Chandrani Sinha | Dec 19, 2017 | 6 min read
Assam University does a flip after removing prof from job
Strap: ABVP accused of meddling in appointments, HC intervenes
Silchar: Professor Charvak Mukhopadhyay, an associate professor with the mass communication department of Assam University (AU) in Silchar, about 308 kms away from Guwahati, has lived the last 30 days in utter confusion. He was first removed, and then reinstated by the university, within a period of few days, after the intervention of the Gauhati high court.
It was just another working day on November 28, 2017, for Prof Charvak, 47, who has been a permanent employee with the University since 2008, when a letter from the varsity authorities informed him that he had been terminated from his services with immediate effect.
The letter, a copy of which is available with Firstpost, said the University had taken the decision in conformity with the direction of the vigilance cell of the UGC and found the appointment illegal, without mentioning a reason for the illegality.
Firstpost is also in possession of a University notification dated October 24 which establishes that a committee was formed to review the cases of employment of three professors, including Charvak, on the basis of a complaint of illegal recruitment raised by Sreehari Borikar, the national general secretary of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), addressed to the Ministry of Human Resource & Development (MHRD) on May 16, 2015.
This sudden decision to terminate a university teacher without serving him a three-month notice to explain his position, as provided under The Central Universities Act 2009, led to strong resentment among the teachers and students. When the administration failed to respond to concerns raised by the Assam University Teachers Association (AUTA) over sudden removal of Prof Charak, the teachers moved to the Gauhati high court seeking its intervention. The HC asked the University to furnish all documents related to this case.
On December 16, after hearing both the sides, the HC observed: “Without going into the aspect as to the justifiability and validity of such order of cancellation of the appointment, it has been brought to the notice of this court that by a subsequent order dated 13.12.2017, the earlier cancellation dated 28.11.2017 has been withdrawn with immediate effect.” The University order withdrawing the cancellation of illegal appointment of Prof Charvak, a copy of which is with Firstpost, also requested Charak to resume duty immediately.
Between November 28 and December 16, the AUTA pressed on the University to withdraw the order since they felt it was ‘political witch hunting’. This opinion was fortified by Federation of Central Universities Teachers Association (FEDCUTA) in a press release issued on December 15.
“This kind of interference in the day-to-day functioning of Central Universities by the MHRD at the behest of the student wing of the ruling party has led to much turbulence and turmoil in universities such as Hyderabad Central University, Central University of Haryana etc.,” FEDCUTA said.
“It is certainly the handiwork of AVBP and Charvak’s case is nothing other than political victimisation of professors, which is an unprecedented act. The Sad part is nobody wants to speak about it in public because of the rising dominance of AVBP and ruling party in Barak Valley,” says Joydeep Biswas, a Silchar-based teacher and columnist.
Not an ‘open & shut’ case
Sabyasachi Chatterjee, legal counsel of Prof Charvak, said that while disposing off the case the HC observed that this is a case of gross violence of natural justice. “It is an exceptional case as for the first time the central university has questioned the legality of an appointment, which it had itself executed, after so many years. As Assam University couldn’t provide any substantial evidence in support of the order it issued, they instead withdrew the entire order,” Chatterjee said.
A large section of students, both former and presently studying, see this as an attempt to target academicians popular for their political ideologies being averse to the right-wing discourse. “Charvak is a rationalist, so trying to eject him is an attempt to subdue the opposing ideology. They want students and scholars to concur with their ideology, but ABVP has found it hard to survive in Assam University, in spite of the tremendous Modi wave in the media,” said Kushal Deb, a former student of Assam University.
The case leaves several questions unanswered on part of the University administration, which seemed to be acting as an agency to impose political vendetta against Charvak, who is known to be a leftist thinker. The administration did not test legitimacy of the appointment while hiring Charvak in 2008 and raised this question after the professor had served for nine years. Assam University vice-chancellor Dilip Chandra Nath refrained from commenting on this case when Firstpost contacted him.
New political designs
This termination bid might indicate new political designs in Assam where BJP won 60 out of 126 seats in the last Assembly elections. Silchar is also seen as the epicenter of hard-line Bengali Hindu politics in the state, which gathered more storm after Centre’s push to amend the citizenship bill to allow citizenship to Hindu refugees from Bangladesh; an idea that is being opposed by indigenous communities.
Watchers believe that Prof Charvak was becoming a dominant voice against the right-wing politics in the social and cultural sphere of the region. While there have been several instances in mainland India, since the Modi regime took over, of universities taking decisions based on political compulsions, this was the first time that a university in the Northeast was mired in a similar situation. Assam University has students not only from Assam but from across the region. Tapping these students is important for ABVP. While BJP is aiming to form government in all eight NE states, university students are not only a vote bank, but are also a huge support base on social media. The road to this goal seems uphill with their student wing, ABVP, performing dismally in Assam University. ABVP holds only two seats out of 14 in the present student council of AU.
When Prof Charvak rejoined the University on December 18, the welcome by students and teachers matched that of an election victory, signifying how universities are turning into the avenues for political slugfest where room for others’ opinion is rapidly shrinking.
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