The Madhya Pradesh High Court on Thursday told the state government to file its response to a petition challenging a letter from the police to a university in Sagar district within three weeks. The letter had objected to the speakers at an international webinar in July.

Among the speakers at the virtual event were poet and scientist Gauhar Raza, Delhi University professor Apoorvanand, Lucknow University professor Nadeem Hasnain, IIIT-Hyderabad Professor Harjinder Singh, GLA University, Mathura, Professor Panchanan Mohanty.

In the letter dated July 29, the Superintendent of Police of the Sagar district had warned that a case could be filed if the virtual event caused a law and order problem.

The webinar had been planned by the Department of Anthropology of Dr Harisingh Gour Vishwavidyalaya, Sagar, in Madhya Pradesh, and the Montclair State University, United States, on July 30 and 31. The topic of discussion was “Cultural and Linguistic Hurdles in the Achievement of Scientific Temper”.

Subsequently, the university in Sagar withdrew from the event. The US-based university organised the webinar on the same date as planned.

Rajesh Gautam, who was to be the convenor of the organising committee of the webinar, then filed a petition in the High Court. He demanded the quashing of the police letter, and a declaration that it was “arbitrary and illegal”.

Gautam contended that the police’s letter impinged on his right to freedom of speech and expression. He said that the allegations in the letter caused him grave mental agony and “caused embarrassment to national academic and freedom of speech practices on a global stage”.

The letter from the police to the university said that it had been brought to their notice that the “speakers are considered to have an anti-national mindset and make provocative speeches”. The police also alleged that some of the speakers were suspected of “creating communal discord”.

The police had written to the university after the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad protested against the organisers’ decision to call Apoorvanand and Raza to the virtual event.

Gautam said that the superintendent of police “not only validated the illegal warnings issued by the political outfit but himself proceeded, without any legal basis, to adjudge that the speakers had an anti-national mindset and were in the habit of making provocative speeches”.

Gautam added that he also had some other projects in the pipeline with the Montclair State University, but due to the police’s actions, the university no longer wants to collaborate with him.

“The petitioner also being a Scheduled Caste individual has been discriminated against in the most illegal and arbitrary manner by the respondents”, his plea stated.