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TISS Administration Tried to Stop a Lecture by Bezwada Wilson: Report

The lecture was organised by the Students Organising Committee, an independent forum of TISS students.
Bezwada Wilson. Credit: Twitter

New Delhi: The Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai reportedly made an attempt to halt an online lecture organised by a student body, featuring Magsaysay award winner and rights activist Bezwada Wilson. This comes a year after their previous effort to disrupt a similar lecture by researcher and human rights activist Harsh Mander.

The Telegraph newspaper reported that the Students Organising Committee, an independent forum of TISS students, had informed the administration in December 2023 about the proposed lecture by Wilson under the aegis of the “Bhagat Singh Memorial Lecture” series.

However, the newspaper reported that the institute issued an order a few weeks later that no programmes by students would be allowed till new guidelines were notified – though the date for the new guidelines was unspecified.

Last Friday, TISS authorities released a notice that the event was unauthorised. “That it has come to the notice of this Institute that some unauthorised student bodies/ organisation claiming itself to be associated with TISS is going to organise an event titled as ‘Bhagat Singh Memorial Lecture’ on 17th February, 2024 via online/ offline mode from 04:00 p.m. onwards,” said the notice.

“In this regard, all the students, faculties, staff of the Institute and public at large are hereby informed that organising of such event has not been permitted by this Institute by any means and it has no relation with TISS. Hence, in view of above, all the concern is hereby requested to not to associate the above events with TISS in any capacity,” it said, as quoted by the newspaper.

However, the event went ahead over Zoom, with Wilson, an activist against caste discrimination and manual scavenging, giving a lecture on the topic of “Human rights and constitutional values in contemporary times: Role of university and public”.

A student, quoted by The Telegraph, said that since the institute has yet to notify the new guidelines, the event could not be illegal and therefore it went ahead.

“In the name of issuing new guidelines, the institute has been creating hurdles before students’ activities. The students are a major stakeholder and have a say in the institute. Efforts to curb their voice are undemocratic and unacceptable,” said another student.

The newspaper report, citing three students, said TISS students had been organising the Bhagat Singh Memorial lecture since 2018. Earlier it was held in the institute’s amphitheatre, but it was shifted online in 2021 and 2022.

In March 2023, TISS administration denied permission for human rights activist Harsh Mander to speak at the event, which was originally planned at the amphitheatre, but it was ultimately held online.

The Telegraph wrote that it had asked for comment from the administration, but there had been no response.

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