The Delhi University on Monday opposed in the Delhi High Court a plea by a leader of the Congress’ students wing against his debarment for one year for alleged involvement in the screening of a controversial BBC documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots, saying he indulged in gross indiscipline which tarnished the image of a premier educational institution.
The university, in its reply filed to the petition by Ph.D. scholar and NSUI national secretary Lokesh Chugh, said it has acted on the basis of a newspaper report on “banning the BBC documentary” and several persons, including the petitioner, assembled on the campus to screen the documentary in violation of Section 144 (issuance of prohibitory orders) of Code of Criminal Procedure imposed by police authorities.
The leader of the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) claimed in his plea that he was not involved in the screening, and to his knowledge, there was no prohibition on the screening of the documentary.
But the DU said that instead of concentrating on his research, the petitioner was “instrumental in inciting other students and indulging in petty politics”, which was detrimental to discipline and was causing disruption in academic functioning.
“Petitioner had participated in the ‘showing’ of the banned BBC Documentary on 27.01.2023 at 4:00 PM in front of Gate No. 4, Faculty of Arts, University of Delhi… which this amounts to an act of indiscipline,” the reply filed by Delhi University said.
“It is denied that the petitioner is a sincere student. The petitioner has indulged in a gross act of indiscipline which has tarnished the image of the University, which is otherwise a premier educational institution in India,” submitted the response as it prayed that the petition be “dismissed at the very outset with costs”.
Justice Purushaindra Kumar Kaurav listed the matter for hearing on April 26 after he was informed that the reply was not on record and asked the parties to file their written submissions in the meantime.
The Centre hac issued directions for blocking multiple YouTube videos and Twitter posts sharing links to the BBC documentary, which was described by the Ministry of External Affairs as a “propaganda piece” that lacks objectivity and reflects a colonial mindset.
The petitioner had approached the high court earlier this month challenging the university’s decision to debar him for one year for his alleged involvement in the screening of the documentary – ‘India: The Modi Question’ – related to the 2002 Gujarat riots. The documentary was screened earlier this year.
The DU registrar had issued Chugh a memorandum in March under which he wad not allowed to take part in “any university or college or departmental examination for one year”.
In its reply, Delhi University stated that the debarment decision was legally valid and as per the law relating to disciplinary proceedings.
It said the video footage showed that the petitioner was “actively involved” in the screening, with the “intention to disrupt the academic functioning of the University system” and “even otherwise, such an act on the part of the petitioner amounts to gross indiscipline in general, without the permission of University Authority”.
The university also opposed the petitioner’s claim of violation of natural justice and asserted that before the imposition of the punishment, he was issued a show-cause notice and was also granted a personal hearing by the Disciplinary Committee.
The recommendations of the committee were placed before the competent authority, i.e. the Vice-Chancellor, who passed the debarment order on March 10, informed the reply.
“Respondent No. 1 – University has acted on the basis of the newspaper report banning the said BBC Documentary and, moreover, Section 144 CrPC was imposed by the Police on the said date, however, despite the same, the petitioner and other students had gathered together to protest and admittedly there was the screening of the BBC Documentary also at the University campus,” it added.
“Merely because the petitioner was able to escape from the police detention on the date of the incident does not absolve the petitioner from acts of indiscipline and causing disruption to the academic functioning of the University system,” the reply further said.
It was also stated that the petitioner was not the only student to be punished and authorities have not asked or compelled any student to submit a written apology.
The reply also said the petition was filed after one month of the debarment order and Chugh has withheld material facts.
The petitioner, represented by lawyer Naman Joshi, has claimed in his plea he was not present at the site of the alleged screening and that the authorities had acted against him with a “premeditated mind”.
He has also sought permission to submit his thesis and take university examinations during the pendency of the petition.
“On 27.01.2023, there was a protest organised by a few students at the Faculty of Arts (Main Campus), University of Delhi. During this protest, an allegedly banned BBC Documentary i.e. ‘India: the Modi Question’ was screened for public viewing.
“At the relevant time, the petitioner was not present at the protest site, neither had facilitated/participated in the screening in any manner,” the petition has said.
He has said to his “utter shock and dismay”, a show cause notice was issued to him by the DU proctor for his “alleged involvement in law and order disturbance during the screening of the BBC documentary”.
Subsequently, the DU registrar issued him a memorandum in March imposing a penalty of debarment from taking any examinations for one year.
The petitioner has claimed he was not given any opportunity to explain his conduct and although the memorandum suggested there was a ban on the BBC documentary by the government of India, there was no such prohibition on screening.
“The Impugned Memorandum notably suggests that there is a ban on showing the BBC documentary by Govt. of India, which was taken cognisance by the Proctor, University of Delhi. However, to the knowledge of the petitioner, there is no prohibition on screening of the BBC documentary,” the plea has said.