'The attempt to censor my writings is part of a larger game plan'
The Rediff Interview with Dr Kancha Ilaiah on May 24, 2000
Dr Kancha Ilaiah (48), associate professor of political science at Osmania University, has received a missive from the registrar, Professor Pannalal, on his writings in a local newspaper. The registrar advised him not to write articles that tended to accentuate prejudices or inflame hatred among various sections of people.
A Nehru Fellow at Delhi from 1994-97 and recipient of the Mahatma Jyotirao Phule Award, Ilaiah was taken aback by the tone and tenor of the registrar's letter. He sees in them attempts to censor his writings as part of a larger process of controlling institutions of social sciences.
Though he has authored several books in English and Telugu, Ilaiah stirred up a controversy with his magnum opus Why I Am Not a Hindu. His other books are State and Repressive Culture, Struggle between Buddhism and Brahminism and Democracy in a Hollow Shell. He has also authored Mana Tatva in Telugu.
Born in Papaiahpet, Warangal district, in the backward Telangana region, Ilaiah studied up to BA in the Telugu medium. He did his MA in political science and his MPhil on land reforms in Andhra Pradesh. Incidentally, Gautama Buddha's political philosophy was the subject of his doctoral thesis.
In this interview with Syed Amin Jafri in Hyderabad, Dr Ilaiah discusses the latest controversy over his writings. Excerpts:
Why is there another controversy over your writings? What does the Osmania University registrar seek to convey through his 'personal letter'?
I have been writing in several newspapers and journals for 20 years. Some articles were controversial and highly debated. Why I Am Not a Hindu was also controversial. It was debated the world over. The university had never asked me about what I wrote and what I should write. It never interfered. Suddenly, on May 6, it sent a letter, which I received on May 11. I was surprised by the letter, addressed to me by Dr Pannalal.
The registrar sought to convey that some articles in popular newspapers were creating social tensions. Therefore, he said I should write within the canons of conduct of our profession and my articles should not accentuate prejudices and inflame hatred among various sections of society. My writings have not led to riots.
But what about social tensions which the registrar alludes to?
My writings only try to reduce prejudices, as the caste system has created a huge gulf between various sections of society. The article the registrar mentioned, 'Spiritual fascism and civil society', appeared in Deccan Chronicle on February 15, 2000.
What was so provocative about it?
In fact, I have proposed a scheme whereby the caste system can be eliminated. I said that Brahmin priests had gone to tribal societies and divided them into castes. Now, Hindutva proponents want India to become a unified Hindu nation. In that case, they should send Brahmin priestly teams to tribal areas, Dalitwadas and OBCwadas and these priests should live with the people, eat their food and integrate them into religion. I am not suggesting a division in society. In fact, I am proposing unity on an equal basis.
I have been arguing that Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and other sudras do not have the right to be Hindus within that religion today as they do not have any initiation into it, nor do they have the right to become priests. Unless an individual, a community or a caste has the right to become priests, they do not automatically belong to that religion. So, am I dividing society or am I proposing a spiritual method where SCs/STs/OBCs and women, on their own, can become equal spiritual people in Indian society.
But why has Osmania University picked on you?
The registrar took exception to my writings. But can he explain which portion of my writing created social dissension? All over the world, professors in universities have an inalienable right to express theoretical opinions and no university has tried to censor theoretical formulations of a research scholar or teacher. This is for the first time in the history of Osmania University that an censorship attempt is being made.
In the larger interest of society, the university should not interfere with the freedom of expression and academic freedom of a teacher to formulate his thoughts.
What is the motive behind the registrar's missive?
There could be various reasons. There is a debate initiated by the Human Resources Development Ministry of the Union government on the one hand and also Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu on the other that there is no relevance of social sciences today. As a teacher of social sciences, I am bound to take up critical writing because, unless there is critical writing, social science does not mean anything. The attempt to censor is part of a larger process of controlling institutions of social sciences. This trend is also part of a larger privatisation campaign of educational institutions in the country.
What is the remedy you are seeking against this attempt to interfere with your right to expression?
I wrote to the Osmania University Teachers Association (OUTA) that the tone and tenor of the registrar's letter impinges on my basic right to academic freedom and my freedom of expression as a citizen. Therefore, I requested the OUTA to take up the matter with the registrar. It has given a representation for withdrawal of the missive. Now, a debate is on in the media and academic circles. The registrar has not yet withdrawn the letter.
'What controversy?' asks Prof Pannalal, registrar of Osmania University Prof Pannalal, professor in business management and Registrar of Osmania University, sent a missive to Prof Kancha Ilaiah, which kicked off a row on the campus and in intellectual circles in Hyderabad. The registrar brushed aside the issue. Here is the short telephonic conversation he had from Hyderabad, with rediff.com's Syed Amin Jafri:
What is your reaction to the latest controversy?
Your letter to Prof Kancha Ilaiah on his writings in newspapers.
What is your jurisdiction in this matter? It is an internal matter of the university.
What about your letter?
I have written it in my official and personal capacities to a colleague in the university. It is an internal matter between us.
But the matter concerns freedom of expression of an academician?
First of all, it does not concern you. That's all [disconnects telephone].