The human resource development (HRD) ministry’s zealous pursuit of the complaint against Rohith Vemula is not the only instance in recent times it has acted proactively in matters pertaining to a central university.
According to documents in Newslaundry’s possession, the ministry, in September last year (2015), asked the Pondicherry University to probe a complaint regarding “Islamisation” of the university. The complaint, filed by a Delhi-based organisation called Patriots Forum, alleges that the university had been Islamised under one of its former vice-chancellors, JAK Tareen. Tareen, incidentally, retired more than two years ago in February, 2013.
Patriots Forum’s complaint (Newslaundry has a copy of it), addressed to the HRD minister, Smriti Z Irani, states:
“The process [Islamisation] started with Dr. JAK Tareen taking over as the Vice Chancellor on March 16 in 2007 and continued in an unbroken run over 6 years till February 1, 2013. Whether in the selection of faculty or admission of students, the stamp of gradual Islamisation of the Pondicherry living was clear all through. A good number of Muslim students were from Kashmir, raising a clear suspicion that some among them could be genuine terrorists. Do not, Madam, all these make one believe that it was a planned strategy to develop a strong hold for the minority community in this part of the country? [sic]”
The complaint further accuses Tareen of attempting to build a mosque inside the university campus and introducing halal meat.
To negate the “pollution”, the complainant suggests a “suddhikaran” (purification) ceremony of the university and the town by “organisations like the Vivekananda Kendra of Kanyakumari or the Arya Samaj”.
Official records of the university confirm that it set up a three-member committee, in response to an email sent by the HRD ministry, to investigate the charges.
This committee, then, submitted a report that gave a clean chit to Tareen, disproving all allegations leveled against him. The report has been accessed by Newslaundry.
On the accusation of the university being home to a disproportionately high number of Muslim teachers, the committee remarks that the university has “only 22 faculty members of the Muslim community as on date”, accounting for 5.9 per cent of the total teaching staff. “The committee felt that the percentage in no way reflects alarming trend of Islamisation,” the report states.
The report also concludes that the number of Muslim students is less than six per cent of the total student population. “From the figures…the conclusion is that the number of Muslim students is rather small compared to the overall student population,” it notes.
Additionally, refuting the complainant’s claim of a mosque being built inside the university campus, the report calls the charge “not factually correct”.
DC Nath, president of Patriots Forum – “a group of like minded Members dedicated and devoted to Preservation and Promotion of ancient Indic culture , its heritage and values [sic]” – told Newslaundrythat his complaint was based on a “research paper” prepared by a “research organisation” called IndiaFacts, based in Bangalore. “We prepared a brief summary of the research done by them and forwarded it to the HRD Ministry, marking the National Security Advisor, Union Home Secretary, the Prime Minister’s Office and BJP president among others,” said Nath. Nath is a retired Indian Police Service officer and has served as the Special Director of the Intelligence Bureau.
Sandeep Balakrishnan, the Chief Executive Editor and Chief Editor of IndiaFacts, which according to its website “is a counter to mainstream media narrative about India”, refused to comment. A little bit of digging on the Internet, though, verifies that IndiaFacts did put out a report titled “Islamization of the Pondicherry University” on May 27, 2015. The report, however, no longer exists on the website.
The Pondicherry University’s committee report reveals that Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Minister of State for Food Processing Industries, also wrote to the HRD minister, endorsing the complaint. Jyoti wasn’t available for comment.
According to a source in Pondicherry University acquainted with the affair, the complaint was a “result of certain vested interests”. Multiple people in the university Newslaundry spoke to echoed similar sentiments and vouched for Tareen’s integrity. “The complaint is an attempt to change the political atmosphere in the university and pander to the current dispensation,” said a faculty member on strict conditions of anonymity.
Pondicherry University witnessed widespread protests last year against Tareen’s successor, Chandra Krishnamurthy, who has been accused of plagiarism and academic fraud. Krishnamurthy is currently under “compulsory wait”.
Tareen expressed disappointment at the HRD ministry’s action. “The ministry should exercise some discretion. What does Islamisation even mean?” he remarked. Tareen called the complaint politically motivated. “The fact that someone had to complain more than two years after I retired proves how genuine the complaint is.”
We sent an email questionnaire, but the HRD ministry is yet to get back to us in spite of multiple reminders. The story will be updated if and when the ministry responds.
This episode bears more than a few resemblances to the Hyderabad University saga. Even the timing of the two developments are uncannily close to each other: The email from the HRD ministry to Pondicherry University, asking for the complaint to be investigated, was sent just four days after the first email to Hyderabad University. Both complaints were endorsed by Union Ministers from the Bharatiya Janata Party — an action that is safe to presume, contributed to the alacritous response by the HRD ministry. Both had a strong subtext of misplaced nationalistic sentiments, based on paranoia rather than facts. And, crucially, the HRD ministry found enough merit in both of them to follow up.