Will IIT-Madras end up as a JNU clone?
by Nachiketas on 19 Feb 2014 60 Comments

The one distinguishing feature of the IITs till now was their respect for merit and the atmosphere of free thinking which these institutions encouraged. Many an alumnus of the IITs will look back fondly not merely for the academic training it provided, but more for the exposure these campuses give through their wide circle of co-curricular activities. This is in stark contrast to universities like Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Humanities departments of many universities across the country which have long been dominated and strangled by intellectuals of the pseudo-liberal, pseudo-secular kind.


One such vibrant activity at IIT-Madras is the series of ‘extramural lectures’ held frequently, wherein experts and renowned figures from a diversity of domains, both technical and otherwise, are invited to interact with the students of IITM.


On 10 February 2014, IITM invited Ms Teesta Setalvad to deliver an extramural lecture. Setalvad is well-known as a civil rights activist who converted her campaign for the Gujarat riot victims into a business of sorts. Following the announcement of her lecture at IIT-Madras, a section of students and alumni of IIT-Madras began circulating a petition expressing their concern over the extramural lectures being misused for political and ideological campaigning.


The students’ petition, addressed to the Director of IIT-Madras, highlighted the fact that the riot victims of Gulbarg society have accused Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand of having embezzled funds to the tune of Rs 1.5 crores which had been collected for constructing a memorial for the riot victims. In addition, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate the role of the Gujarat Government in the riots also accused Setalvad of pressurizing the riot victims into giving false testimony against the Gujarat Chief Minister.


The petition sought the intervention of the Director in preventing the hijacking of the extramural lectures for ulterior purposes:

“That a person of such dubious credentials and controversial background has been invited by the IIT raises serious questions. This will only serve to vitiate the academic and professional atmosphere of the campus and divide the student community along political lines.

We request you to look into this matter and consider our request not to allow divisive and controversial individuals like Mrs. Teesta Setalvad to use the IIT platform to further her parochial interests.” [1]


But she came. Setalvad’s talk at IIT-Madras was suffused with anti-Hindu, anti-Modi innuendos. She accused the RSS of training people like Nathuram Godse and said that the 2002 Gujarat riots were a culmination of the same ‘poisonous’ ideology. She further attributed the death of the Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare during the 26/11 terrorist attack also to the RSS!


During the Q&A session which followed, many students reportedly questioned her about the factual inaccuracies in her speech and the ongoing criminal investigations against her. She refused to answer a question about the Supreme Court appointed SIT giving a clean chit to Narendra Modi. Instead, she called the Chief Minister’s supporters ‘stupid people’ and accused the IIT students of being ‘majoritarian bullies.’


Next day, The Hindu newspaper carried a blatantly fabricated report that a group of 50 students disrupted Setalvad’s talk and that they were removed from the hall by the IIT administration. In fact no such disruption of her talk took place except for a bit of a commotion in the hall when one of the students was trying to make a statement and nobody was removed from the hall. [2]


What is more shocking is the partisan stand taken by the general secretary of the Students Affairs Council (SAC) – a student by name Deepak Mercy Johnson. A biased report of the talk was posted on Facebook by one Ayyappadas Girija Rajan in which the students who opposed Setalvad were unfairly dubbed as ‘hooligans.’ Deepak Johnson commented on this post: “A description that is identical to what I thought of the discussion (of course, my personal views). Thank you Ayyappadas Girija Rajan for putting these in words.” [3]


It is interesting to note that Deepak Johnson sent an email on January 30 announcing that an extramural talk by the Goa CM Manohar Parikkar and BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi scheduled for January 31 was ‘postponed indefinitely’ for ‘medical reasons.’


Soon after, he shared another abusive post on his Facebook profile:

“Amidst the pre-planned and organized brouhaha by the #RSS goons inside the hall (often disrupting the speaker), Teesta Setelvad - the speaker replied to all the accusations against her - both personal and political - objectively, citing dates and documents. The uproar by the common students (with differing or even opposing political backgrounds) gathered in the hall against the communalistic preposterous #jingoistic and #misogynistic comments was a clear message to the wannabe PM and his associates. Yes, the #secular #democratic and #progressive #youth of IIT is against all divisive communal politics. #iitmstudentsagainstmodi”


It is clear from the above posts that the general secretary Deepak Johnson shares the same political views as Teesta Setalvad. A person of such partisan views and political bias has no right to continue as general secretary of the Students Affairs Council, a post which demands neutrality and an impartial treatment of all students and student activities. Deepak Johnson is clearly unfit for this post. The Dean and the Director of IIT-Madras have an obligation to ensure that the post of the general secretary of the SAC is not misused by such politically biased students to further their pet agendas.


The talk by Setalvad does not seem to be an isolated incident, if reports from students are to be considered:

A student who opted for a Humanities elective course on Indian philosophy has complained that he was shocked at the offensive interpretation of Adi Sankara’s hymn ‘Bhaja Govindam’ given by the professor teaching the course. The professor claimed that what Adi Sankara meant by the verse “Govindam Bhaja Moodhamate” [4] can also be interpreted to mean that “only fools worship Govinda”! Now that is indeed an eye opener for all scholars of Sanskrit who never understood Adi Sankara’s real intentions!


It is deplorable that the classrooms of a hallowed institution like the IIT-Madras which should encourage free thinking and a respect for India’s spiritual and intellectual heritage are being converted into ideological battlegrounds by a few vested interests.


A group of students of the integrated five year MA programme organized an open debate sometime ago on the campus. The theme of the debate was “Are IIT’s official programmes secular or communal?” The students’ contention was that the lighting of lamps (kuthu vilakku) to inaugurate the official programs is a communal gesture! Reports suggest that the five year integrated MA programme is predominantly populated by students from Kerala, many of whom are affiliated to students’ wings of political group. Indeed, opposition to the lighting of lamps is a pet agenda of such groups, and many Muslim politicians in Kerala refuse to light the lamp or attend functions where such ceremonies are observed.


Of even greater concern are reports of evangelical activities on the campus under the guise of the IIT Madras Students’ Christian Fellowship. A student reports on the activities of this group thus:

“This fellowship is notorious for fishing weaker section students at IITM. Their special targets are SC/ST students who are not doing well in academics, and are depressed. They never dare go near the General category students, as they know they would easily devour their propaganda mercilessly. This fellowship works in tandem with churches which have mushroomed in the suburbs around the IITM campus like Tharamani and Velachery. The rate of conversion in those areas (majority of them from weaker sections) is stupendous. In the last five years they have penetrated almost all the families in these suburbs....”


It appears that these divisive forces are out to destroy the characteristic freedom and the vibrancy which defined the climate of the IITM campus all these years. The Director and the Dean of Student Affairs cannot afford to turn a blind eye anymore to these undercurrents. While freedom of speech and the freedom to practice any spiritual creed cannot be denied, the institute must also evolve a clear policy to prevent the campus from becoming a hotbed of anti-national ideologies.




2] Protest at talk, The Hindu, February 12, 2014

3] As posted on his facebook profile:


4] Bhajagovindam bhajagovindam govindam bhajamuudhamate| Sampraapte sannihite kale nahi nahi rakshati dukrijnkarane|| (1) Meaning: “Worship Govinda, Worship Govinda, Worship Govinda. Oh fool! Rules of Grammar will not save you at the time of your death.”


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