Academic integrity is a question of truthful and responsible scholarship, according to Ashoka University, which calls itself the nation’s top liberal arts and sciences institution. Additionally, it says that in order to retain academic integrity, one must “create and express one’s own ideas in coursework” and “accurately report results when conducting one’s own research,” among other things. An institution that appears to teach that honesty and academic integrity are at the core of what it does puts Sabyasachi Das under the bus when questions emerge regarding his research work instead of backing its professor.
An academic institution would not exist without the efforts and high-calibre academic research and work of the staff and the students; all universities and academic spaces owe their existence to them. Therefore, it is incredibly depressing for a university to distance itself from a faculty member’s research on the grounds that it is critical of the ruling government. If anyone questions them, the faculty members and students, expect their academic institution to support them. Being a private institution that is backed by enormous private capital, Ashoka University was found unable to protect its faculty. One has to ask what kind of society the university believes exists where it must separate itself from the current discussion surrounding Das’s paper. In his paper “Democratic Backsliding in the World’s Largest Democracy”, Das discusses the 2019 general election that took place in India and whether the irregular patterns he documents are the result of electoral manipulation. Democratic backsliding is a great concern in the world and Das’s paper contributed to the discussion as well. In the paper, Das presents data that is less in favour of the exact control theory and is consistent with electoral fraud in hotly contested elections.
Following this entire discussion, many well-known academicians and figures criticized Ashoka University’s stance on the matter, arguing that it is the university’s highest duty to protect its faculty members and students and that events like this shouldn’t inspire fear in the hearts of aspiring researchers.
We must also recall that this is not the first time that a certain controversy has arisen around Ashoka regarding the criticism of the government. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Ashoka University’s vice chancellor, left his job in 2021 when the trustees declared that Mehta’s “intellectual interventions were something they could no longer protect.” According to Mehta’s resignation letter, which was accessed by Indian Express, Mehta felt that the University was in danger as a result of his public writings supporting politics that sought to uphold constitutional ideals of freedom and equal respect for all citizens. A liberal institution, according to him, needs both a liberal political environment and a thriving social environment to operate.
This is not the first time a professor or academic has encountered severe repercussions for holding political opinions and criticizing the activities of the government, particularly in opposition to the current ruling party.
One such instance occurred in 2016, when renowned political scientist Nivedita Menon, also the author of the book Seeing Like a Feminist was denounced by the entire nation and was also asked to resign because of her political beliefs. Since 2008, Menon has been a professor at JNU. Menon was one of the few professors who spoke at a teach-in on nationalism at JNU’s administrative block on February 22, 2016. Menon covered a variety of subjects in her speech, including the spread of Hindi to make it the “national language,” the “nationalist” attitude of people towards the Northeast, Kashmir’s accession, the need for more government transparency, and whether or not India should be viewed as an imperialist nation if its citizens are chanting anti-imperialist slogans and on the issue of AFSPA as well. It was not the first time that these concerns were brought up or that the administration was questioned, but we need to reconsider how asking a few straightforward questions from the ruling government may turn you against your country. Are the government and the country placed on the same level? These kinds of questions are numerous and require answers. And particularly for those answers one seeks out critical thinkers and researchers.
How could the majority of Indians, who rely on government institutions for both work and education, expect their institution to support them in a crisis given that these institutions themselves depend on the government for support to be operational? The opportunity to do research with the fullest sincerity and freedom should be provided by research institutions to their faculty members and students. People in positions of authority in nations like India are terrified of no more than those who can inform the public about the frauds the ruling government has been doing; they are afraid of those who can speak out, inform, organize, and agitate. They are terrified of academics because they have the knowledge to challenge and advance ideas, which is why they scrutinize the same. We should anticipate assistance and bravery from liberal organizations like Ashoka University, which has positioned itself as the leading academic centre for academic freedom and integrity, if not from anybody else.
About the author …
Hi! i am Anu and I am currently in my third year at LSR college, studying history. I love talking about films and art, and exploring them in both historical and social context. in the meantime, you will always find me logging movies on letterboxd.