Over 30 academics, civil society members and authors have written a letter to Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari expressing concern over the registration of a first information report against Goa law college assistant professor Shilpa Singh for allegedly hurting religious feelings, The Indian Express reported on Thursday.
On Monday, Rajiv Jha, a member of the Rashtriya Yuva Hindu Vahini’s South Goa unit, had filed a complaint against Singh, an assistant professor of political science. She was charged with Section 295-A (deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code.
In October, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the students’ body of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, had complained to the college authorities about Singh’s teaching being “anti-religious”.
In the letter, they urged Koshyari, who is also the chancellor of Goa University, to uphold the “traditions of vichar [idea], samvaad [dialogue], and vaicharic sahishnuta [tolerance of dissenting views]”.
The petitioners said that they saw the attack on Singh as “a systematic repression of academic freedom”, adding that she has been making a case for the same in her speech and writings. “Her post [on Facebook] is within the ambit of the Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression,” the letter said. “We also note that when it was brought to her notice that sentiments are hurt, she apologised and deleted the post, respecting the sentiments, notwithstanding her opinion.”
The letter also pointed to “frivolous and ill-founded” FIRs and said it was the duty of the state to protect the constitutional right of freedom of expression. “This means protecting those who express their truthful opinion,” the letter said, according to The Indian Express.
The signatories said that they believed the action against the professor was being taken at the “behest of some extreme reactionary, right wing groups in Goa”, adding that under their pressure the police have been forced to register an FIR against Singh, the group said, reported the newspaper.
In another letter to the governor, Goa University teachers brought up the matter of safety for Singh, who is receiving hate messages. Rahul Tripathi, a professor of Goa University, said that some of Singh’s students, including former ones as well, were taking take turns to keep vigil outside her house. “They are considering this until the state provides her protection,” he added.
In October, ABVP’s Konkan unit Joint Secretary Prabha Naik had said that Singh “promotes socially hateful thoughts about a particular religion, community and group of people”. Naik had asked the college to take action within a day, failing which it would be “forced to start a severe agitation against the institution” and approach the police.
The college, however, refused to remove the professor. In a letter to the student unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the college in Panaji said that the student body had “no locus standi” to make such demands.
While the college wrote to the students’ body saying that it was not possible to meet the demands, the internal grievance committee took note of the complaint, and asked for Singh’s response, reported The Indian Express. In her reply, the professor said that she felt “threatened and alarmed at this insistence of intimidation” and that the complaint demanding the termination of her job was an “assault” on her right to livelihood.