A temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, situated inside the campus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, has sparked a tussle between the administration on one hand and a faculty member and a section of students, on the other. On 6 May this year, Brijesh Rai, an assistant professor in the department of electronics and electrical engineering, and Vikrant Singh, a doctoral scholar of the same department, filed a public-interest litigation before the Gauhati High Court that demanded the demolition of the temple. The PIL alleged that the temple was “illegally constructed” and “could well be a conspiracy to give preferential treatment to one religion which could potentially communalise the environment of the institution.” In response, the IIT administration told the court that the demand for demolition is a reflection of the “perverse mind” of the petitioners.
The petitioners argued that the temple was illegally constructed over the last five years with the connivance of some higher officials and that such a construction on the campus of a publicly funded educational institute violated its secular nature. Apart from its demolition, the petitioners also requested a court-monitored investigation into the temple’s construction and disciplinary action against the officials involved in it. On their part, the IIT administration told the court that the temple predated the campus and had existed “since days immemorial,” and that no public funds were ever diverted for its maintenance or its alleged construction. The institute dismissed the petitioners concerns on the secular nature of the institute and said that “the existence of the temple doesn’t cause any damage to the secular environment existing within the campus.” They further claimed that the PIL had no support from the students and asked the court to dismiss the petition with exemplary costs.
I went through all the evidence produced before the court, the affidavits and counter-affidavits filed by both parties, and also interviewed one of the petitioners and the director under whose tenure the temple was allegedly built. The most intriguing aspect of the entire episode is the IIT administration’s brazen support for a religious structure despite opposition from its own faculty and students. Contrary to the administration’s submission on student support for the PIL, the petitioners had submitted signed declarations from at least six students. It said that they did not think “it’s in right spirit to have any religious structure inside the campus of a public institute, especially one of national importance such as IIT Guwahati.”