CUK suspends teacher for calling BJP-RSS proto-fascists, student unions rise in protest

Various students and MPs spoke out in solidarity with Assistant Professor Dr. Gilbert Sebastian, dubbing the suspension as a violation of individual rights and freedoms.


The Central University of Kerala (CUK) suspended Assistant Professor Dr. Gilbert Sebastian on May 17, 2021 for calling the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its political party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a proto-fascist organisation during an online lecture on ‘Nazism and Fascism.’

University Vice Chancellor H. Venkateswarulu set up a three-member internal inquiry committee that deemed the International Relations and Politics department’s professor guilty of misconduct during the online class.

During the April 19 class, Dr. Sebastain talked about how the ‘Sangh parivar’ – the RSS and the BJP and other affiliated organisations – can be considered proto-fascist or people influenced by classical fascist organisations. He also asked students where India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rule since 2014 is akin to other areas like Spain under General Franco, Portugal under Salazar and Argentina under Juan Peron. At the same time, Dr. Sebastian also criticised the central government’s decision to export vaccines despite the shortage in India.

However, his criticisms angered the RSS student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) that threatened to mass protest if strict action was not taken against the professor. It alleged that Dr. Sebastian attempted to “instill hatred and poison” against the elected central government among the minds of first-semester M.A. students.

Students stand with Prof. Sebastian

Ever since the suspension, various student organisations have voiced their vehement dissent against the university’s move. The Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) demanded an immediate revoking of the suspension and condemned the Vice Chancellor’s bowing down to right-wing aggression.

“ABVP and its menacing politics must be resisted against. Promoting and upholding academic freedom and democratic norms must be a priority for every university and its administrations… ABVP, the RSS’s student wing, has consistently attacked any voice in the academia who criticize the central government, terming them as “anti-national” and creating necessary conditions to kill democratic rights to peacefully express their understandings and opinions. This step by the VC, is another step in the direction to kill debate and discussions in universities and academic spaces,” said the JNUSU statement.

It warned that such moves will destroy education, criticality and rigorous scientific temperament. Members demanded that such acts must be resisted to safeguard and promote democratic, critical and scientific thinking and a culture protecting individual rights.

Similarly, the Students Federation of India CUK published a statement stating that the suspension came as a serious threat to one’s right to study as well as teach in such a difficult environment. It called upon the university to retrospect on allowing such vigilante groups to censor classes as per their personal interest.

“Let classrooms be free of vigilantes, censorship and propaganda, so that each opinion flourishes without fear and the youth of tomorrow is empowered and not oppressed. Sir, we stand with you strongly in this matter as no voice must be crushed and academic freedom must be defended,” it said.

Further, the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), also said in a statement, “The hasty decision to suspend Dr Gilbert, one of those rare academicians who have both the theoretical acumen and moral integrity needed to fight the fascist regime, has come from a University that has failed to take action or even enquire into complaints against Sangh supporters like Dr Jayaprasad, who threatened his co-workers with murder. The university administration’s commitment to right-wing politics and policies comes as no surprise and is only a continuation of its past actions.”

Others like Congress MPs Shashi Tharoor and Rajmohan Unnithan spoke against the suspension on social media and via a letter to Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal respectively. CPI(M) leader and Rajya Sabha MP Dr V Sivadasan and the Association of Kerala Government College Teachers also spoke out in solidarity with Dr. Sebastian.

Does history have a say in this?

Following his employment in 2015, Professor Sebastian has suffered two withholdings of salary increments until retirement for voicing support against the dismissal of another faculty member, said The News Minute.

He also received a show-cause notice for attending a rally against the mass killing of Adivasis in Maharashtra districts some years back. In 2017, he was vocal against the right-wing teachers’ association in the university as the office-bearer of the CUK Teachers Association.

The university’s history too is peppered with incidents of expulsions and suspensions against students and teachers who spoke against the right-wing bodies and the BJP-led central government. An International Relations and Political Science student was expelled in 2019 for writing a Facebook post following the Pulwama terror attack. In 2018, a faculty member from the Department of English and Comparative Literature was suspended for criticising the CUK’s decision against a Dalit scholar.

As for the RSS’s opinion of Nazi and Fascist ideologies, prior to the World War II, RSS leaders openly praised Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Their own ideologies propagating casteist and non-secular notions align with such the ideals of these historical figures.


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