Elite Indian university students protest after professors quit amid row over freedoms

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Faculty members, students and alumni at an elite Indian university have protested on Thursday after prominent academic Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s resignation as professor and demanded his reinstatement.

Mehta, one of India’s best-known intellectuals and a vocal government critic, resigned from the private Ashoka University, north of the capital New Delhi, on what they say is a direct attack on freedom of speech.

Prof. Mehta’s decision led to the resignation of a second prominent academic on Thursday and prompted the protests at Ashoka, founded in 2014 as an Indian alternative to the US Ivy League colleges.

“We strongly condemn the conditions that led to these resignations and the lack of transparency from the university,” a statement by the university’s student body said, demanding that Prof. Mehta be re-offered his position.

Prof. Mehta – a former vice-chancellor and hugely popular figure at the university – did not respond to a request for comment, and the reasons for his resignation have not been made public.

A group of students protested against Prof Mehta’s resignation on the campus on Thursday, according to e-mails and social media posts.

The second academic to resign, Professor Arvind Subramanian, a former chief economic adviser of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, said the news regarding Prof. Mehta was “troubling”.

“The circumstances involving the ‘resignation’ of Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta, who is not just a dear friend but a truly inspirational national figure, have devastated me,” Prof Subramanian said, according to copy of his resignation letter shared between fellow academics and first reported by the Indian Express.

“That even Ashoka – with its private status and backing by private capital – can no longer provide a space for academic expression and freedom is ominously disturbing.”

Prof Subramanian could not be reached for further comment.

Current vice-chancellor Malabika Sarkar did not respond to a request for comment.

Critics have accused the Modi government of trying to suppress dissent. Earlier this month, a US-based think-tank downgraded India’s democracy from free to “partly free”, drawing fury from New Delhi.

The government rejects the allegation and said it did not need approval from foreign organisations. (Source: The Straits Times)

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