While the nation is fighting against the vehemently totalitarian governance of the central government, I stand here in solidarity with a man who dared to challenge the corrupt system, Prof Brijesh Rai of IIT-Guwahati.
As it is not a headline that will bring the media houses TRP like the puppetry broadcasts that media houses broadcast, it is silent. Silent like death. And, as a result, the man is dying with each breath.
When the entire focus of the nation is on the Anti-CAA-NRC-NPR protest, Prof. Rai has been compelled to retire over alleged misconduct charges, with no proper opportunity given to clarify or build an argument in defense.
The systemic hegemony of administrative class over the student class, the structural hierarchy leading to the silence of all in the authority, and the exploitation of power to benefit close kinships was what he encountered when he joined the institution. Also sometimes, there were no following of the prescribed method for termination of studentship to which he objected.
His silence would have meant a good life, easy salary and a path full of friendships and favors but his voice of honesty, and his ethics didn’t let him do it. By standing up, he has invited a structural scrutiny of his professional and personal life. From financial deprivation to social isolation, the bullet points kept on increasing ever since.
What has he done so flagrant to face these consequences? To be honest, he glared in the eyes of authority, and told them how wrong they were. To be precise, he started filling RTI applications against the misdeeds, and dishonest decisions of the members of authority. Furthermore, his regular complaints and attempts to cleanse the mess of the system brought him in the invisible foe-list of the power-bearers.
Why? Simply, because his complaints proved their inefficiency to do their jobs. In one of his complaints, he explains his concerns regarding a “matter where prima facie there was a conspiracy to award M.Tech degree to an undeserving candidate in violation of M.Tech. Ordinance of IIT, Guwahati”. Is it acceptable in an institution like IIT? No. Was he right in raising his concerns? If your answer is positive, read ahead.
It all started when he complaint against a distortion of due process. Before we come to it, he believes, in another case of corruption, that the applications were not given adequate time to receive the application post publication of the information, and also blames the authority over a conflict of interest issue. According to him, there was a partial judgment of candidature, and contradictory actions for the course of time. Some were rejected for not meeting the criteria, whereas others with the same issue were selected, purely based on interest.
In another instance, the number of staff illegally employed, he believes it to be around fifty, who were directly employed from the waiting list, despite only one candidate withdrawing his application to join out of the thirty in the final list.
Coming back to the complaint, he filed a complaint to Dean, RND, for the recruitment of a less experienced member post its predecessor left on the issue of experience. But, no response came. Then, after a month, he wrote an email to the Director mentioning about his mail to the Dean and his silence, and requested him to do the needful. The same reply came- of silence. After that, when he came to know about ISRO funding the project, he wrote to the senior members of ISRO about it including all the facts. But, no action was taken. Rather, a notice was issued under major penalty.
The charges on him were that his email communication to ISRO directly without maintaining the channel of official protocol was a willful act of insubordination. In the meantime, it referred that by doing so he violated Rule 6 (1) and (2). So, what is this rule? The rule states-
No employee shall, in any radio broadcast or in any document published anonymously or in his own name or in the name of any other person or in any communication to the press or in any public utterance, make any statement of fact or opinion: (1) which has the effect of an adverse criticism of any current policy or action of the institution, or (2) which is capable of embarrassing the relations between the Institution and the Central Government or any State Government or any other institution or organization or members of the public. Provided that nothing in this paragraph shall apply to any statements made or views expressed by an employee in his official capacity or in due performance of the duties assigned to him.
To this very allegation, Prof. Rai argues that sub-clause (1) and (2) are applicable only when one commits a mistake prohibited in the general clause. But, a personal mail to an organization that funds the project doesn’t fall under the category. So, how can he be punished? Even if he did criticize an ill policy or corrupt decision, how can one be punished for that? An institution is not only responsible to provide a degree. It also gifts a mind that asks questions, and seeks answers. Where is the democracy we cherish if we prevent people from blowing the whistle when the time comes?
Moreover, the BoG didn’t allow him access to some important reports and documents of the meetings. He even accuses the authority of not providing him enough time to build his case. Also, the resignation of professor Dixit due to “undue pressure” and improper proceedings in investigation supports the motion of Prof. Rai. So, are the charges against him false? No-one knows, and no one will without a fair investigation. But, he deserves a shot at justice. A free and fair investigation.
The question is not about one Prof. Rai, or about an institution, it is about hierarchy and corruption rooted deep in our education system, it is about ethics and values of democracy, it is about freedom of expression. Constructive criticism is the base of every democratic republic. And, whenever someone is punished for doing the right thing, we all as a society should raise our voices. These marginal voices of dissent are the ones that the society needs to preserve, and let blossom. That is the very essence of being a democracy. If the institution is a part of a democratic republic, it must function as one. Democracy doesn’t mean only the right to choose in an election, but also the liberty to express, to stand up. And in this case, it is democracy that is losing, that is the essence of India that is in stake, and not the career of a man.
Sutputra Radheye is a poet and commentator who delve into the themes affecting the socio-eco-political scenario. His works have been published in prestigious platforms like ‘Frontier’, ‘Countercurrents’, ‘Janata Weekly’, ‘Culture Matters’ (UK), and many more throughout the years.