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International Sociological Association

ISA Human Rights Committee

ISA statement concerning academic freedom and violence in India
March 22, 2016

We, the members of the Executive Committee of the International Sociological Association, express solidarity with students, teachers, writers, creative artists and activists in India fighting for the rights to freedom of expression, life and liberty, in the context of increasingly virulent attacks and mob violence against all opposition to right wing fundamentalist violence and discrimination.  We are particularly concerned about mob attacks on minorities and the curtailment of food freedoms (falsely posited as a “beef ban”) in India. The conversion of a large section of the electronic media into propaganda machines in support of right wing majoritarian nationalism and the systematic and violent targeting of intellectuals, students and advocates through unethical reporting and profiling is unprecedented and particularly worrying.  The position of students from vulnerable social groups – especially dalit-bahujan and minority students – is a matter of immediate concern.

We support the view that the Constitution of India sets out a plural framework and refuses any scope to define the country in religious terms.

In an environment of anti-intellectualism, and majoritarian attacks on individual and collective attempts at informed debate and social critique both within and outside institutions of higher education, our responsibility as members of a professional association is especially grave. As sociologists we believe that allowing the untrammelled use of the charge of sedition to quell dissent and freedom of expression, amounts, to reiterate Amartya Sen’s words, to be too tolerant of intolerance.

We endorse the petition submitted by over 200 sociologists across India to the President of India, protesting against the attacks on sociologists, Professors Vivek Kumar and Rajesh Misra, by students belonging to the student wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Universities are meant to provide a space for free and informed debate and mutual learning.  The growing turbulence on university campuses and the shrinking space for open and free debate especially intolerance of opposition to the agendas of Hindutva is a matter of serious concern to the international community of sociologists committed to fundamental freedoms and free speech.

In the aftermath of the death by suicide of Rohith Vemula, a doctoral scholar in the School of Social Sciences in the University of Hyderabad in January 2016 (the ninth case of suicide by a doctoral scholar belonging to a dalit bahujan social group in this university) after being evicted from his hostel along with four others, and facing social boycott within the university campus is a sign of how deep rooted systemic discrimination is and the tragic toll it has taken.  While there has been a growing disquiet on university campuses across the country for a few years consequent on the growing presence of students from socially vulnerable groups in higher education, the death of Rohith Vemula has triggered an unprecedented protest within the country and abroad, most importantly among students, especially dalit bahujan students, who bear a disproportionate burden of the weight of the most insidious forms of discrimination within the education system.   

We commend and support the efforts of teachers and students in several small colleges and in universities across India to question caste discrimination and majoritarianism by promoting an understanding of anti-caste philosophies and lifeworlds both within academic institutions and outside in the face of virulent attacks from the right.  The experience of noted Tamil writer Perumal Murugan, a college teacher, who was forced to leave his town and move to the state capital is but one example.  We also celebrate the eloquence and deep understanding with which young research scholars like Rohith and several like him have developed sustained critiques of Hindutva politics and its far-reaching consequences, fashioning a new tradition of protest drawing creatively from the rich array of resistance in the sub-continent. 

We extend our support to the struggles of the students and teachers of Jawaharlal Nehru University and commend their efforts to sustain a public debate on the complex question of nationalism through open lectures.  We place on record our appreciation of their commitment to building upon the struggles of Rohith Vemula and students and scholars like him from campuses across the country – putting in place new signposts for a transformative sociology that interrogates disciplinary boundaries and exclusions within institutions of higher education thereby building bridges between the academy and the world outside. 

Statement: February 15, 2016
It is with deep sorrow that we heard of the tragic murder of our young colleague Giulio Regeni. Giulio, who was conducting field research on independent unions in Egypt for his doctoral work at the University of Cambridge, disappeared on January 25th, 2016 in the midst of a security campaign which resulted in mass arbitrary arrests. His body was found a week later with brutal signs of torture.
Threats to academics and to social movement scholars in particular have alarmingly been on the rise. In 2015, social scientists working on social movements in different countries received death threats in many countries and various have been assassinated, notably in Colombia. In the first weeks of 2016, the Turkish state started a trial against dozens of ISA members and other social scientists for denouncing the government’s violence against the Kurdish people, journalists and human right activists and for their demands for democracy and the respect of Human Rights.
We demand an independent and impartial investigation about the torture and murder of our colleague Giulio Regeni in Cairo, as well as for all the Egyptians who were victims of torture and forced disappearance.
The torture and assassination of Giulio Regeni in Cairo, the wave of trials against Turkish colleagues and the death threats against social scientists who conduct research on social movements in different countries demand an urgent reaction by the academic community, by democratic governments everywhere and by international institutions to guarantee a safe environment for social scientists and not to support regimes responsible of exactions against human rights.
We call on sociologists and social scientists to continue working towards producing a better understanding of our world. We call on universities, research institutions and international scholar networks to mobilize to demand truth and justice for Giulio Regeni, the liberation of our Turkish colleagues and to show that an international community of scholars is truly committed to defending academic freedom.

Executive Committee of the International Sociological Association

Statement: February 4, 2016
The International Sociological Association (ISA) strongly denounces the unprecedented assault on academics and academic freedom in Turkey. Many Turkish and international scholars signed a petition for peace in the Kurdish regions of the country. However, the Turkish Authority and some public and private universities initiated punitive measures against professors who had signed the Petition, including many sociologists. ISA calls for these authorities to halt all these measures as these constitute a clear violation of academic freedom and freedom of expression. ISA adheres to the article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Executive Committee of the International Sociological Association




International Sociological Association