SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY - Magsaysay Awardee Pandey Purged from BHU on ‘Anti-National’ Charge // Sandeep Pandey "The RSS is conspiring to gain a hold of all academic institutions"

NB: The Sangh Parivar is clearly working overtime to establish a totalitarian regimentation of the minds of all Indians. If there is a disruptive force working to disturb national integrity (and if 'nation' means the Indian people and not some ideal concept of their imagination), it is the Parivar - DS

The teaching contract of well-known educationist, social activist and Gandhian, Sandeep Pandey, at Banaras Hindu University’s Indian Institute of Technology has been terminated prematurely on charges of his being “involved in anti-national activities and a Naxalite” and for allegedly “showing the banned documentary on the Nirbhaya case, ‘India’s Daughter’” to his students. Pandey, who won the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award – considered the ‘Asian Nobel’ – in the ’emergent leadership’ category in 2002, said, “I was informed of the decision taken at a meeting of the Board of Governors (BoG) by Rajeev Sangal, the director of IIT-BHU, on January 1, though I am yet to receive an official letter conveying it.”

The contract of Pandey, who has been a visiting professor at the Development Studies wing of IIT-BHU for the last two and a half years, was to get over in July this year. Says Pandey, “In a recent board meeting, the vice chancellor of BHU, who was made chairman of the IIT BoG by the Union HRD minister bypassing the panel of five names recommended by a resolution of the board, Prof. G.C. Tripathi, and dean of faculty affairs, IIT, BHU, Prof. Dhananjay Pandey – both gentlemen associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – primarily forced the decision. The charges against me are that I am a Naxalite, showed a banned documentary on the Nirbhaya case and am involved in anti-national activities.”

Reportedly, both Tripathi and Pandey took the decision on the basis of a news report published in a Hindi newspaper accusing Pandey of being anti-national. States Lucknow-based Pandey, “I wish to clarify that I am not a Naxalite. The ideology that I would consider myself closest to is Gandhian. But I do identify with the causes taken up by Naxalites even though I may not agree with their methods. I also think that it requires a lot of courage and sacrifice to be a Naxalite and I certainly don’t have that kind of resolve.”

In 1991, Pandey co-founded Asha for Education, a not-for-profit organisation to provide education to underprivileged children which now has its presence in almost all states of the country. He also co-founded the well-known grassroots organisation National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM).

Pandey said the banned documentary on the Nirbhaya case was to be screened in his Development Studies class during a semester of the academic year 2014-15 but the decision was withdrawn after the intervention of the chief proctor of BHU and the SHO of Lanka Police Station just before the class was to begin. “However, a discussion on the issue of violence against women in our society was conducted after screening a different documentary,” he added.

The one-of-a-kind Pandey, who doesn’t wear ironed clothes, avoids milk (he feels cows produce milk for their young ones) and who led an India-Pakistan peace march to Multan in 2005, reiterates, “I don’t believe in the idea of a nation or national boundaries, which I think are responsible for artificial divisions among human beings similar to ones on the basis of caste or religion. Hence, I cannot be anti or pro-nation. I am pro-people. I am not a nationalist but a universalist.” He says he has no regret about the BoG’s decision “as it was not taken based on my academic performance.”

Allegations against Pandey of supporting Naxalites are not new. In 2002, he, along with some well-known activists, was dragged into a controversy for attending the inaugural function of a leftist outfit where the kin of some Naxalites killed in a police action in Bihar were honoured. In 2010, his visit to the Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh – where the Maoists are active – for a public hearing of NAPM against the local administration met with opposition from some people, which his NAPM colleague and well-known anti-dam activist Medha Patkar later accused of being “stage managed”.

The Wire couldn’t get a confirmation of Pandey’s removal from the BHU administration as all attempts to contact IIT-BHU director Rajeev Sangal and also VC Tripathi’s office met with no response.

Sandeep Pandey: "The RSS is conspiring to gain a hold of all academic institutions"
I am an alumnus of BHU only. I did my engineering from the same university in 1992-1996 and I have been teaching here since 2013 as a visiting faculty. My contract here was yearly and on renewable basis. I was teaching a few branches of chemical engineering and a development studies course which I floated during my tenure. There were more than 150 students registered for that course. Last night [January 6], I received the formal communication from the university’s end that my tenure has been discontinued and there were no academic reasons given for it.

Ever since the current Modi government came into power, some sections have been trying to complain about me to the Ministry of Human Resources Development. The HRD minister Smriti Irani also called the Director Rajeev Sangal and told him that I am politically active and my actions need to be controlled. In another instance, the Vice Chancellor GC Tripathi got miffed at me for sitting at a protest with 40 contract employees of BHU who were ousted recently. I just supported them but VC asked me why did I feel the need to go there. He even said that if I want to be Jayaprakash Narayan then I should quit the university and join politics.

In another meeting, Professor Dhananjay Pandey, who is associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, went on to say that people who should be in jail are part of the faculty here but he didn’t take my name. But he didn’t renew my contract and it was delayed for three months before the director acted on it. They have alleged that I am a Naxalite and involved in anti-national activities. They had decided long ago that I need to be shown the door, they were just looking for the right opportunity. In the meeting, they forced the director to remove me from my position.

The director was the one who appointed me and he was in my favour but people with RSS links pushed their way through. They don’t have any proof to back their allegations against me which is why their letter is so cleverly framed that it can’t be taken up in the court. It doesn’t mention any reason whatsoever but I am not going to be quieted down.

I will use the Right to Information to ask for the minutes of that meeting and if there are these allegations there then I will definitely move court on this. Around 2002, I had attended an event of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) from where it all started. Back then, this was an underground organisation. Some families of former Naxalites were being felicitated in that meeting and I was merely on the stage there. And that’s when the RSS activists started saying that I am a Naxalite.

Moreover, I was in the citizens Defence Committee constituted for Prof SAR Gilani who was accused and later acquitted of all charges of his involvement in the Parliament attacks of 2001. They use that against me to say that I am an anti-national and a terrorist. The real problem that the government and the right-wing agents is that I work among the students on the campus and fight on issues. I run a forum in the name of Acharya Narayan Dev who has been a VC of BHU, we discuss social and development issues like farmer suicides, poverty and economic inequality there. The forum was getting popular among the students.

We worked for small farmers, labourers who need help in fighting for their rights. We raised an agitation against Coca Cola, fought against land acquisition bill and organised marches. They think that if I am not here, right-wing elements will be able to gain more ground in the campus. They are worried about securing their support among the students. Students have a nimble brain and they are attracted to the kind of ideologies they are exposed to and they want to expand their territory.

An ideological battle is being waged in our educational institutions. The RSS is trying to gain control over all institutions to propagate its own ideology. It’s sad that very incompetent people are being brought in at the helm of important institutions. Educational standards have gone out of the window. Nobody discussed any of my academic credentials and all the discussions revolved around just my political record and these baseless allegations. This is a conspiracy to take control over educational institutions and dominate the ideological discourse.

Going forward, I don't think I will fight for my job any longer even though I want to teach. It was a contractual thing so I don't see the point. But the larger battle for freedom of expression and human rights will continue. As told to Mayank Jain for Scroll

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