Over 500 scientists and academicians on Monday said that the Indian Institute of Science’s act of stopping a discussion on the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act damaged the institute’s reputation, according to The Hindu.

The discussion was to be led by activists Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, who were arrested in a case related to the riots in Delhi in 2020. They were granted bail by the Delhi High Court in 2021. The order was upheld by the Supreme Court in May.

In a letter to the institute’s director, Govindan Rangarajan, the scientists and academicians said that the event was initially planned to be held at the Centre for Continuing Education, or CCE, and had been approved by the CCE chair.

“On June 27, the registrar of IISc abruptly cancelled permission for the talk,” the signatories said. “This led the student-organisers of the event to replace the talk with an informal interaction outside the Sarvam complex. At this point, the administration dispatched members of the security team to disperse this informal gathering. It was only after the intervention of members of the IISc. faculty that the security team backtracked.”

The signatories said that they believe that it was important for the students of the Indian Institute of Science to hear Narwal’s and Kalita’s experiences and that such discussions are crucial in a functioning democracy.

It also said that the actions of the administration reflect poorly on the institute’s commitment to upholding academic freedom and democratic values.

“They have damaged IISc.’s reputation, both within the country and internationally,” the signatories said. “We hope that you will take urgent corrective measures and ensure that members of IISc. remain free to express and discuss a range of ideas, both about science, and about the society that we live in.”

According to The Indian Express, the event was cancelled by the university’s registrar on the grounds that the organisers should have sought permission from the institute administration and not just the department.

However, Shairik Sengupta, one of the student organisers told the newspaper that such intervention (by the registrar) is unusual since students generally require permission only from the department where the event is to be held.