Indian academics banned from criticising government

Government says rules on conduct of civil servants should apply to scholars at central universities

October 23, 2018
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Academics at some of India’s central universities have been banned from criticising the government, in a move that scholars claim is hampering teaching, research and academic publishing.

The University Grants Commission sent a notification to central universities earlier this year stating that the Central Civil Services (CCS) Conduct Rules of 1964 would apply to their staff and academics.

The rules state that government employees cannot “make any statement of fact or opinion which has the effect of an adverse criticism of any current or recent policy of the central government or a state government”.

India has 45 central universities, which are regulated by the national government, according to the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

Antara Sengupta, a research fellow specialising in higher education at the Observer Research Foundation, an independent thinktank based in India, said that central universities “aren’t bound to follow CCS if they have their own rules in place”. However, scholars have reported that some institutions are already following the policy and that it has had a chilling effect on academic freedom.

According to Apoorvanand, professor in the department of Hindi at the University of Delhi, a central university, some institutions, such as the Central University of Gujarat, have already drawn up policies to abide by the CCS rules. Others, such as Jawaharlal Nehru University, are in the process of doing so, he added.

Professor Apoorvanand, a vocal critic of the prime minister, Narendra Modi, said that the rules restrict “teachers from writing, speaking and participating in meetings and seminars which authorities find unsuitable”. Because of this, “some notable names have already left public universities and joined private ones hoping they would remain relatively free there”, he continued.

“These restrictions, along with the constant attacks by the organisations affiliated to the ruling party, are definitely affecting teaching, research and writing adversely,” Professor Apoorvanand said.

“Publishers are wary of publishing anything which might invite the wrath of the right-wing ruling establishment. Academic publishing is now being scanned by legal teams. It means that books on certain themes would face difficult times in India.”

Ms Sengupta said that the CCS rules “should not be applicable to university teachers…who need absolute autonomy and authority to ethically deliver education on campuses”.

“Especially for subjects such as political science, law and economics, the only viable way of teaching is to analyse real policies of the government and retrofit them in an academic environment to understand their feasibility. Even to publish research papers in these fields, CCS rules will get violated, which can unnecessarily cause an environment of dissent on university campuses,” she said.

Philip Altbach, research professor and founding director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, said that the policy shows that “the highly restrictive and dramatically over-bureaucratised environment of Indian universities remains the mentality of government”.

“Without much more autonomy, and of course a recognition of the centrality of academic freedom as a core value, Indian universities are unlikely to join the ranks of world-class institutions,” he added.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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