CAMBRIDGE, MA—About two dozen Indian and non-Indian activists protested against prominent Indian politician Subramanian Swamy’s speech at MIT’s student-run annual India Conference on Saturday. Although Mr. Swami did not come personally to MIT, he delivered his speech via live video to a packed audience at MIT’s Media Center.
Holding placards and signs, the protesters shouted slogans outside the conference venue and were allowed to display their pamphlets on a table inside the conference venue.
The pamphlets attributed controversial quotes by Mr. Swamy on gays, LGBT community, Islam and Tamils, and urged the organizers of the conference not to invite Swamy.
A change.org petition had gathered approximately 2,000 signatures and had requested MIT President L. Rafael Reif to revoke Subramanian Swamy’s invitation to the MIT’s India Conference 2019 because he is an “Islamophobe and homophobe.” The student organizers of the conference opposed withdrawing the invitation to Mr. Swamy.
“Because some of Dr. Swamy’s past public statements are sharply out of step with MIT’s values of inclusiveness and respect, a number of people inside and outside our community are asking the MIT administration to intercede and rescind his invitation to speak,” MIT Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart and Provost Martin Schmidt wrote in a letter to editor in MIT newspaper The Tech. “This is a moment when two of our most deeply held values — freedom of expression and inclusion — are in conflict. For MIT as a university, guarding freedom of expression is fundamental to our mission of advancing knowledge and educating students. We are and must be committed to ensuring that different points of view — even those we reject — can be heard and debated in a respectful and safe way. At the same time, however, as a global institution that depends on bringing together talented people from around the world, we are and must be profoundly committed to making sure we create a community where people of every background — in terms of nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation and more — can feel welcome and supported.”
“In this instance, our students have chosen to allow Dr. Swamy to speak. We support their right to do so, and we expect to maintain our community’s standards of open, respectful dialogue,” they said in their letter.
Mr. Swamy, who did his Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, currently serves as a Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament. He was the President of the Janata Party until it merged in 2013 with Bharatiya Janata Party, which currently is India’s ruling party.
Swamy hit the headlines recently for making unflattering remarks against outgoing RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramnian and Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley for which he went out of favor for many and snubbed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, according to his bio on India’s Elections website.