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'Teachers should rise above caste'

By Archana Masih
January 25, 2016 11:09 IST
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'Teachers discriminate among students based on caste, religion and gender,' says Dr Rajesh Paswan, an associate professor at JNU.

Students protest the death of Rohith Vemula 

Rohith Vemula became a victim of politics.

In all educational institutes there is some sort of discrimination against Dalit students. They don't get their fellowships on time or their guides/research supervisors create problems or they are unwilling to be guides for Dalit research scholars.

For the fellowship received by SC/ST students, many guides misuse the authority bestowed upon them. Some teachers take a bribe from students, at other times for want of a professor's signature or because the professors don't send the progress report on time -- an SC/ST student doesn't get her/his fellowship on time.

At times Dalit students are admitted and stopped from appearing in the exam. They are told that they didn't get the fellowship/scholarship. They do get it later, but because it is not given on time they have to face a lot of problems.

Rohith had not received his fellowship for seven months. In spite of the money being sent to the university from the University Grants Commission or the social justice ministry.

Some Dalit students are hardy enough to rough it out through the system, but some get beaten by the system like Rohith.

In a university system, the administrative department has a very small SC/ST representation. The hostel warden, proctorial board -- which constitute the disciplinarian boards -- have negligible SC/ST representation.

There are also not many SC/ST professors in universities. Therefore, SC/ST students don't have moral support when it comes to discussing their problems. If there is any discrimination faced by a student, the university does not provide a proper solution.

All universities have students that face discrimination. A Dalit student often comes from a difficult background. When he comes for higher education s/he needs a healing touch which the staff and administrators are unable to provide.

Up till now reservations in totality haven't been followed in the university system. In many universities reservation in higher education started 4, 5 years back. Prior to this, even if it existed as a principle, it wasn't implemented.

The social boycott that the Dalit students at University of Hyderabad were subjected to was very wrong. A lot of discussion is needed on the casteist outlook of the society which is reflected in the education system.

(Union Human Resources Development Minister) Smiti Irani is not understanding her responsibility. She defended Rohith's suicide instead of announcing a special inquiry at the press conference itself (The Centre announced a judicial inquiry five days after his death) and gone there herself as HRD minister.

An attempt is being made to protect the ABVP student when it is the duty of the ministry to support the victim. This has turned it into a political battle between the BJP and Congress.

Since the NDA government has come to power, merit is being continuously challenged in higher education. Appointments have been made not so much for academic record, but for the appointees' political leaning. Look at FTII and other universities. Many directors and vice-chancellors are now from the RSS background.

There used to be a non-National Eligibility Test fellowship for those students who hadn't qualified NET. These students used to receive a Rs 5,000 fellowship meant for those who did not have any fellowship, but this HRD ministry has discontinued the fellowship. While they will overwrite the loans of thousands of crores for corporate houses, they did away with a fellowship that is helping a student to pursue her/his studies.

The students have been protesting against that ruling under 'Occupy UGC' outside the UGC for months. They are lathi-charged and driven away which shows this government's callous attitude towards higher education.

A meritorious group of students who are the future of the nation are being ignored by this government while importance is being given to those belonging to the RSS.

This government is trying to harass the intellectual class of this country.

Rohith's suicide has brought Dalit discrimination on campuses to the limelight, but there are many students who are not being heard.

At JNU there is no such discrimination. Here, all students live together in the hostels. In many universities there are separate hostels for SC/ST hostels and general category students. This is wrong because students are unable to mingle with each other.

In many universities SC/ST hostels are constructed from the SC/ST welfare fund. A few years ago the social justice ministry gave funds for building four hostels so that SC/ST students get hostel accommodation quickly in JNU.

We were students in JNU at that time, we protested that hostels should be constructed but they should have all students living in it. We said let SC/ST get accommodation first, but don't make it only for them. The administration took cognisance of this and all JNU hostels have a mix of students.

When you live together the feeling of discrimination is less, people understand each other.

The situation is different in Hyderabad University. Dalit and Muslims are united for the student union election. This Dalit-Muslim unity is also the case in Hyderabad town.

Some students celebrated the beef festival at Osmania University in Hyderabad. Many a times, things are done to instigate others. Whether you eat beef, chicken or mutton is a personal choice, it shouldn't have been celebrated as a festival with the attitude that since you are protesting we are eating it.

Student politics happens at all universities, but it remains within the campus -- here a minister and HRD minister got involved and exerted pressure on the administration. This could have been solved at the university level itself. The students could have been suspended for six months and re-instated. The situation worsened due to interference.

The gap betweens student and teachers that has come to exist on university campuses needs to be bridged. Teachers should be also be ready to hear the personal problems of students.

In this country, a student will always like and respect a good teacher who is honest and has command over her/his subject. There has been deterioration in the teaching community too. Teachers discriminate among their students based on caste, religion and gender.

Teachers should also introspect and rise above caste. The entire academic community is sad about Rohith's death. A meritorious student has died. That letter is heart-breaking. I hope attitudes change.

IMAGE: A students' protest over Rohith Vemula's suicide. Photograph: PTI

Professor Paswan says there are around 10% to 15% Dalit teachers at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. An associate professor of Hindi at JNU's School of Language, Literature and Cultural Studies, he spoke to Archana Masih/

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Archana Masih /