Mirwaiz Maulvi Umar Farooq deserves to be congratulated for three good reasons for his khutba at the historic Jama Masjid in Srinagar on Friday, December 13, in which he spoke on academic freedom.
First, because he addressed a subject of social concern which is not very conspicuous in khutbas in the mosques. Second, he made a welcome departure from the kind of sterile discourse and activity which have been the hallmark of the All Parties’ Hurriyat Conference ever since its birth 20 years ago. The disease afflicts both the factions; the moderates over which he presides and the faction over which Syed Ali Shah Geelani lords.
Both have been obsessed with hartals, shutdowns, processions and the like, afraid that interest in the problems that beset the people would dilute their credentials.
Lastly, the issue which Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has raised is relevant to all democracies.
He deserves to be quoted in extenso because the subject has been neglected for long to the detriment of the students and teachers of the Kashmir University and society as a whole.
“It is an irony that Congress leadership in New Delhi, in connivance with the J&K government and university authorities, are promoting mainstream politics at the highest chair of leaning. We see Congress leaders having closed-door interactions with selected group of students and faculty members.”
“Now the Congress-backed students’ wing, the National Students Union of India, has been reportedly formed on the campus to further strengthen the mainstream political activities.”
“The real students’ union, the Kashmir University Students Union, has been banned by the authorities. The varsity is now not allowing students to discuss the Kashmir issue. Students are not even allowed to conduct research on the sufferings of Kashmiri people and Kashmir the issue which is attaining the attention of the world in the present geopolitical scenario.”
“If the Kashmir issue can be discussed in Delhi University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Jawaharlal Nehru University and even in the varsities across the globe, why can’t Kashmiri students discuss their own issue where they study?”
It is a fact that audience members are carefully screened lest the visitor, an establishment figure, is displeased. Students reflect the dominant views of society of which they are a part and those views are formed by the experience of a people who have been through what they have. Hence the determined efforts to keep the campus under state control.
This specific problem should prompt reflection on the basic issue of students’ rights. They are as entitled to the fundamental rights to freedom of speech and expression, to assemble peaceably without arms, to form associations and unions and to move freely as any citizen.
Section 43(1) of the Education Act, 1986, of the UK says: “Every individual and body or persons concerned in the government of any establishment to which this section applies shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the establishment and for visiting speakers.”
The Conservative Association was given permission to hold a meeting on January 20, 1989, to be addressed by two South African diplomats. The university registrar informed the association that permission for the meeting was withdrawn because of a material change in circumstances rendering it likely that good order would not be maintained at the meeting.
The applicant moved the court. Lord Justice Watkins and Justice Potts ruled that the university was not entitled to take into account threats of public disorder outside the confines of the university by persons over whom it had no control. That was a matter for the police.
The Campus Committee for Academic Freedom, set up on the campus of Bombay University, drew up a charter of demands concerning bans on meetings and curbs on campus magazines, on plays, and on students’ unions.
Free speech can be imperilled by intolerant ideologues on the campus. During a certain phase the campus at the Aligarh Muslim University was torn between the communists and the Jamaat-e-Islami.
The danger has been ably discussed with detailed case studies, by Professor Donald Alexander Downs in his book Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus, for example, as witnessed in “the rise of the Anti-Free Speech Movement”.
As he remarks, “Universities must also promote tolerance of diverse opinion, including opinion that dissents from the university’s preferred agenda or the agendas of preferred groups”. They can be as menacing as the state.
By arrangement with Dawn