Central University of Kerala VC was under 'pressure' to suspend teacher who criticised BJP-RSS
Rule 9 of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules gives protection to government employees from action for views expressed in official capacity or while performing duties assigned to them.
KASARGOD: Central University of Kerala vice-chancellor prof H Venkateshwarlu was under "tremendous pressure" to act against Dr Gilbert Sebastian, who referred to the RSS-BJP as a proto-fascist organisation and questioned the Centre's vaccine policy in his class, said a senior dean of the university.
"The VC was inclined to let off the faculty member with a warning. But he was under tremendous pressure," he said. The phone call to the VC was not answered.
Prof Ventakeshwarlu had set up a three-member fact-finding committee to look into the complaints filed by the university's ABVP unit and A Vinod Karuvarakundu, a member of the National Monitoring Committee on Education (SCs, STs, Persons with Special Needs and Minority Education) under the Ministry of Human Resource Development.
The committee members of the fact-finding committee were Prof K P Suresh, Dean (Academics), Prof M S John of the Department of International Relations and Politics, and controller of examination Dr Muraleedharan Nambiar.
According to the sources in the university, Dr Sebastian did not deny the observations he made in the class to the committee but said the complaints against him were filed by distorting and cherry-picking his sentences.
Dr Sebastian refused to comment on this report.
During his online class on 'Fascism and Nazism' on April 19, Dr Sebastian of the Department of International Relations and Politics, said: "The RSS and its affiliate organisations, together called as the Sangh Parivar meaning the Sangh family (including the BJP) in India can also be considered proto-fascist". Proto-fascist movements are those influenced by classical fascist organisations.
In the same class, the assistant professor also criticised the government for exporting vaccines at a time when the country's vaccine needs were not met. "That shows their patriotism," he said.
The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) -- the students' wing of the RSS -- threatened mass protest if the VC did not take action against the faculty member.
Vinod Karuvarakundu -- who is also a former president of ABVP's Kerala unit -- wrote to the vice-chancellor demanding disciplinary action against Dr Sebastain on April 19, the same day the online lecture was given.
He alleged the teacher attempted to poison the minds of young students and spread hate against the democratically elected government under Narendra Modi.
In its report, the committee set up by the vice-chancellor, listed out only the facts and did not recommend any actions against Dr Sebastian because that was not the mandate of the panel, said the sources.
However, when the administration pressed the fact-finding committee to cite a rule which the faculty member may have allegedly violated, the committee members "orally" said he may have violated Rule 9 of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964 which deals with 'criticism of government'.
The rule bars government employees from making adverse comments on the government or government policies or making comments that would embarrass the relations between the central government and any state governments or any foreign governments.
The rule will not apply to Dr Sebastian because it has an important caveat, said an expert in university rules. Rule 9 says it shall not apply to any statements made or views expressed by a government servant in their official capacity or the due performance of the duties assigned to him.
The same expert also said the Central University of Kerala had "illegally" adopted the CCS Conduct Rules to muzzle its teachers.
He said on March 19, 2015, the Allahabad High Court ruled that professors of universities "are neither members of a service nor do they hold a civil post under the Union nor are they in the service of local or other authority. CCS (CCA) Rules, would, therefore, have no application to a Central University”, he read out the order.
The Central University of Kerala has a precedent of using suspension as a punishment, said several faculty members on condition of anonymity.
In February 2020, the university then vice-chancellor Prof G Gopakumar suspended Dr Prasad Pannian, an associate professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, over allegations of academic harassment by a Dalit research scholar.
After one year and three months, he continues to be in suspension.