BHU’s slide to the Right: Pro-RSS teachers get top billing, ABVP students get priority

BHU’s slide to the Right: Pro-RSS teachers get top billing, ABVP students get priority
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On January 2, the Indian Institute of Technology affiliated to the Banaras Hindu University abruptly terminated the contract of visiting professor and Magsaysay award winner Dr Sandeep Pandey. His contract was to end in July.

No particular reason was cited for his ouster. Just weeks before, on December 21, the engineering institute’s board of governors met to take a decision on a complaint filed against Pandey. Of the nine members on the board, only six were present. These included vice chancellor Girish Tripathi and three members of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

When Pandey’s ouster on allegations of being anti-national and carrying out Naxal activities on campus was put to vote, two board members abstained. This means that only four members of the board’s nine voted to remove him. These details emerged in the second week of January in a reply to a Right to Information query filed by the sacked professor who taught at the university’s Department of Chemical Engineering.

Right turn

The letter terminating Pandey’s contract reveals no specific reason for his removal that was ostensibly based on a student’s complaint. Who was this student? And what was his or her complaint?

A few students of the Indian Institute of Technology in Varanasi spoke to Khabar Lahariyaon the condition of anonymity and said no one had any complaint against Pandey. The ousted professor alleged that a student of the Department of Political Science filed the complaint. But Pandey did not teach in that department.

This case is only the tip of the iceberg of the rot that’s set in at the Banaras Hindu University. Since 2014, when the BJP came to power at the Centre and Tripathi took over as vice chancellor, the prestigious centre for learning seems to have taken a turn to the Right. Irregularities in admissions of students and appointments of teachers have begun to surface. As the university starts a new cycle of admissions, Khabar Lahariya takes a look at what’s wrong.

Substandard appointments

In September 2015, the university’s Department of History hired for positions of assistant professor. Among those appointed were Ashok Kumar Sonkar and Satyapal Yadav, both former Banaras Hindu University students. According to an investigation by Khabar Lahariya, both Sonkar and Yadav’s doctoral theses are heavily plagiarised. Sonkar’s research has passages, even pages, directly lifted from a book titled Garhwal ka Itihaaswhile Yadav’s thesis is a copy of a book titled Kashi ki Ganga Ghat. Yadav hasn’t even bothered to change the tables presented in his thesis that appear in the same order and language as in the book.

Sonkar and Yadav didn’t respond to our repeated queries.

Worried about the substandard appointments, a professor in the history department wrote a letter to the Vice Chancellor, detailing the flaws in the appointment process and the low standard of teaching in the department. The letter, dated November 16, is yet to elicit a response.

Broken processes

That’s not all. The appointment process in the history department is opaque too. University regulations don’t allow a department head more than one term. The only exception is when the department is unable to find a suitable candidate. According to sources, Professor Binda Paranjape was supposed to take over as the head of the history department last year. But she was overlooked to give the current head, Dr Aruna Sinha, her third term. Sources say that this could be due to Sinha’s proximity to the RSS.

A master’s student in the history department told Khabar Lahariya that Sinha has begun to regularly refer to the Sangh and its work on Hindutva in her lectures.

Sinha refused to meet us or take our calls.

RSS playground

Many irregularities have cropped up even in the admissions process. Take the Ayurveda department. Sources reveal that members of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the right-wing student body affiliated to the BJP, have benefited over other students in the admissions process. Students who topped the entrance exam were pushed lower down the rankings to make way for ABVP students. For instance, a student ranked number three was pushed down to 30 for an ABVP student who failed the exam.

The university’s Brocha sports field appears to have become a regular hunting ground for new recruits and converts for the RSS. Just two weeks ago, on the occasion of Swami Vivekananda’s birthday (another Hindu icon appropriated by the right-wing), the ground reverberated with cries of Jai Shri Ram. Witnesses said that faculty members are regular visitors to the Sangh’s meetings held in the grounds. But the more worrying trend is that the number of university students at these meetings has rapidly increased in the last year