The registrar of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi had objected to economist Prabhat Patnaik’s participation in a programme on campus on August 4, 2017, but Patnaik attended it anyway. In a letter explaining why, Patnaik reminded the university authorities that he was “not a salaried employee of the university but only a professor emeritus, whose relations with the university authorities of any particular time are governed by mutual courtesy and not by obedience”.

The economist and three others, including retired JNU professors Chaman Lal and Harbans Mukhia and journalist Urmilesh, were invited to speak at a public meeting on “The Idea of a University: Democracy, Resistance and Future Challenges”. The event was organised by the JNU Students’ Union.

On August 3, Registrar Pramod Kumar wrote to Patnaik and Lal – both emeritus professors – and asked them to not speak at the event. “All forms of coercion such as gheraos, sit-ins or any variation of the same, which disrupt normal academic and administrative functioning of the university, are prohibited,” he had said in his letter, requesting them to not participate in the event.

Both had disregarded the letter and joined the meeting the next day.

Kumar wrote to Patnaik alone on Thursday, claiming that the meeting was convened by a “non-student”. He was referring to JNUSU President Mohit Pandey, who was not allowed to register for the final semester of his PhD programme allegedly for not paying fines imposed on him for various transgressions.

“It is unfortunate that you did not care to respect the rule of the university where you have served for decades,” Kumar’s letter read. “It is expected from you that such violation of rules is not repeated in future.”

In his first letter, the registrar had objected to the event being held at JNU’s administrative block. In December 2016, the administration had started insisting that students observe the university rule – unenforced for long – and keep their meetings and demonstrations at least a 100 m away from the administrative block. However, JNUSU General Secretary Satarupa Chakraborty said the meeting would not have restricted access to the “front of the ad block” or “blocked exits or entrances”.

In his response to the registrar, Patnaik reminded Kumar that he was no longer on JNU’s payroll and was not obliged to follow its directions. “Your letter, which demands obedience, is clearly based on a misconception,” he wrote. “I shall be grateful if this is conveyed to the competent authority.”