Civil Rights Activist Teesta Setalvad’s Talk Faces Hurdles at IISc Bangalore Campus

Civil Rights Activist Teesta Setalvad’s Talk Faces Hurdles at IISc Bangalore Campus

The Indian Institute of Science (IISc) campus in Bengaluru was the scene of a notable incident as security personnel prevented civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad from entering the premises to deliver a talk on Wednesday (16th August) evening. Setalvad, who was scheduled to speak on the topic of “Communal Harmony and Justice,” was invited by a student collective named Break the Silence.

Upon her arrival at the Kendriya Vidyalaya gate, where the event was planned, a security officer stopped Setalvad from entering. According to a report in a leading English daily, the security officer used a photograph of her on his phone to identify her. The incident led to a dramatic series of events that unfolded throughout the evening.

Teesta Setalvad held the talk outside a canteen on IISc campus: Photo published in the Hindu newspaper

The student organizers from Break the Silence revealed that they had received permission to hold the event, but a sudden change in plans occurred just hours before it was scheduled to begin at 5 pm. The original venue, the CCE hall, was no longer available, prompting a last-minute shift to a new location. The administration did not deny permission for the event to be hosted at the new venue.

During the event, one of the professors in attendance disclosed that a security personnel claimed to have received instructions to block Teesta Setalvad from entering. She was initially prevented from entering through the Kendriya Vidyalaya gate and was subsequently driven to another gate, where she faced another obstacle. After the intervention of a senior IISc professor, she was finally allowed in. However, the delay caused the event to start about 45 minutes late, and it concluded around 8 pm outside a campus canteen. Despite the challenges, over 40 individuals participated in the discussion on “Communal Harmony and Justice.”

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One of the student organizers mentioned that the CCE hall had been booked well in advance, with a formal request sent to the Registrar for permission. Unfortunately, no response was received. The organizers then learned informally that the event could not be held at the designated hall.

Teesta Setalvad expressed her feelings about the incident, describing it as “surreal and unfortunate” to have her photo displayed by a security officer and being prevented from entering. However, she commended the student organizers and faculty members for their resilience in carrying on with the event despite the challenges. Setalvad emphasized the importance of discussing subjects like communal harmony, justice, peace-building, and hate in public spaces, including premier institutions like IISc.

Adding to the controversy, reports emerged that security personnel turned away students from other institutions who had come to attend the event. This was allegedly done despite the campus rule that allows guests to enter with the presentation of an IISc student’s ID card.

This incident marks the second time within two months that IISc administration has been involved in a controversy regarding event permissions. In June, permission was denied for a similar event organized by Break the Silence, which had invited activists Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita from the Pinjra Tod group. Although the hall had been booked, the event was cancelled due to a lack of authorization from authorities. In this case, despite the request for permission, no response was received from the authorities.

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The Hindu newspaper says that they tried to obtain comments from IISc authorities on the matter. They have not received any response as of now. Despite the obstacles and drama, the event managed to proceed, allowing for a meaningful discussion on important societal topics.