Civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad denied entry into IISc to give talk on ‘Communal Harmony and Justice’

After the administration denied her entry, students and professors pulled strings to get her in and conducted the lecture in a garden.

ByBellie Thomas

Published Aug 18, 2023 | 11:00 PMUpdatedAug 18, 2023 | 11:00 PM

Teesta Setalvad on the IISc campus in Bengaluru on Wednesday, 16 August, 2023.

Drama unfolded at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru on the evening of Wednesday, 16 August, around noted civil rights activist and journalist Teesta Setalvad being invited by a group of IISc students and scholars to give a lecture on campus.

The group of students, belonging to a collective identified at the IISc as “Break the Silence”, had sent an email to the institution’s administration a week ago seeking permission to organise the lecture involving Teesta Setalvad on “Communal Harmony and Justice”, but received no response.

The group, however, went ahead with the lecture at the CCE Hall on campus and even sent invitations to students from other colleges and institutions to attend the event, which was scheduled for 5 pm on 16 August.

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Stopped at the gates

Setalvad arrived at the IISc’s Kendra Vidyalaya Gate around 5 pm, accompanied by a student organiser from the institute.

However, the security personnel at the gate did not let her in even after the student explained to them that she was a dignitary for an event that also involved professors.

One of the student organisers, who wished to remain anonymous, told South First that one of the security guards had a photograph of Teesta Setalvad on his phone and was allegedly instructed not to let her in.

The student accompanying the activist informed the other student organisers of the development, who then took it up with the professors who were a part of the event.

The student organisers then reached the Kendra Vidyalaya Gate and argued with the security guards, and asked them who had instructed them to not allow the dignitary inside, but the guards refused to divulge the name.

The students then demanded to know if the security officers had received written communication from the administration to not allow the dignitary inside.

The security guards maintained that they were directed not to allow on the premises anyone who did not belong to the institution.

It was then that the professors intervened. They arrived at the gate where Teesta was stopped and took her in a car to another gate. The car was stopped at that gate as well.

Meanwhile, the professors called up the IISc authorities and informed them about the developments.

While Setalvad was finally allowed to enter through the second gate, neither the student organisers nor the civil rights activist was allowed to proceed with the lecture at CCE Hall, as there was no permission or communication from the IISc administration.

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Student guests were held back too

When the student organisers were running from pillar to post within the IISc administration block for permission to go ahead with the lecture, they learnt that students who arrived from other colleges were also not allowed to enter the campus.

Civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad at IISc Bengaluru on Wednesday

Civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad at IISc Bengaluru on Wednesday. (Supplied)

“According to the rules, a student from IISc who holds a valid ID card can bring one to two visitors in. Despite the students making entries in the visitors’ register along with their IDs, the security guards did not allow anyone from other colleges to enter the premise. These are against the rules of the institution,” a final-year PhD student organiser told South First, adding that they were also unable to get permission to conduct the event at CCE Hall.

It was then the students and professors decided to conduct the discussion in the garden outside the canteen.

The programme was delayed by 30-45 minutes. Teesta Setalvad told the students that these forms of harassment were not new to her.

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Teesta Setalvad’s reaction

A day later, Setalvad shared the experience she had at Bengaluru’s premier institute in a video snippet on X (formerly Twitter).

“Yesterday, I had a very unusual experience at the very prestigious Institute of Science in Bengaluru. Some students and professors had invited me for a lecture on Communal Harmony and Peace at CCE Hall. And I think it was a last-minute decision of the administration to cancel the meeting. They even tried to prevent me from entering the gate,” she was heard saying in the clip.

“I would like to however end on a note of hope. Because many many students joined the lecture, over 40 of them. And we sat in the garden outside the canteen with 10 professors, and had intense discussions on justice, peace, the critical juncture where India is at. And also the need for citizens today to collectively come together, speak up for rationality, dissent, communal harmony, and peace. Communal harmony and peace cannot be a taboo word in modern-day, 21st century India,” she said.

The lecture on “Communal Harmony and Justice” went on for about 45 minutes, after which the activist fielded questions.

Teesta Setalvad is a civil rights activist and journalist. She is the secretary of the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), an organisation formed to advocate for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots.

She is a speaker on communal riots and persecution of Muslims and dissenters in India.

When South First contacted IISc security in-charge officer Jayaraj, he refused to comment on the incident.