The IIT-Bombay earlier this month cancelled a lecture on the Israel-Palestine conflict by Achin Vanaik, who has been the former head of the Department of Political Science at Delhi University. The lecture was scheduled for November 7 only to be cancelled due to what the institute referred to as “unforeseen circumstances.” The decision was conveyed to the students via email from the Department of Humanities. IIT-B had also recently seen a protest outside its gates organised by a right-wing group against a lecture on Palestine organised the institute. Slogan such as “Goli maaro salon ko” was also reported to have been raised at the protest.
Similarly, censorship seems to abound, after a similar event titled ‘History and Politics of the Palestinian Present’ had been organised by the OP Jindal University on November 1 where Vanaik had successfully delivered the now-famous lecture. However, clips of the lecture surfaced online and have been criticised by right – wing forces on social media.
What was said in the lecture?
In one of the clips from the lecture at the OP Jindal University, Vanaik draws a comparative analysis between Hinduism and Zionism noting that while Zionism is not inherently anti-Muslim but it definitely is anti-Palestinian, and it tends to use existing Islamophobia for its gains. In this lecture, he went on to contrast with Hindutva, asserting that the latter is “fundamentally” anti-Muslim. Vanaik further challenged the belief in Hindus as the original inhabitants of India and Hinduism as one of the oldest civilisations and further went on to question why one act of violence is labelled terrorism and why others are not.
Social media was rife with right-wing groups accusing the University of supporting Hamas. So much so that a spokesperson from the University had reportedly stated initially that the videos had been taken out of context. However, on November 13, a letter was released by Dahiru Sridhar Patnaik, the Registrar of Jindal Global University addressed Vanaik, and labelling his words as “irresponsible.” Patnaik also called Vanaik’s labelling of Hindutva as anti-Muslim being “objectionable” and “unnecessary.” Prior to this, the Israeli Ambassador to India, Naor Gilon had also talked about his “concern and disappointment” against the lecture by Vanaik in a letter directed to the vice-chancellor of O.P. Jindal University.
𝐀 𝐥𝐞𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐨𝐟 𝐝𝐢𝐬𝐚𝐩𝐩𝐫𝐨𝐯𝐚𝐥 𝐛𝐲 𝐉𝐢𝐧𝐝𝐚𝐥 𝐔𝐧𝐢𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐬𝐢𝐭𝐲 𝐭𝐨 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐟𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐨𝐫 𝐃𝐫. 𝐀𝐜𝐡𝐢𝐧 𝐕𝐚𝐧𝐚𝐢𝐤
Promoting academic freedom and fostering a supportive environment for young individuals are essential in equipping them with the capacity to… pic.twitter.com/Hqi9oy2WwM
— Renu W Bhatia (@RenuWBhatia1) November 17, 2023
In response to the controversy surrounding his statements, Achin Vanaik clarified to The Hindu that his words were taken out of context and strongly refuted the accusation that he is pro-terrorism, stating, “The idea that I am pro-terrorism is absolute nonsense.” Furthermore, he explicitly mentioned that he stood by what he had said at the lecture, and regretted the confusion that arose from its misinterpretation. Furthermore, according to Scroll.in, Vanaik has stated to further clarify matters that he considered Israel “as a settler-colonial apartheid state”, and other bodies, such as the “Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and B’tselem, a human rights group in Israel, are among various bodies and individuals that publicly declare Israel to be an apartheid state.”