Moscow Model in New Delhi? Understanding latest challenge of India’s academia

By: |
February 15, 2021 4:00 AM

India now nearly mirrors Russia on monitoring academic engagement with foreigners on ‘sensitive’ subjects

While Russia, Nature reports, now requires academics and educators to obtain clearance from the state to do public outreach for educational activities—including popular lectures and use of digital platforms. (Representative image)While Russia, Nature reports, now requires academics and educators to obtain clearance from the state to do public outreach for educational activities—including popular lectures and use of digital platforms. (Representative image)

The academia in both Russia and India face a similar challenge—the two governments want to deeper regulation of engagement with foreign academics. While Russia, Nature reports, now requires academics and educators to obtain clearance from the state to do public outreach for educational activities—including popular lectures and use of digital platforms. The authorities also need to sign off on agreements with foreign academia (including individual academics). The Russian government says the bill is to “counteract the spread of illegal information and anti-Russian propaganda in the school and student environment”; the ruling dispensation has met criticism from many quarters over the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and his subsequent arrest, handling of domestic protests and dissent, etc.

India, similarly, now requires universities and professors to obtain approval from the Centre to hold online conferences involving international participation on “sensitive subjects” or subjects that are related to “India’s internal matters”, as per multiple news reports. Sensitive subjects are matters in the real of the “political, scientific, technical, commercial and personal”—exhaustive in a way that would proscribe differing with the politics of the ruling dispensation—and “internal matters” could be anything, since this has been left to the government’s interpretation. In addition, the names of participants have to be cleared by the government—with digital conferences being virtual and open, how this will be done remains to be seen. To be sure, clearances are required for foreigners’ participation in physical events; but it is hard to deny that catch-all definitions could allow for controlling opinion.

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