Indian Government Requires Educational Establishments To Obtain Its Approval For The Subject Matter And Participants Of International Online Conferences And Seminars
from the hardly-an-edifying-sight dept
It would be something of an understatement to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a big effect on our lives. One sector where people have had to re-invent themselves is the academic world. Core in-person activities like lectures, seminars, and conferences have been forced to move online. One advantage of a shift to virtual gatherings is that people can participate from around the world. However, for governments, that’s less a feature than a bug, since it means they have less control over who is taking part, and what they are saying. In response to this development, the Ministry of Education in India has issued “Revised Guidelines for holding online/virtual Conferences, Seminars, Training, etc.” (pdf). An opinion piece in The Indian Express calls it the “biggest attack in the history of independent India on the autonomy of our universities”:
When it is fully enforced — and let there be no doubts over the government’s resolve to be iron-handed when it comes to restricting people’s democratic rights — India will find itself in the company of dictatorial regimes around the world that despise liberty of thought and muzzle freedom of expression in their institutions of higher learning.
The new guidelines apply to all publicly funded higher education establishments. The key requirement is for international online conferences and seminars to avoid politically sensitive topics, specifically any related to problems along India’s borders. Chief among these are disputes between India and China over borders in the north-east of India, which has recently seen skirmishes between the Indian and Chinese armies, and in Kashmir. Another ban, vague in the extreme, concerns “any other issues which are clearly/purely related to India’s internal matters”. As well as obtaining approval for the topics of planned online meetings, educational establishments must also submit a list of participants to be vetted. And once an approved conference or seminar has taken place, a link to the event must be provided. As The Indian Express column points out, these new restrictions are likely to hit Indian universities particularly hard:
Unlike their western counterparts, they are severely under-funded. They can neither organise many international conferences, nor send their faculty to participate in such events abroad. The recent boom in webinars has, hence, come as a big boon to them. It saves travel and hospitality costs and also overcomes the hassles of getting visas for invitees from “unfriendly” countries. Moreover, such events can be easily, and more frequently, organised even by institutions in rural and remote areas. Disturbingly, the government wants to curtail these major benefits of the digital revolution to millions of our teachers, students and scientists.
The Indian government’s desire to control what is said, and by whom, is likely to harm the spread of knowledge in a country that was just beginning to enjoy one of the few benefits of the pandemic: easier access to international academic gatherings.