Kolhapur professor Tejaswini Desai, who was forced to go on leave last month for saying that rapists could belong to any religion, should be reinstated, a group of 88 academicians have demanded.

On June 7, Desai held a discussion in her class in the Kolhapur Institute of Technology’s College of Engineering after some students had accused Muslims of “being rapists and never getting punished for their crimes”, reported Newslaundry.

“Some students said Hindus never ever engaged in riots and Babri Masjid was demolished on the orders of the Supreme Court,” she told Newslaundry.

Desai said that during the discussion, she told the class that rape was not limited to any particular religion or community. “Rapists don’t have any religion or caste,” she added. “It comes under the category of heinous crimes.”

She also spoke about powerful people accused of rape, including “Patils and Deshmukhs”, referring to the historic titles given to village heads or territory holders, according to Newslaundry.

Some students recorded the discussion and purportedly edited the conversation to show Desai saying that “[Mughal emperor] Aurangzeb was good” and “Patil and Deshmukh were rapists”. After the video went viral, the college administration forced the professor to go on leave.

In their statement on the matter, the 88 academics urged the college authorities to allow Desai to return to work and ensure her safety.

“Her assertion that rapists can be from any community is borne out by the most superficial glance at newspaper reports,” the statement said. “What she said was recorded, then doctored and circulated on social media, leading to her being forced by college authorities to go on leave and there is even a police investigation against her.”

The academics also demanded that state governments and university authorities should take steps to control intimidation as “attacks on teachers grow by the day all over the country, both by state institutions and by student activists of right wing organisations”.

The signatories to the statement issued under the banner of India Academic Freedom Network include Naveen Gaur, Satish Deshpande, Apoorvanand, Rushdia Mehreen, YS Alone, Sabina Kazmi, Lalita Ramdas and Brinelle D’Souza.

Desai has asserted that she never said the things shown in the video – that it was edited and taken out of context. She told Newslaundry that she came to know about the video when the police came to the college. The professor said that while the college authorities supported her, she was asked to apologise.

“In 1943, my father-in-law, who was a freedom fighter, had played a part in destroying the statue of British governor Wilson, where a Shivaji statue was built,” she told Newslaundry. “Ironically, I was asked to issue an apology in front of the same statue.”

Desai has refused to apologise. She has also filed a complaint with the police demanding action against those who edited the video and spread misinformation with the intention to “create rift in the society”.

On her forced leave, she said: “College authorities are very supportive and they didn’t have any intent to take any action against me. But you can understand how much pressure they must be dealing with.”

Mohan Vanrott, the director of Kolhapur Institute of Technology, told Newslaundry that he has formed a committee to investigate the incident.