Mumbai: Last week, a screenshot – ostensibly of a dissertation by a MA student of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences – made its way on social media.
The title of the dissertation, ‘Engendering Conflict: Understanding the Impact of Militarization, Conflict and Pandemic-induced Lockdown on Domestic Violence in India Occupied Kashmir’ assumed centre-stage in what became a storm of outrage online. Many demanded criminal action against the student and her research guide.
While the context of the student’s research remained unknown, the phrase “India occupied Kashmir” gained eyeballs as the student and her research guide began to be and have since been subjected to severe cyber bullying.
Several people, mostly those subscribing to right-wing political views, demanded “strict action” against the student, Ananya Kundu, and accountability from both her research guide Dr. Nilanjana Ray, and the institute. Some even demanded a sedition case be registered against Kundu and TISS.
Kundu was an MA student in the Women’s Studies department of the institute’s Hyderabad campus. Ray is an assistant professor at the School of Gender Studies.
The dissertation is published by #TISS calls Jammu & Kashmir as Indian Occupied Kashmir. Both professor and the student should be booked for sedition. @cyberabadpolice @republic @ZeeNews @aajtak @Tamah_RIK pic.twitter.com/o2DAuoYDuM
— अमित रैना Amit Raina (@rainaamit) June 19, 2021
Several people expressed their “disappointment” in the government and tagged the Home Minister, Defence Minister and Education Minister demanding immediate “defunding” of the institute. The issue gained further momentum after it was reported in a right-wing web portal OpIndia.
Eventually, the institute gave into pressure and issued its first statement on social media claiming that it did not “endorse” the research title. The statement further added that, “Necessary action has been initiated for fact finding”.
Politically, while the phrase might be contentious, legally, there is no restriction on its usage.
Adding to my previous tweet. The approval of a topic is supervised by centre coordinator, dean acad., research coordinator etc Then the dissertation is catalogued in the library and uploaded as its e-resource. Institute can’t just say post facto that it doesn’t endorse the title. https://t.co/Ukr5Zt4tjg
— Raghav Pandey (@raghavpandeyy) June 20, 2021
While the research report is not in the public domain, some parts of Kundu’s purported dissertation were also circulated on social media. In one of the chapters, Kundu appears to have focused on the concerns of domestic violence prevalent in the valley and the difficulty faced by the Kashmiri women in speaking up, fearing the backlash on Kashmiri men from the administration.
Kundu writes that they fear that raising their concern “will contribute to the larger Indian state rhetoric of vilifying Kashmiri men which will then validate the Indian state’s imperialist intentions on the pretext of “protecting” and “rescuing” Kashmiri women.”
While the response on the social media was on expected lines, the response from the TISS administration seemed unusual.
Responding to the questionnaire sent by The Wire asking why it felt that an inquiry was necessary in the matter, a senior official at TISS responded that the institute “respects the sovereignty and integrity of the country and does not endorse any views challenging the same”.
“As an academic institution, TISS supports scientific inquiry and ethical conduct of research on all themes including on sensitive matters. Both these aspects are being investigated in this particular case by the institute,” the statement read.
The Wire had asked if the institute supports Kundu and Ray and whether such an inquiry by the institute would dissuade young researchers from engaging in sensitive matters in the future.
The Wire also reached out to Ray for her response but has not heard back from her yet. Her response will be incorporated in the article as and when she replies. Many students, under anonymity, however, accused the institute of muzzling independent voices and disallowing any kind of critical thoughts related to Kashmir.
This is not the first time that TISS has been accused of denying space for academic discourse on Kashmir. In 2015, when professor Dibyesh Anand from the Westminster University was invited for a talk at TISS, he was allegedly first denied space and later disrupted for engaging in a discussion on issues concerning Kashmir.
This article was first published on The Wire.