Politics is part of any intellectual exchange

Days after a protest outside the IIT-Bombay campus against guest speakers for supposedly ‘glorifying terrorism’ while discussing the Palestinian freedom struggle against Israel, IIT-Bombay recently asked its faculty members and students to get prior approval if they plan to invite external speakers for a talk or to screen films if the content can be construed as ‘political’. IIT-B’s over-cautious attitude needs a rethink if it is to be considered a serious institution for the exchange of ideas and intellectual discourse.

An institution of higher learning must be a safe space where students must not be intellectually mollycoddled or corralled. Different views can only widen their worldview and sharpen their cognitive prowess. Even if a panel is set up, it should not have veto power. At best, it can be an advisory group to guide students on how to ensure that a lecture or panel discussion is an enriching one, especially if it holds different, even opposing, views. To want an intellectually active society that holds only a particular set of views is having one’s cake and not eating it too.

Conflating ‘trouble’ with examining ‘trouble’ is a sure recipe for blinkering curiosity and knowledge. As long as no law is broken and matters don’t become inciteful – matters political are the warp and woof of intellectual development as much as scientific development in an age where science and ethics are tighter bound than ever. Taking the easy way out – making political discussion verboten – will hurt IIT-B. Instead, the administration must connect with its faculty and students to ensure that the institution remains the centre of true learning, where students can access different views, examine them and question all assumptions.


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