13 research fellows of Australia India Institute resign enmasse

By Indira Laisram
Representational image. Univeristy of Melbourne campus

On the eve of the visit to India by a strong delegation of the University of Melbourne officials including Lisa Singh, director of the Australia India Institute (AII), a surprising new turn of event has taken place with the resignation of 13 leading researchers associated with the Institute.

The researchers including Prof Ian Woolford of La Trobe University, Professor Hari Bapuji, Professor, Dept. of Management and Marketing, University of Melbourne, Associate Professor Bina Fernandez of University of Melbourne, Senior Lecturer Priya Chako of University of Adelaide, Farrah Ahmed, Professor, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne, Academic Fellow, AII, in their resignation letter on March 29 to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, have raised “serious concerns about the vision and governance of the Australia India Institute given the University’s values and commitments”.

The letter further states, “Those of us with affiliations to the AII are resigning from our positions as Academic Fellows of the Institute. We take this action after several years of repeated unsuccessful efforts to effect change,” NRI Affairs, a news platform for overseas Indians and South Asians, reported.

The portal also reports that earlier on 15 December 2020, 24 Academic Fellows wrote to Professor Michael Wesley, Deputy Vice Chancellor International of the University of Melbourne, airing their concerns.

According to the December letter as procured by NRI Affairs, the Academic Fellows write, “In particular, we are concerned that the current majoritarian government (of India) has used sedition laws to curtail freedom of speech and has incarcerated academics and journalists as well as social workers with little evidence, due process or access to bail.”

It also states, “AII fellows have been discouraged from including their AII affiliation in opinion articles that are critical of the Indian government. A publicly-advertised event was downgraded to a private invitation-only seminar, following an intervention by the Indian High Commissioner.

“At the same time, as scholars of India, we note that the tone or format of some events and activities on India have carried the flavour of propaganda, celebrating the current Indian government and its dominant culture, while excluding or downplaying its age-old secular, liberal or critical viewpoints. These events and practices threaten researchers’ ability to hold open, intellectually-rigorous debates on pressing contemporary events in India and the region.”

Somw of the signatories to the December letter include Devleena Ghosh, Professor, School of Communications, University of Technology Sydney, Mridula Nath Chakraborty, Senior Lecturer, Monash Intercultural Lab, Faculty of Arts, Monash University, Farrah Ahmed, Professor, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne, Priya Chacko, Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Adelaide, Ian Woolford, Lecturer, Department of Languages and Linguistics, La Trobe University, Bina Fernandez, A/Professor, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, Assa Doron, Professor, School of Culture, History and Language, Australian National University, Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University,  Robin Jeffrey, Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore, Ramaswami Harindranath, Professor of Media, University of New South Wales.

However, it is to be noted that not all signatories to this letter are part of the new resignations.

Interestingly, the leading researchers who are part of the new resignations include academics such as Hari Bapuji, whose current research is predominantly focused on how economic inequality affects organisations, and vice versa. There is also Farrah Ahmed, whose research spans public law, legal theory and family law. Her recent work on constitutional statutes, religious freedom, the doctrine of legitimate expectations, the duty to give reasons, social rights adjudication and religious tribunals has been published in the Cambridge Law Journal, the Modern Law Review, the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Public Law, and Child and Family Law Quarterly.

When contacted by The Indian Sun, a University of Melbourne spokesman said, “The University of Melbourne and the Australia India Institute respect the decision of the Academic Fellows who recently tenured their resignations.

“Academic freedom of speech is respected and supported at the University of Melbourne and is central to our values and identity. We are committed to maintaining and strengthening a vibrant, inclusive and respectful campus community in which diversity is recognised, valued and celebrated.

“The Australia-India relationship continues to be one of the most strategically important international relationships for the University of Melbourne and we are deeply committed to growing and building our ties with India. The Australia India Institute is Australia’s only leading centre dedicated to promoting support for and understanding of the Australia-India relationship. The University is working diligently to advance our Australia-India engagement with university partners, key stakeholders, government and alumni, to ensure its institutes and partners continue to develop meaningful outcomes which are enduring and mutually beneficial across both societies,” the spokeman added.

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