Vice President Hamid Ansari on Saturday said Indian universities need to be defended as free spaces. Speaking at Punjab University’s 66th convocation ceremony, Ansari said the freedom of universities is being challenged by “narrow considerations” and that there was much confusion about what universities “should and should not be”.

In an apparent reference to the February clashes at Ramjas College in Delhi University, Ansari said the rights to “dissent and agitation” are ingrained in the fundamental rights under our Constitution. “Except in cases of illegal conduct or violence, a university should never seek to silence or influence faculty members or students to adopt or renounce any particular position.”

The vice president said intellectual dissent has the power to “clarify differences and elucidate competing assumptions”. He said a varsity is obligated to speak out without “the fear of intimidation or giving offence, even at the cost of inviting protests”, PTI reported.

In February, Ansari had urged people to ask themselves several uncomfortable questions, including “Can we just accept the growing insularity, intolerance and discrimination?”.

The conflict at Ramjas College began on February 21, when a seminar had to be cancelled after members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad protested against the participation of Jawaharlal Nehru University students Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid Shora. The talk was part of a two-day seminar on “Cultures of Protest”.

Clashes broke out between members of the All India Students Association and ABVP at Ramjas College the following day when the students held a rally to protest against the seminar being cancelled. More than 20 students and several journalists were injured.