September 17, 2023

TN: TNUEF Holds Special Convention on Caste Discrimination Faced by Dalit Students

K Veni

THE Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) organised a special convention on September 3 in Chennai, on “Issues of social discrimination and violations of reservation norms in central universities and IITs." Addressing the convention, Subhashini Ali, vice president of Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch (DSMM) noted that democratic spaces are shrinking within our academic halls and  emphasized that inequalities persist and expand within our educational institutions.

Inaugurating the convention, Sukhdeo Thorat, former chairperson of the University Grants Commission said, ragging was once rampant in colleges and higher educational institutions. Since ragging was criminalised by the UGC, it has significantly decreased within educational institutions. Similarly, caste discrimination should be criminalised, and actions should be taken under the Prevention of Atrocities Act. This would discourage students and faculty from perpetuating the caste system on campuses, he stated during his inaugural address.

He explained how a large number of students from dominant castes enter higher educational institutions with preconceived notions that justify caste supremacy and discrimination. They often believe that reserved candidates are taking their seats in these institutions, leading to various forms of discrimination and humiliation in an attempt to force them out. Tragically, this has resulted in many SC/ST students resorting to suicide or dropping out of educational institutions. Thorat emphasized the importance of educational institutions taking proactive measures to educate both their members and the public about the significance of equality and the need to eliminate any form of caste-based discrimination or harassment against SC/ST students. He cited examples like "democratic engagement" in which individuals from privileged backgrounds engage with marginalised communities to better understand their experiences and challenges, similar to efforts in western societies to address racial disparities.

In his presidential address, K  Samuelraj, general secretary of TNUEF, expressed disappointment that such a convention was necessary even 75 years after gaining independence, as it highlights the ongoing issue of discrimination in higher educational institutions. He stressed that education should be a means of liberation from all forms of discrimination, but the current reality falls short of this ideal. Samuelraj further noted that, since 2019, Chennai IIT alone has witnessed nine student suicides, and from 2018 to 2022, approximately 19,000 SC/ST students have dropped out from IITs and central universities across the country.

The programme was moderated by K Swaminathan, deputy general secretary of TNUEF, and Aswindev of ‘Chintabar’ presented the convention's concept paper. The paper highlighted several issues, including violations of reservation norms in both student admissions and faculty recruitment, the non-functioning of SC/ST cells, failure to implement UGC guidelines from 2012, the absence of equal opportunity cells, the lack of representation for oppressed sections in various committees, and the absence of an effective mechanism to provide justice to victims of caste bias, among other concerns.

Several students from institutions such as IIT Madras, Central University of Tamil Nadu in Thiruvarur, Pondicherry University, and the University of Hyderabad shared their experiences of discrimination on campuses, expressing their distress and concern. They highlighted the presence of communal forces that actively promote hate politics and caste prejudices within the campus environment. Despite these challenges, they conveyed their unwavering determination to fight against such discrimination, which served as a source of inspiration for all participants.

In her concluding address, Subhashini Ali emphasized that the BJP-RSS alliance, with its fascist tendencies, consistently creates an unfavourable climate for marginalised sections of society. She underscored the severe impact of this on higher educational institutions, including a rise in suicides. She also pointed out the prevalence of casteism in central educational institutions (CEIs) and noted a significant bias in top administration. She further highlighted that since the BJP government came to power, it has actively promoted anti-poor, patriarchal, feudal, and casteist ideologies at all levels.

To counter these trends, Subhashini Ali called for an expanded dialogue and the need for a unified front. She called upon scholarly study circles, operating under various names like Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle and Ambedkar-Bhagat Singh Study Circle, as well as other progressive student movements, including the SFI in IITs and other higher educational institutions, to come together. She stressed that the members of these organisations have a challenging task ahead of them: to dismantle the politics of hatred directed against dalit-Muslim students.

Aravindsamy, president of SFI TN and Puducherry, addressed the students and highlighted the continuous discrimination faced by SC/ST students at Tiruvarur and Pondicherry Universities, particularly concerning the denial or delay in receiving scholarships. He emphasized that students endure humiliation based on factors such as their caste, rural background, appearance, language, and more. Aravindsamy pointed out that students from the districts where these universities are located should be entitled to an 8 per cent reservation, but this reservation policy is not being effectively implemented.

K Swaminathan, a founder member of the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, also shared his experiences during the programme.

The convention was attended by more than 200 students, educationists, researchers, and activists, including students from SFI, Chintabar, and the Ambedkar Students Association. Academician Prof. Venkatesh Athreya also participated. Leaders from TNUEF, including SK Mahendran (former MLA and honorary president), T Chellakannu (president), and other office bearers like P Suganthi, P Selvan, Mohana, K Veni, V Janakiraman, K Manikandan, MR Mathiyalagan, Rajkumar, Shanthi (Puducherry), Praveen Kumar (SFI Puducherry), as well as leaders from SFI, including R Bharathi, S Mirudhula, and K Nitish, also attended. The programme began with a warm welcome by S Lenin of South Chennai, and                G Anand of Central Chennai delivered the vote of thanks.

A resolution presented by Devan of Chintabar was unanimously passed by the gathering, calling for the enactment of special legislation against caste bias in central educational institutions and the implementation of appropriate measures to foster a congenial atmosphere on campus for students from oppressed sections.