Assam University reinstates suspended teacher after high court flak; colleagues call it political victimisation at AVBP's behest

Silchar: Charvak Mukhopadhyay, an associate professor with the mass communication department of Assam University (AU) in Silchar has lived the last 30 days in utter confusion. He was first removed, and then reinstated by the university, within a period of few days, following his appeal at the Gauhati High Court.

Students show their support to the teachers'union at the Assam University in Silchar. Image courtesy Chandrani Sinha

Students show their support to the teachers'union at the Assam University in Silchar. Image courtesy Chandrani Sinha

It was just another working day on 28 November, 2017, for Charvak, 47, who has been a permanent employee with Assam University since 2008 when a letter from the varsity authorities informed him that he had been terminated from his services with immediate effect. Charvak has previously worked with the UNDP and as an Indian Information Service official with the All India Radio, Itanagar.

The letter, a copy of which is available with Firstpost, said the university had taken the decision in conformity with the direction of the vigilance cell of the UGC and found the appointment illegal, without mentioning a reason for the illegality.

Firstpost is also in possession of a university notification dated 24 November which establishes that a committee was formed to review the cases of employment of three professors, including Charvak, on the basis of a complaint of illegal recruitment raised by Sreehari Borikar, the national general secretary of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), addressed to the Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD) on 16 May, 2015.

This sudden decision to terminate a university teacher without serving him a three-month notice to explain his position, as provided under The Central Universities Act 2009, led to strong resentment among the teachers and students. When the administration failed to respond to concerns raised by the Assam University Teachers Association (AUTA) over his sudden removal, Charvak moved the Gauhati High Court seeking its intervention. The high court asked the university to furnish all documents related to this case.

On 16 December, after hearing both the sides, the high court observed: "Without going into the aspect as to the justifiability and validity of such order of cancellation of the appointment, it has been brought to the notice of this court that by a subsequent order dated 13.12.2017, the earlier cancellation dated 28.11.2017 has been withdrawn with immediate effect." The university order withdrawing the cancellation of appointment of Charvak, a copy of which is with Firstpost, also requested Charvak to resume duty immediately.

Between 28 November and 16 December, the AUTA pressed on the university to withdraw the order since they felt it was ‘political witch hunting’. This opinion was fortified by Federation of Central Universities Teachers Association (FEDCUTA) in a press release issued on 15 December.

"This kind of interference in the day-to-day functioning of Central universities by the MHRD at the behest of the student wing of the ruling party has led to much turbulence and turmoil in universities such as Hyderabad Central University, Central University of Haryana etc.," FEDCUTA said.

"It is certainly the handiwork of AVBP and Charvak's case is nothing other than political victimisation of professors, which is an unprecedented act. The sad part is nobody wants to speak about it in public because of the rising dominance of AVBP and ruling party in Barak Valley," says Joydeep Biswas, a Silchar-based teacher and columnist.

Not an ‘open and shut’ case

Sabyasachi Chatterjee, legal counsel for Charvak, said that while disposing of the case the high court observed that this is a case of gross violence of natural justice. "It is an exceptional case as for the first time the Central university has questioned the legality of an appointment, which it had itself executed, after so many years. As Assam University couldn’t provide any substantial evidence in support of the order it issued, they instead withdrew the entire order," Chatterjee said.

A large section of students, both former and presently studying, see this as an attempt to target academicians popular for their political ideologies being averse to the right-wing discourse. "Charvak is a rationalist, so trying to eject him is an attempt to subdue the opposing ideology. They want students and scholars to concur with their ideology, but ABVP has found it hard to survive in Assam University, in spite of the tremendous Modi wave in the media," said Kushal Deb, a former student of Assam University.

The case leaves several questions unanswered on part of the university administration. The administration did not test the legitimacy of the appointment while hiring Charvak in 2008 and raised this question after the teacher had served for nine years. Assam University vice-chancellor Dilip Chandra Nath refrained from commenting on this case when Firstpost contacted him.

New political designs

This termination bid might indicate new political designs in Assam where BJP won 60 out of 126 seats in the last Assembly elections. Silchar is also been seen as the epicentre of hardline Bengali Hindu politics in the state, which gathered more storm after Centre’s push to amend the citizenship bill to allow citizenship to Hindu refugees from Bangladesh; an idea that is being opposed by indigenous communities.

Watchers believe that Charvak was becoming a dominant voice against the right-wing politics in the social and cultural sphere of the region. While there have been several instances in mainland India since the Modi regime took over of universities taking decisions based on political compulsions, this was the first time that a university in the North East was mired in a similar situation. Assam University has students not only from Assam but from across the region. Tapping these students is important for ABVP. While BJP is aiming to form government in all eight N-E states, university students are not only a vote bank but are also a huge support base on social media. The road to this goal seems uphill with their student wing, ABVP, performing dismally at Assam University. ABVP holds only two seats out of 14 in the present student council of Assam University.

When Charvak rejoined the university on 18 December, the welcome by students and teachers matched that of an election victory, signifying how universities are turning into the avenues for political slugfest where room for others’ opinion is rapidly shrinking.

The author is a Guwahati based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.


Updated Date: Dec 20, 2017 21:21 PM