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Move-in Mobilisation: Freshers Join Open Meeting on First Night

The Ashoka University Student Government (AUSG) organised a protest on 20th August, with the tagline, “First Night for Ashoka,” for the new undergraduate batch’s first night on campus. Earlier in the day, Vice-Chancellor Somak Raychaudhary and Vineet Gupta, Founder and Trustee of Ashoka University, addressed the Cohort Leaders of the incoming batch, discussing the controversy surrounding Sabyasachi Das’s paper and resignation.

Members of the AUSG and the faculty, student volunteers, and first-year students seeking context, reassurance, and encouragement in the aftermath of Sabyasachi Das and Pulapre Balakrishnan’s resignations from the University attended the meeting.

The turnout of approximately 200 people consisted of first-years and students enrolled in the Young India Fellowship. It was also attended by sportspeople from various teams who were present on campus early for pre-season training.

AUSG spearheads student mobilisation on the first night

The AUSG called the open meeting to provide context to the first-year students for Sabyasachi Das's paper on democratic backsliding, his subsequent resignation from the University, and the statements made by faculty members of various departments of Ashoka.

Speaking to The Edict, Sankalp Dasmohapatra, AUSG President, said, “We received several emails and texts from UG’27s feeling alienated from the conversation and wanting context.”

Speaking about the administration’s response, he said, “The administration is clear in protecting its interests and providing empty platitudes to them without the additional context of student mobilisation, student demands or even the context of everything that happened previously. We needed to be able to provide that to [UG’27s]. Therefore, we held the open meeting.”

The meeting was, according to Aditi Warrier, Speaker of the House of Representatives, “to maintain as much transparency as we could and ensure that the incoming batch was sufficiently prepared to start at a university that was going through some pretty impactful events. Without it, I think they would have been thrust into the deep end, which can be quite scary.”

Student powerlessness: Reiterating unmet demands

Neha Sheikh, former President of the AUSG, laid out the details of the University’s previous tensions vis-a-vis academic freedom. Sheikh touched on her personal experience with Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s resignation and the subsequent student mobilisation.

Sheikh added, “The power of the student government is on the decline, and has been so for almost 3 years now”.

According to Sheikh, student powerlessness has “Reached a place where we cannot adequately demand answers without being conveniently ignored.”

Regarding the AUSG’s ongoing fight for a seat on the Board of Management, Sheikh insists the student body “needs to continue rallying” to “work towards bettering student-faculty relations because we need to regain the power to become equal stakeholders”.

Ahana Walunju and Romil Jain, two members of the Student Government present on campus from the Leher collective, explained the timeline of the AUSG elections, the new constitution, and the formation of the current Government.

Walanju and Jain reiterated the AUSG’s demands, which have still received no administrative response. The AUSG has advocated for Das and Balakrishnan to be unconditionally re-offered their jobs and Ashoka’s retraction of its statement distancing itself from Das’s research.

Walanju said, “The objective of our protest and mobilisation is to ensure professors and students are provided with the basic right to exercise academic freedom and expression, as maintained by Ashoka University, in their research.”

The protests, according to Jain, were about more than just one case of academic censorship. He said, “The trend for an event like this to happen every 3-4 years is a testament to the fact that admin’s attitude towards the students and faculty has not changed. Unless a change is seen, we won’t ever be able to live up to the image of Ashoka University that we were promised.”

The representatives also emphasised the AUSG’s ongoing negotiations to be offered an observer seat on the University’s Board of Management.

This marks the first time the incoming cohort saw members of the Student Government addressing them directly, in person. During the last week, the AUSG maintained informal communication vis-a-vis the online show of solidarity and sent an email directly to UG’27s on Saturday.

The AUSG’s email encouraged the incoming cohort to “talk to [their] peers, ask questions, look out for senior students who might have better answers.”

“It is always wise to have conversations about these things,” the email added.

Domil Anthony Johnson, an Opposition member, briefly spoke about the AUSG’s united front on this matter, emphasising, “Solidarity and group effort is what we need.”

Beyond the Bubble: The Broader Context of External Pressures

Bittu, Associate Professor of Biology and Psychology, stressed the importance of a politically active student body, reminding attendees the reaction to Das’s paper is a symptom of the increasingly intolerant times in which we live. He touched on recent instances of sectarian violence in Sonipat and Gurgaon.

On-campus messaging

The mobilisation was a culmination of the AUSG’s messaging in campus spaces during the weekend. During move-in on Saturday and Sunday, the incoming batch and their parents encountered posters the AUSG put up, asking the administration, new students and parents to join the fight for freedom of inquiry.

When asked if the SG’s messaging would continue through the students’ orientation week, Dasmohapatra said that he “hopes to continue the conversation in O-week through their cohort interactions” but remains mindful that the Orientation week is stressful. Mobilisation efforts do not intend to “overwhelm [the incoming batch] or ruin their first week on campus.”

Dasmohapatra added the SG “looks forward to participation not just from [the incoming batch] but the entire student body once everyone is back on campus.”

Warrier said, “It is [the AUSG’s] fervent hope that the open meeting has encouraged the students to have conversations, ask questions and critically engage with our university’s current circumstances.”

Just hours before the open meeting, the VC and Pro-VC addressed the Cohort Leaders, specifically mentioning Das and Balakrishnan’s resignations. This is the first time members of the administration have directly communicated with students regarding the issue.

The minutes of the VC’s meeting with the Cohort Leaders are yet to be made publicly available.

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