities. In 2013 as well, notices were issued to students for criticising two administrative officers.

Students claim that it is the “standard” way of the authorities at the institution to limit freedom of expression and curb voices of dissent.

“They cite ‘EFLU ordinances’ , conveniently forgetting that the UGC [University Grants Commission] guidelines state that students are entitled to the right to association and creative expression,” a post graduate student claimed. “They invoke the UGC guidelines on safety and security to install CCTV [Close Circuit Television] cameras and barbed wire fences for ‘our security’ conveniently ignoring the guidelines they’re violating by denying us our rights. Bordering on Orwellian, if I may.”

The authorities, meanwhile, maintain that it acts only on the posts which are “provocative” in nature.

“Action is taken based on the nature and language of comments<" Prakash Kona, Proctor of EFLU told The Hindu. "If the posts attack specific people, then we serve show-cause notice. Some students have a history of being provocative,” he said.

Here are pictures from the campus shared by the university students.