Harsh Kapoor

Concerning Nandita Narain - An Appeal by Alumni of St. Stephen’s College (DU)

Harsh Kapoor
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We, the undersigned alumni of St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi, are deeply disturbed by recent reports in the press that an Enquiry Committee has been set up by the College Governing Body to look into allegedly ‘defamatory’ statements made by Associate Professor of Mathematics at the College, Nandita Narain—currently also President of the Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA)—and that this Committee may even recommend her dismissal from service. Ms. Narain’s 33 years of dedicated teaching, her service to the College in many other capacities, her consistent engagement with questions of access to, and the purpose and quality of Higher Education, and her commitment to ensuring the best possible conditions of work and learning for students, teachers and non-teaching staff have earned her, and St. Stephen’s College widespread respect.

The press reports (Dainik Jagran, April 29 -> http://tinyurl.com/n69fv77 ; Times of India, April 30 -> http://tinyurl.com/lp2llhn ) seem to suggest that Ms. Narain has been charged with an offence that she never committed. The moment the allegedly ‘defamatory’ quotation against the Principal, attributed to her, was brought to her notice, she responded by writing to the newspaper concerned (http://tinyurl.com/k4q5ob8) saying that she had been misquoted. A copy of this letter was simultaneously sent to the Principal, St. Stephen’s College. Surely this should have been the end of the matter, especially in a College like St. Stephen’s that has always prioritized valuable academic, intellectual and cultural pursuits over relative non-issues.

Further, the fact that a statement ‘allegedly’ made by a teacher, its truth or falsehood apart, warrants the setting up of an ‘Enquiry Committee’, that may go to the extent of recommending ‘dismissal’ of the ‘accused’, as reported in the press, speaks of an approach that is in stark contradiction to the principles and philosophy of an Institution that has made us proud. The St. Stephen’s world-view could always take words in its stride; meet words with better words; ridicule and slander with exemplary wit and persuasive arguments. The reputation of this institution and that of the persons constituting it never hung by a thread that could be frayed by mere utterances. This is why the cry of ‘defamation’ against Ms. Narain, in the present instance, is doubly saddening and a matter of concern.

Finally, the response of the College Governing Body thus far, as suggested by press reports, seems to be completely disproportionate to the weak case against Ms Narain. Our apprehension is that she is being targeted for the outspokenness, fearless critical thinking and practice, the truth-seeking and commitment to doing right by students and College and University employees, that have marked her out as an outstanding teacher, guide and mentor to many. She has always tried to instill these qualities in colleagues and students alike, qualities that all of us learnt at, and continue to value about St. Stephen’s.

In the name of these qualities and the traditions that have taught us to respect dissent and Tom Paine’s dictum, ‘My mind is my own church’, we urge the Governing Body of St. Stephen’s College, to withdraw the case against Ms. Narain and resolve this issue in a manner that is fair and just.

May 8, 2014

Initial signatories:

1. Mukul Mangalik, Associate Professor of History, Ramjas College, Delhi University

2. Ramachandra Guha Historian, Writer

3. Rukun Advani, Publisher, Writer

4. Dilip Simeon, Historian, Writer

5. Nayanjot Lahiri, Professor, Department of History, Delhi University

6. Neeladri Bhattacharya, Professor, Centre for Historical Studies, JNU, New Delhi

7. Satish Deshpande, Professor, Department of Sociology, Delhi University

8. Upinder Singh, Professor, Department of History, Delhi University

9. Shobhit Mahajan, Professor, Department of Physics, Delhi University

10. Raju Sharma, Former Civil Cervant

11. Dilip Menon, Mellon Chair in Indian Studies, University of Witwatersrand South Africa.

12. Amitav Ghosh, Writer

[Should they so wish, signatories of this online petition may mention their current affiliation and their year of passing out from St. Stephens]

[After obtaining 628 signatures internationally this petition is now closed by its initiators on 1st June 2014]

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