The OP Jindal Global University in Haryana has asked political scientist Achin Vanaik to express regret for the remarks that he made during a lecture on the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The private liberal arts university has also warned a faculty member for allegedly violating privacy and confidentiality of students during a lecture on dating and for allegedly discriminating against students based on their ideology and religion.
On November 13, Dabiru Sridhar Patnaik, the registrar of the university, wrote a letter to Vanaik, and Vice Chancellor C Raj Kumar wrote to professor Sameena Dalwai.
Both the letters were shared by Renu W Bhatia, the head of the Haryana women’s commission, on social media on Friday night. This is despite the letter to Dalwai being marked “privileged and confidential”.
In the first case, Patnaik told Vanaik that the statements made by him during his lecture on November 1 were gratuitous and unrelated to the subject.
Leaked videos of the talk of the former professor of political science at Delhi University showed that he drew parallels between Zionism and Hindutva nationalism and questioned why one act of violence is labelled terrorism and others are not.
In his lecture, Vanaik also said that Zionism and Hindutva were different as the former was “not anti-Muslim” while the latter was “fundamentally and foundationally anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic”.
Patnaik’s letter described his characterisation of Zionism as “informative” but said the scholar’s comments on Hindutva were “unnecessary and objectionable”.
The registrar also objected to his remarks on suicide bombers, saying they came across as “expression of sympathy towards them instead of unalloyed condemnation of violence and death caused by them”.
In his lecture, Vanaik had said, “Suicide bombing expresses above all the determination not to kill much as the determination to die.”
The registrar said that Vanaik had put OP Jindal Global University in a vulnerable position by failing to exercise prudence while speaking about sensitive subjects.
His lecture drew criticism on social media, with many accusing Vanaik of making “anti-Hindu” remarks.
The letter stated that while the university prides itself in upholding free speech and academic freedom, it cannot contest the charges that some of Vanaik’s remarks were “irresponsible”. The comments “influenced” the audience to take positions about developments in India, which cannot be compared to the situation in Palestine and Israel, the letter continued.
“We live in challenging times,” Patnaik wrote. “We must exercise the precious privilege of academic freedom with grave responsibility and mindfulness of context and perceptions of others.”
The registrar urged the scholar on international relations to “introspect” the “consequences of his remarks”.
In the second case, the university vice chancellor asked Dalwai to “engage in respectful intellectual conversations” with students, even if their views are “diametrically opposite” to hers.
On September 23 – two weeks before Palestinian militant group Hamas launched an attack on Israel – Dalwai during a lecture on sexuality and desire, opened a dating app and projected it onto a screen in a bid to analyse the language of dating profiles.
However, this exercise allegedly caused discomfort among some students as the profiles of their friends also popped up on the screen. She closed down the app after objections from the students.
Weeks later when Vanaik’s lecture triggered controversy, clips from Dalwai’s lecture also surfaced on social media. Subsequently, a screenshot of an email from Dalwai to fellow faculty members defending Vanaik’s talk also went viral.
In her email, she had written about “Jai Shri Ram” slogans being chanted on campus and “right wing” students and faculty organising their “own events”.
The videos and the leaked email were used by Hindutva supporters to launch a campaign, accusing Vaniak and Dalwai of spreading hatred against Hindus and calling them “Hamas sympathisers”.
In his letter, Vice Chancellor Kumar wrote that Dalwai in her response to a show cause notice had acknowledged that the dating app activity was a “breach” on her part but defended it “as part of pedagogic approach”.
The letter, however, stated that she should have sought consent of the students and issued trigger warnings.
“While social experiments may have pedagogic value, faculty members are duty-bound to foresee the ramifications of such experiments,” the letter added. “When students, who are the learners, become the subject of such experiments, abundant caution ought to have been exercised. You have failed in exercising due diligence and acted irresponsibly and thereby failed the university in its promise to create a safe space for its students.”
Dalwai, according to Kumar, also said that the words used in the email were “unintentional”. The vice chancellor said that while that may have been the case, it still “does not mitigate the impact it has on certain groups or individuals”.
On November 3, the Israeli embassy in India had also raised concerns about Vanaik’s lecture and Dalwai’s email.
The Israeli ambassador to India Naor Gilon wrote a letter to the vice chancellor, saying he found it “hard to accept” that Dalwai sent out the email that “had named the barbaric atrocities carried out by the Hamas” as fake news.
On November 7, the head of the Haryana women’s commission had waded into the controversy as she visited the campus to meet “affected students” whose privacy was leaked by the lecture on dating.