Caste determines everything in campuses everywhere in the country: Dr Rakesh Sammauria

 

Neel Kranti Media

(First published in the 'Dalit and Adivasi Students' Portal' as 'Dr Rakesh Sammauria: For a teacher his integrity is very important' in 2010)

rakesh sammauriaDr. Rakesh Sammauria, age 37 years, is an Associate Professor (Agronomy) at Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture & Technology, Udaipur, Rajasthan. Currently he is working at All India Coordinated Research Project on Dryland Agriculture at Dryland Farming Research Station at Bhilwara. A topper through out in his studies, Dr Sammauria has been the leading voice, both as a student and now as a faculty member, to make the campus more inclusive and caste-discrimination free.

Please tell our readers about your background.

I belong to Rajasthan. Due to frequent transfers of my father, a government school teacher, I did my schooling in various schools in different villages of Jaipur and Nagaur districts. I completed class X in 1987 and went to Ajmer for my further studies where I did my B.Sc (Agriculture) from Dayanand College. Later, in 1992, I joined Rajasthan College of Agriculture in Udaipur for my M.Sc (Agriculture) in the leading subject of Agronomy.

Given the very low literacy rate among the Dalits and Adivasis of Rajasthan, what is the situation of schools in rural Rajasthan?

Caste discrimination in schools against our students is much rampant. Most of the teachers and fellow students carry a very negative attitude towards our children. In rural Rajasthan, the caste prejudices and discrimination is quite open and upfront and those who practice it don't even try to be little subtle in doing so.

I have grown up in 1980s and have seen rural Rajasthan very closely. My father has taught in government schools in different places and every where the situation was the same. Untouchability, separate drinking water - all these were much lesser evils as compared to the discriminatory behaviour of the school teachers themselves who were either very hostile or completely indifferent towards our students. There were just one or two Dalit teachers here and there but they also were not able to do much. Things have improved now but still lot of changes are required.

What was your experience in schools?

There were many incidents that betrayed casteist prejudices while I was in the school. One particular incident I definitely want to narrate here that happened when I was about to take admission in class X. The principal tried to force me to drop one year and called up my father to tell that I would not be able to clear class Xth board exams and bring disrepute to the school that prided itself for cent per cent results in board exams.

My father was shocked as I was considered to be a good student and had scored very well in the previous exams. He refused to bow down before the principal and insisted on my admission. The principal had to give in and I cleared the class Xth exams with 74 % marks. I was the topper of the school and had scored 89 marks in English that was the highest in the entire state that year.

Did your father teach in the same school?

No, at that time I was admitted in a different school than my father's because of its good reputation.

What was the reason for principal's behaviour even when you scored well?

It seems to me that the principal, a brahmin, had become very hostile because of one incident that happened just some time back when I was in class IXth. Due to my father's guidance, I was much better in English and had won a district level English debate competition and was chosen to represent the school at state level competition to be held at Jaipur. However, my school refused to send me in the competition citing financial reasons.

The principal categorically said that the school would not be able to financially afford my participation. This was very surprising as the expenses were not very high and the competition was considered to be prestigious among schools. I tried my level best to convince but no teacher took a stand except one Mr K S Jatav, the only Dalit teacher in my school.

Jatav sir confronted the principal and other teachers on this issue. He even raised his voice in the morning assembly, in front of everyone, and accused the principal of indulging in caste discrimination. Due to his stand, he had to suffer a lot later. He was made fun of by his colleagues. Finally, I could not participate in the state-level competition.

I think this was the incident that propelled the principal's hostility towards me.

How was the experience of your father as a school teacher?

My father has taught English in government schools and is about to retire next year as a Principal of one of the Government Inter Colleges. He is quite assertive and was transferred quite frequently from one village to other. He could not stay in any school for longer period as compared to his colleagues. All of us, except my father, used to get very irritated on his frequent transfer orders but he would just pack up things and leave for another school, in another village.

You did your graduation in Agriculture. Why did you choose this subject?

During my times, in Rajasthan board, it was in IX std that we had to choose a particular stream like Arts, Sciences etc and I chose Agriculture. It was influenced by the notion that was much prevalent in the rural areas that Agriculture has lot of 'scope'. My father also believed that and there were couple of acquaintances and relatives who were studying Agriculture and I think all this had an influence. Therefore I had to do graduation from Dayanand College, Ajmer and later joined Rajasthan College of Agriculture, Udaipur, for my M.Sc in Agriculture Science in 1992.

Agricultural colleges have the reputation of being highly politicised and violence-prone campuses, at least in North India. What was the situation in your college?

The situation was pretty bad in 1992 in Udaipur's Rajasthan College of Agriculture. It came under Rajasthan Agricultural University (Bikaner) and was one of its component colleges.

Here – students, faculty, and administrative staff – everyone was divided sharply on the caste lines. There were lobbies of dominant caste groups and these had a say in everything happening in the college right from recruitment of faculty positions, students' admissions, hostel allotments etc.

The situation of Dalit students was worse. There was not even a single Dalit faculty. Our students were rarely allotted hostels and most of them stayed outside the campus. The level of intolerance against our students was so much that no Dalit students could dare to stay and venture inside the campus during the night time as they used to get beaten up if they were found in the campus during that time.

This hatred towards the Dalit students was shared by everyone even the mutually antagonistic dominant caste lobbies. They fought with each other to stake their claims in the college but were united in their treatment towards us.

This was not the end of the problem. In class, the teachers never wanted us to come ahead and displayed their prejudices quite openly. We were given low grades, poor labs and were never treated as equal. As Dalit students, all of us, just desired to get the degree somehow and leave the campus as early as possible.

Dalit students were not even allotted the hostels?

None of us could avail the hostel facilities as every hostel was monopolised by one or the other dominant castes. So there were 'thakur' hostels, 'jat' hostels where students from these castes only were allowed to stay. The students from these castes would not allow any other students to occupy the rooms and would vacate only for junior students from their own caste backgrounds.

Only one community meena (Scheduled Tribe) had some influence and could get hostel rooms among all Dalit and Adivasi students as they are quite influential in Rajasthan but they could also not save themselves from the discrimination in the class rooms.

What about food and mess services?

Even messes were run separately by each dominant caste groups. We used to eat here and there wherever we felt little comfortable. Many among us cooked our own food and remaining went outside the campus daily.

Caste based hostels, messes, violence, what was the college administration doing?

All this is considered quite 'normal'. Why do you think the colleges or any public institutions would be different from the outside society? Just because it was an educational institution did not mean that the caste would not be a factor here.

Caste determines everything in campuses everywhere in the country - in recruitments, allotment of PhD guides, your field research trials, your labs, marks scored, everything.

Like in my college, everywhere there are dominant caste lobbies that work from top to down – from the top administrative positions to faculty to students to non-teaching staff. It is so natural a process and happens automatically more so in professional colleges where stakes for every one – students and faculty- are quite high and lucrative.

However, the worst aspect is that in all this the Dalit student becomes the major victim. As I mentioned earlier that there is no love-lost among these caste lobbies but they share their mutual hatred towards our students whom they consider as 'intruders' who have been thrust inside campus due to reservation or quota.

And we never had any lobby to fall back on!

Was there no resistance at all from our students?

There were students who raised their voices and resisted all that was happening but there were no organised efforts. The campus atmosphere was so hostile that most of our students were conditioned to accept their 'lower' positions and find nothing much to bother about even if they saw discrimination/violence happening against our students in front of them. When I took admission, I was myself not at all vocal. But there were some Dalit students already who had started mobilising trying to raise their voices. I was fortunate to be part of that group and soon I also became very assertive and started participating actively.

How do you start and what all the Dalit and Adivasi students did to resist this situation?

In this background some of us came together and started meeting, interacting with fellow SC and ST Students. The first thing we did was to tell our friends to call themselves SCs and STs rather than taking their individual caste identities as their markers.

A common identity that comes from within was much required to fight, to raise our voice and to develop some brotherhood feeling. It was not very difficult as most of our students went through the same humiliation and discrimination and were quite aware of the fact that all of them were there through reservations given to the entire SC and ST community. But the problem lay in on how to assert and who to take lead.

As some of us came forward, many of our students soon started aligning with us. Even Adivasi students came forward and gave their support for a joint front.

We decided first to tackle the physical violence that was a routine. The threat of physical violence is very real and is a great de-motivator. Unless we fought against that, it was difficult for the students to come forward. We started mobilising our students on such incidents and started demonstrating, sending joint delegations demanding actions against the guilty. That gave a lot of confidence to our students.

And then to insure our legitimate stake in the campus we started demanding proper implementation of reservation for both students and faculty recruitment. There was not even a single Dalit or Adivasi teacher. After our campaign the administration was forced to start advertising reserved posts that were lying vacant for years.

But the biggest thrust came when our student group decided to go political.

There were student union elections in the college?

Yes, and in 1994 for the first time we brought our own candidates in the student's election and contested for three posts. This had never happened before. No Dalit student even dared to think of taking an independent political stand there till then. Our decision really created a deep impact in the campus. In the elections, we got more than 80 % votes of the SC and ST students and that emerged as a very strong indicator of our student mobilisation.

Why did your student group decide to go political?

It was very necessary because we felt that without going political it would be very difficult to mobilise our students at a greater level but the most important objective was to show our strength to others, to tell others that we are now not going to sit idle against any form of caste oppression.

Even faculty members started taking notice of our group and soon we were able to get hostel rooms allotted for our students. We even got one mess allotted for us for the first time. All this happened because of our decision to go political.

Then there were some unintended consequences too. Various caste groups started interacting with us for our support in their struggle for supremacy against each other. As a result we got a lot of space to manoeuvre for our demands.

I am sure that this assertion of Dalit and Adivasi students would not have been a very smooth process without resistance.

Yes there were plenty of incidents including violence but gradually they understood that now there would be opposition and they might not go scot-free as earlier. One of our fellow Dalit students even got expelled from the college as he was too much involved and used to lead. Rumours were being circulated that our group used to instigate caste violence and indulged in arson in the college but we were able to manage things and were able to pay back in the same coin.

In all this what happened to your studies? How did you fare in your M.Sc?

I think my strong educational background helped me during this period. I was quite comfortable in my studies while leading our student movement. I got my M.Sc degree in 1995 with honours as I scored above 80 % marks.

I was one of the few students who completed the degree in the stipulated time without any extension but here also I feel I scored well in final semesters because of the movement that we have created otherwise during my first and second semester I was given much lower grades than what I deserved. By the end of the degree, I feel, it was quite difficult for my teachers to play with my grades given my identity as someone who was quite politically active.

After completing your post-graduation what did you do?

I started preparing for my competitive exams. This was a time with lot of dilemmas playing in my mind on whether I should go for my PhD or try for civil services. In between there was an advertisement for the teaching posts in Rajasthan Agricultural University, Bikaner and in March, 1996, interviews were held. For the first time our university recruited Dalits and Adivasis as faculty and I was one of the 10 SC and STs recruited.

There were no SC and ST faculty members in the entire Rajasthan Agricultural University before that?

Yes, that was the situation then. We 10 were the first to be recruited and that too it came after a long agitation. Before that most of the recruitment used to happen through back door entry. The 'upper' caste faculty members and administrators used to appoint their acquaintances as ad-hoc and later made their positions permanent with time. That was the norm and our students figured nowhere in this, as we were always declared 'Not Found Suitable'.

This recruitment happened due to our long agitation that we as students launched in 1994 when we gheroed the Vice-Chancellor Prof. RK Patel who came to visit our Udaipur college.

Dalit and Adivasi students surrounded the hotel where he was staying in the evening that went on whole night till he agreed to give time and listen to our demands. During our talks the VC agreed that injustice is going on in the recruitment and promised to take suitable action. But we didn't sit idle with that. We met a lot of MLAs and even sent our delegation to meet the then Governor of Rajasthan, Mr Balram Bhagat on this issue. All these our efforts paid off with the 1996 recruitments.

Now what is the situation? How many total SC and ST faculty members are there?

In 1999, the Rajasthan Agricultural University (RAU), Bikaner got bifurcated and College of Agriculture, Udaipur became itself a separate University under the name of Maharana Pratap University Agricultural & Technology (MPUAT), Udaipur. Right now we have around 56 SC and ST faculty members at Udaipur and around 18 in Bikaner.

Still many of the reserved posts are lying vacant and we are trying hard to get them filled. Just four-five years back we were able to force the University administration to come out with an advertisement for the backlog of 250 teaching posts for SC and STs in the Rajasthan Agricultural University, Bikaner.

I think this has happened for the first time that any university and that too an agricultural university came out with such a massive backlog recruitment drive. But till now that process is incomplete and interviews have not been announced even after 4-5 years of the advertisement of the academic posts. We are still fighting for it.

In between you tried for IAS too?

After 3-4 years of my recruitment I got a little frustrated as I was never given a chance for teaching or research but was attached to one of the Krishi Vigayan Kendra (KVK) situated in remote area with almost no academic environment. This was happening with all the SC and ST faculty members. I started losing my zeal and then I decided to switch careers and started preparing for civil service particularly IAS.

In 2001, I cleared Prelims and Mains of UPSC and sat for the interview at New Delhi. However I was not able to get selected due to my one silly mistake, I guess.

On being asked whether there should be reservations in Defence services or not, I replied yes there should be. That was really stupid of me. I could have been more diplomatic. Actually in interviews, if you are a Dalit then they try to gauge you and they don't like assertive and conscious Dalits much (smiles).

Did you get any reply to this answer?

Yes, the chairperson of the interview Board, Mr SD Karnik got little agitated and told me that this would create havoc in the defence services and we will lose the fighting spirit and blah, blah. All the regular stuff that we are so used to hear.

But the funniest part was that, the same Mr SD Karnik got arrested under corruption charges just two days later. He was the former chairperson of Maharashtra Public Service Commission and was accused of selling government posts there.

I was just plain unlucky by two days (laughs). But I don't have any regret now. I cleared Rajasthan civil services also but did not join it and decided to pursue my PhD.

You did your PhD from which University?

Yes while teaching I took admission as a PhD candidate from Bikaner University and completed it in 2007. My topic was 'Response of Fenugreek to phosphorus and zinc application and their residual effect on succeeding pearl millet under irrigated conditions of North West Rajasthan'. It was a study on cropping system research in the Thar desert where cropping systems are under constant change with the introduction of Indira Gandhi Canal.

What is the situation of our students right now in both the universities and their colleges?

Situation has definitely improved and our students fare much better than before. They have equal access to hostels and mess etc and very blatant incidents of caste-discrimination are few and far between. In both the universities our students get regularly elected as student representatives. The physical violence is almost nil.

However, some harassment still happens but at very subtle level like many a times our students are not able to avail the scholarships properly as they are made to run here and there on small procedural pretexts.

Some time back one of the ST girls had topped the overall entrance exam but the administration had put her in the ST category while giving admission despite a very clear cut guidelines and even after Supreme Court has given a ruling to put such candidates under general list. Still the University administration tried to play a mischief but had to relent after some of our colleagues' initiative against it.

So the situation has had much turnaround but the mindset still remains the same and that is where our real challenge lies.

Thanks so much sir for this wonderful sharing. Listening to you was a great privilege. However, one last question still remains, in the last two decades, the Dalit and Adivasi teachers have entered in the Universities and Colleges in quite a number, given the situation of our students, what do you think should be the role of these teachers?

I will reply on this based on the my experiences and several of my SC and ST colleagues. There are various areas where we really can play a big role like the proper implementation of roaster system that is used in faculty recruitment.

Fortunately, I and one of my colleagues Dr Meena were members of this committee for many years and we made our presence felt there. We also fought for the compulsorily presence of SC and ST representatives during interview process for PhD selection so that our students are not discriminated there.

At a personal level, as a teacher I have never discriminated my students on the basis of their caste backgrounds. I feel I have a fairly good reputation among the students and I have tried my best to remain available to support students in writing, research irrespective of their caste backgrounds.

I feel that our faculty members must have both technical and social competency. He or she must excel in teaching and also be conscious of the problems of our students particularly Dalit and Adivasi students otherwise in universities and colleges especially in professional and technical ones things for our students are really made very tough. For a teacher, his integrity is very important.

~~~

 

[Courtesy: Dalit and Adivasi Students' Portal]

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