Academics unite to defend Tejaswini Desai’s right to challenge hate speech

In a statement, 88 scholars urge the Kolhapur Institute of Technology to revoke the ‘forced’ leave of Professor Desai.

Published : Jul 07, 2023 17:34 IST - 2 MINS READ

The 88 scholars have urged the Kolhapur Institute of Technology’s College of Engineering (in pic) to revoke the ‘forced’ leave of Professor Tejaswini Desai.

The 88 scholars have urged the Kolhapur Institute of Technology’s College of Engineering (in pic) to revoke the ‘forced’ leave of Professor Tejaswini Desai. | Photo Credit: Facebook/KIT’s College of Engineering

Eighty-eight academics have expressed solidarity with Professor Tejaswini Desai after she was placed on leave pending an inquiry by the Kolhapur Institute of Technology for countering communal statements in her classroom.

The India Academic Freedom Network (IAFN), a network of university teachers and students, stated in a press release on July 6 that Desai is being harassed and targeted for challenging statements that promote the idea that “Muslims are rapists and never get punished for their crimes”.

According to media reports, Desai, an Associate Professor of Physics at the institute’s College of Engineering, conducted a class on human values that included a discussion on religious discrimination. Some students allegedly made Islamophobic remarks in the classroom, which Desai countered. Unbeknownst to her, some students recorded a video of her response, edited and distorted it, and subsequently circulated it online.

Also Read | Witch-hunt against Tejaswini Desai highlights dangers of being a teacher in India today

During an interview, Professor Desai informed a news outlet that some students claimed that “Hindus never engage in riots, and Babri Masjid was demolished based on the orders of the Supreme Court”. Expressing concern for “students of other religions in the class”, she responded by stating that rape is not limited to any particular religion or community, and that rapists do not have any specific religion or caste. She emphasised that rape falls under the category of a heinous crime.

The IAFN statement mentioned that Professor Desai’s assertion that “rapists can be from any community” has subjected her to social media harassment. It has also resulted in her being forced by college authorities to take a leave of absence and has led to a police investigation into the matter.

The statement urged the college authorities to rescind her forced leave, ensure Professor Desai’s safety, and allow her to return to her duties with honour. It further demanded that the state and all university/college authorities take measures to control such intimidation and safeguard academic freedom, including the right to engage in free discussion within the classroom.

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