The faculty forum of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay on Tuesday issued a statement supporting a professor who has been receiving threats on social media and phone calls for allegedly backing Palestinian militant group Hamas.
This came after a group of students filed a complaint against the professor, Sharmistha Saha, and guest lecturer Sudhanva Deshpande for allegedly glorifying the militant group, reported India Today.
The allegations pertain to the screening of a documentary film titled Arna’s Children as part of an ongoing postgraduate course on November 6. Deshpande, a theatre director and actor, was invited to introduce the relevance of the film.
According to the faculty forum, Deshpande has worked with The Freedom Theatre, which is the focus of the film. The Freedom Theatre was founded by two theater personalities and is situated in Jenin, West Bank.
In its statement, the faculty forum said it is distressed by threats to Saha and attempts to tarnish her reputation. “The allegations made in social media about her supporting Hamas or terrorists are based on misinformation and falsehood,” it said. “The faculty forum of IIT Bombay firmly expresses its support to our colleague.”
The forum said that a student, who was not a part of the class, started recording the lecture session on his phone. “The course instructor told him not to record the lecture, and to leave the class, but he refused to cooperate and instead spoke to her aggressively,” said the forum.
It added: “The recording [which was made despite her explicit denial] was put up on social media posts and was also shown on some TV channels.”
The forum also said that Saha was unable to respond to Deshpande’s comments in the class “because of the intimidating atmosphere prevailing”.
The complaint against Saha and Deshpande has been filed by a student named Omkar Supekar, who has demanded that a first information report be registered against the accused. He has alleged that Deshpande glorified former militant Zakaria Zubeidi and Ghassan Kanafani, a deceased Palestinian author and politician, and also defended armed rebellion.
On Saha, Supekar alleged she “inappropriately used her position to invite Deshpande” to the screening. He also described Deshpande as a “radical leftist”.
Following the screening, protests were held outside the institute on November 11 under the aegis of the Vivek Vichar Manch, an organisation that claims to spread “awareness about the acts of Islamic terrorism”, among other things.
“Today’s protest was to show our support to the students who are raising their voices against the pro-terrorism statements and views expressed by guest lecturers and faculty members at the Humanities and Social Science department,” Ashok Tidke from Vivek Vichar Manch was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.
‘Disinformation campaign’: Deshpande
In a statement issued on November 9, Deshpande had condemned the “disinformation campaign” being run against him by news channel Times Now.
“I had been asked by Professor Saha to introduce a 2004 documentary film, Arna’s Children, made by Juliano Mer Khamis, an Israeli Jewish filmmaker, actor and theatre director,” he said. “One of the characters in the film is Zakaria Zubeidi. Zakaria Zubeidi is a former military commander of the armed wing of Fatah, the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. Fatah is the political party founded by Yasser Arafat.”
Deshpande said he had referred to Zubeidi in his lecture as a “visionary” because of the conversion he had with him. In the conversation, Zubeidi “envisaged a future where the entire territory of historic Palestine would be a single nation, in which ALL its citizens – Arabs, Jews, Christians, and others – would have equal rights”, Deshpande said.
He went on to say that during a show on November 8, Times Now referred to him as a “Hamas apologist” and Zubeidi as a “Hamas terrorist”
“Zubeidi was never a member of Hamas, as claimed on air by Times Now,” said the filmmaker. “I said nothing that glorified Hamas. In fact, I did not even mention Hamas in my talk.”