Dr Gopal has accused the University of “demeaning conduct”Sam Harrison

Dr Priyamvada Gopal, a fellow of Churchill College, has accused the University of Cambridge’s alumni magazine of censorship, after a reference to Kashmir was removed from a contribution she made to the magazine.

The academic, who specialises in Anglophone and Post-Colonial Literature at the English Faculty of the University was asked to contribute to answering the question: “My wish for the next 50 years of Indian independence is…”

Academics and alumni were told by the University’s administrative offices that “it is entirely up to you how you choose to answer the question”, according to Dr Gopal.

The upcoming edition of Cambridge Alumni Magazine (CAM) would be commemorating 70 years of independence from the British Empire.

Dr Gopal claimed in a blog post on the incident that her contribution included calls for the former jewel of the imperial crown to “break from the legacies and toxic afterlife of empire”, and to see a community “truly diverse in equality, committed to economic justice, and deeply democratic in ways that empower ordinary people not corporations and majority communities”.  

According to Dr Gopal, amongst other hopes for India, her contribution included a reference to Kashmir: “I would like to see what many who fought for independence did aspire to but were not able to see fulfilled…where the democratic aspirations of the people of Kashmir are honoured as was once promised”.

However, Dr Gopal claims that an edited version was sent to her for her approval, in which this reference to Kashmir was removed as well as her pleas for India to stop using “economic systems, political institutions, and repressive tactics inherited from the British empire”, alongside other edits.

The academic says that she expressed her concern about the removal of these phrases, as a result of which the editorial team made the decision not to include her contribution in the magazine at all. However, Dr Gopal has made it clear that she would not have a problem with the contribution had those two phrases been restored.

In response, she emailed the respective office to ask which of the phrases - “democratic aspirations”, “the Kashmiri people” or “the democratic aspirations of the Kashmiri People” - that the University had a problem with.

By the academic’s account, the University disagreed with her, saying that this was not a case of censorship, and that the institution was not preventing her from publishing her view on her views on other forums.

In her blog, Dr Gopal expressed her outrage at the University, saying that while “it considers itself a bastion of academic freedom”, it “will not, in its own media, allow the word ‘Kashmir’ to be mentioned”, and claiming that this was only out of fear of “upsetting the Indian state and rich Indian donors”.

She also voiced her concerns to The Hindu, an Indian newspaper, saying that this same office, the University’s Office of External Affairs and Communications, has often asked her in the past to speak about “freedom of speech and academic freedom”.

She went on to tell the Indian newspaper, “There is a very large silencing on the issue of Kashmir that is taking place and the University has chosen to participate in the smallest of ways.

“They are reluctant to even potentially upset anyone with money and power in the Indian context.”

“When edits were suggested as a part of that process, and long before any final agreement had been reached on the final text for the magazine, Dr Gopal chose to withdraw her contribution.A University spokesperson rejected claims of censorship, saying, “Dr. Gopal was invited to submit an opinion piece for our alumni magazine, which was then subjected to our normal editorial process.

“The editors of the magazine accepted her withdrawal with regret, but respect her decision. The University of Cambridge is fully committed to the principle and promotion of academic freedom, and we respect the right of all our members to express their views.”

But Dr Gopal maintains her line, stating that she was “deeply disappointed” that the department “continues to put out what are demonstrable falsehoods about my having withdrawn the piece without good cause.

She added that she feels that the University has not adequately responded to her objections, saying: “What is even more concerning, however, is their complete failure to be in contact with me at any stage about my concerns despite several requests on my part They have met all my emails with silence.

“This is, quite simply, demeaning conduct and not how any academic, whatever their background, should be treated by administrators. I also regret that not one Pro-Vice-Chancellor has responded to my concerns or to my query as to who protects academic freedom on campus. It would appear to be precisely no-one.”

The topic of the disputed territory of Kashmir, the northernmost geographical region of India, is an incredibly sensitive issue and a bone of contention in India, as well as a constant reminder of the lasting consequences of the British empire.

Ownership of the territory is disputed. India, Pakistan, and China each administers a different part. India and Pakistan claim the whole and refuse to recognise the other’s claims over it. The dispute has soured relations between the three countries for decades