MEA guidelines for online conferences spur concern among academics – Times of India


The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) recently released fresh guidelines for online conferences and events which require universities to seek prior permission if the topic is related to the security of the Indian state or “India’s internal matters”.

These guidelines were earlier limited only to physical conferences but are now applicable to the online space. The guidelines state that the ministry is required to ensure that the events are not related to the “security of the state, border, northeast states, union territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Ladakh or any other issues”.

Scholars from J&K believe that the move may lead to shrinking of academic freedom.

Mirza Saaib Bég, a Kashmir-based lawyer who recently joined the University of Oxford as the Oxford-Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholar at the Blavatnik School of Government, says that academics will have to exercise self-censorship because there is an enhanced fear of being unfairly targeted.

“The existing discourse is already so heavily monitored that students are exposed only to the most sanitized and curated discussions. Often Kashmiri students studying in foreign countries organise online webinars with foreign academics/experts for students back home to give them better exposure and skills. With these restrictions, it makes it harder for such events to organically develop and grow,” he tells
Education Times.

An engineering graduate from Kashmir, Mohammad Younus, is a poet and lyricist based in Bombay says the move may be to curb dissent.

“Discussions and debates are important to create awareness about ground socio-political situations, which leads to cross-sectional views. It often helps in finding potential solutions to existing problems.” he says.

The virtual conferences are often organised in partnership with foreign universities for global perspectives on various issues. The fresh guidelines may affect collaboration opportunities for Indian institutes and scholars.

“Academic freedom plays a bigger role in the success of universities than expenditure on infrastructure or hiring faculty. Such restrictions send a message that the government is not permitting free discourse in spaces of learning. As such, most universities will be hesitant to collaborate in systems where academic freedom is compromised,” Bég adds.





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