Protestors gather against invitation of Indian politician Subramanian Swamy

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MIT students, Cambridge and New England residents, and other protestors gather outside the Media Lab in response to the MIT India Conference’s invitation of politician Subramanian Swamy.
Mazhar Quraishi

Protestors gathered outside the Media Lab while Subramanian Swamy, a member of India's parliament and the Bharatiya Janata Party, spoke through video stream at the MIT India Conference Feb. 16. They demonstrated against MIT’s inviting Swamy to speak given his previous Islamophobic and homophobic comments.

The protest was organized by the Aazaad Lab, Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia, Indian American Muslim Council, Connecticut Tamils, and the MIT LGBTQ alliance. The over two dozen protestors held up posters with messages including “MIT Kick out Brahminical Fascists” and “MIT Welcomes Hate Speech.” Some protestors were MIT students; some were Cambridge and New England residents.

Swamy called homosexuality a “genetic disorder” on the Indian news outlet ANI in July 2018.

Swamy proposed to “declare India a Hindu Rashtra [state] in which non-Hindus can vote only if they proudly acknowledge that their ancestors were Hindus” in an article in the Indian newspaper DNA in July 2011. His comments were received with criticism for being Islamophobic; as a result, Harvard dropped two courses taught by Swamy.

“Many people spoke and expressed their disappointment and anger with MIT for not rescinding the invite to Swamy,” Arif Hussain, a resident of Cambridge and one of the protest organizers, wrote in an email to The Tech. Hussain also compared Swamy’s invite to those of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and wrote that MIT was sliding towards a “more right-wing conservative position.”

Hussain said in an interview with The Tech that he was not generally opposed to the invitation of other politicians from Swamy’s right-wing political party to the conference.

In the days leading up to the conference, posters were put up on campus to promote disinviting Swamy. A petition on urging President Rafael Reif to rescind Swamy’s invitation gathered over 2,000 signatures.

However, the student organizers of the MIT India conference decided not to disinvite Swamy, and the MIT administration decided to support the student organizers. Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart ’88 and Provost Martin Schmidt ’88 wrote in a letter to the editor to The Tech, “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.”