Forum against Caste Discrimination in Education
A petition shall be sent to the Vice Chancellor, EFLU, protesting the way in which the administration filed cases against 9 SC/ST/OBC students. Please sign the petition 'Stop Criminalization of SC/ST/OBC students in EFLU' on change.org to register your protest.
Building on this petition, this article discusses the issues surrounding the EFLU administration's high-handedness at greater length.
"Many years ago, I was..shocked to learn that I myself had been placed on an FBI list – of the Ten Most Wanted Criminals. This only began to make sense to me when I realized that I was not the exclusive target: through me, the FBI was transmitting a message to all revolutionary activists that they would be marked as criminals and that, in fact, our movements against imperialism and for racial and gender justice would be generally criminalized."
Angela Davis, "Hands Off Assata."
We strongly protest the criminal cases that have been filed against 9 SC/ST/OBC students in EFLU by the administration, at the Osmania police station on 10th May 2013. These students have been charged of rioting, wrongful restraining of people, damaging property, using criminal force and trespassing. All of this because they actively participated in the peaceful student protests that followed the suicide of Mudasir Kamran, a Kashmiri Muslim student, on March 2nd, 2013.
Disregarding all rules and regulations regarding disciplinary action in the university, Mudasir Kamran was sent to police custody at the behest of the Proctor for "counseling," after he had an altercation with a fellow student. It was after he was arrested and detained in the police station – some reports also say that he was tortured – that Mudasir committed suicide in his hostel room. From the evening that Mudasir died, armed police men were allowed to enter the campus and they kept accompanying the students through the meetings and candle light marches that followed. The students protested strongly against this till at last the police was made to leave the campus on March 3rd.
Following this, the students formed an EFLU Struggle Committee and started a peaceful resistance demanding that compensation be paid to Mudasir's family and that the proctor, Harish Vijra, be suspended. However, instead of listening to the legitimate grievances of the students, the VC and the administration again brought in the police to deal with them. Often it was the police who tried to mediate between the students and the administration! The police even prepared a list of names of the people involved in the struggle, which included 18 students and teachers, as part of a profiling exercise done in collaboration with the administration. To the shock and dismay of students, soon regular police patrolling was instituted in the campus and the police became a permanent feature in EFLU.
On April 30th the police was called into the campus again, following the accidental death of Narsingh Rao, a non-teaching staff. The police entered with riot prevention vehicles and without any provocation whatsoever, lathi charged the students and non-teaching employees who had gathered to mourn the diseased. Against all given norms, 8 of them were taken into custody and were detained for a whole day. Such an incident of lathi charging of students is one of the first in the history EFL University. Later in April, yet another student, Moihuddin committed suicide allegedly due to harassment from the administration and staff. This time too, the police was called in and they did not allow Moihuddin's body to be brought into the campus so that the students could pay their last respect to him. It must also be remembered that recently there were clashes between Dalit and ABVP students in the neighbouring Osmania University Campus. Here too the police entered the campus and arrested the resisting Dalit students, sparing those from ABVP.
The police have been freely entering both the Osmania and EFLU campus on a routine basis and making enquiries about students. In EFLU they have been making enquiries about students from Muslim backgrounds. All of this has so intimidated the students that they have started leaving the hostels now.
Uniformed policemen are a common sight in EFLU today. The police is not only intimidating male students but they are also troubling female students by passing objectionable comments about their clothes and appearance.
Now the University has gone even further and filed extremely serious criminal cases against 9 SC/ST/OBC students, for 'offences' that were committed while they were protesting for justice for Mudasir.
These offences include:
• 147: Rioting – 2 Years, Cognizable, Bailable
• 148: Rioting armed with deadly weapin – 3 Years, cognizable, bailable
• 341: Wrongfully restraining any person – cognizable, bailable
• 353: Assault or use of criminal force other than on grave provocation – imprisonment for 2 years – cognizable; non-bailable
• 427: mischief and causing damage imprisonment for 2 years; non-cognizable , bailable
• 448: house trespass; 1 year, cognizable, bailable 506 r/w 149: criminal intimidation (with group liability)
This is nothing but the sheer criminalization of students from marginalized backgrounds.
A glance at the composition of the students' names and castes immediately reveal that all of them are from SC, ST, OBC communities. This is not only the isolating of such students belonging to discriminated castes, but it is also a gendered criminalization. Students from different sections and both girls and boys were at the forefront of the protests. Surely it is the fear of a possible public outrage that keeps the administration from criminalizing the girls and uppercaste students and it is this that makes the SC ST and OBC male students such easy targets This caste-gendered nature of criminalizing students, affect all students from marginalized communities.
First of all, what we have to remember is that with this, the existing criminalization of Muslim male students in campuses across the country gets extended on to the SC/ST/OBC male students. When students from these communities join the protest against a Kashmiri Muslim student being forced to commit suicide after being criminalized, immediately the same treatment meted out to Muslim youth all over the country is imposed on the SC/ST/OBC students too.
This complicates issues further and may work to destroy the fragile associations between students of various marginalized and oppressed communities. This also further intimidates Muslim students – many of them who are OBCs - especially given the fact that there is a constant surveillance of their moves and their democratically functioning organizations in EFLU today, as in many other campuses. In fact, it is strategic on the part of the academic establishment and the State to destroy those nascent links being formed among such students. This effectively takes out the possibilities of support groups forming around students harassed along caste, caste-gender and communal lines.
Though this list has SC/ST and OBC male students, we know that this also delivers the requisite blow to the SC ST and OBC female students, who are usually fewer in number. This not only intimidates the female students, but it also makes it harder for them to raise any issues that are specific to their gender identity, given the larger situation around.
We also need to connect this to the fact that (as many studies show) it is men from SC/ST/OBC and minority/Muslim communities who are most criminalized in Indian society. Similarly many SC/ST employee associations are constantly fighting the numerous corruption charges and cases slapped on their members, for standing up to the authorities and demanding their lawful rights. There is yet another not so trivial dimension to these violent measures. Some of the students belonging to other castes are also gradually beginning to see the injustice happening to marginalized students and are showing eagerness to be part of the anti-caste assertions. Criminalization ensures that this process is also stalled. All this sees to it that attempts to overcome alienation and academically excel remain an obstacle-filled and intensely isolating journey for students from these communities.
In fact, more and more, students from SC/ST/OBC communities are being denied their right to protest and organize themselves politically in campuses across the country. Even as marginalized students who are entering the field of higher education are making their presence felt in the field of higher education, with their political activism and analytical and organizational skills, their much needed voices are being increasingly silenced and repressed.
At this juncture it is important that we think about other such incidents in other campuses in India. For instance, Dalitbahujan students who were planning to hold a Beef Pork festival in JNU were given show cause notices by the administration a few months ago. We have to take these events very seriously. This is a direct attack on the student lives of SC/ST/OBC students who are abysmally underrepresented in the academia. Their very existence in the field of higher education is filled with problems. However, instead of recognizing them as extremely promising political subjects, they are being criminalized in this manner and being threatened and intimidated into surrendering all their politics, protests and resistances.
SC/ST/OBC students are only recently coming to higher elite university spaces, which has been a strong hold of the upper castes for decades now. EFLU started implementing SC reservations only in the late 90s. ST students took many more years to come into EFLU. The OBCs started entering central universities all over India, only a few years back. In most universities SC/ST/OBC teacher posts are not filled up and there are numerous problems regarding the implementation of reservations even for students. Even after they enter, students from these backgrounds have to face an alienating space where the syllabus, pedagogy and the class room are all pitted against them. Most students also have to struggle hard because of the sudden shift from an education in the regional language medium to English.
Most universities continue to have a large majority of upper caste teachers, especially in senior and important positions and committees. They are totally insensitive to the SC/ST/OBC students and are unable to understand, support or sustain them in anyway. They are often failed, forced to dropout and judged for being non-meritorious, lazy and irresponsible. This has led to a high rate of suicide among such students in elite institutions and Dalit organizations like "Insight Foundation" have been working against such student suicides for years now. It is in the face of all this that SC/ST/OBC students are making use of their access to higher education to locate themselves as political subjects and to question discriminatory practices. This alone will democratize our universities, which would also have a larger and positive impact on society.
This new trend of calling the police in and slapping criminal cases on students and profiling them and intimidating them, only worsens the existing situation. Till now these students were so discriminated that they either had to dropout or end up as failures. Many were also forced to commit suicide, seeing no future for themselves in the field of higher education or in the larger society. Now EFLU is showing how such students can be further persecuted by being threatened with jail. This "university to prison pipeline" reminds one of the "school to prison pipeline" that saw the increasing criminalization of black students in America. Many of them were handcuffed, even while in school campuses and pushed into state prisons, causing huge uproar among the black community.
We cannot allow the same methods to be employed on our students. We want our students to be given a fair chance to study, to protest and to resist discrimination and other oppression. Instead of criminalizing them in this manner, the university and larger society should urgently recognize their important role in making our society truly democratic.
We demand that all the cases against the students be withdrawn with immediate effect.
We also demand that the police force be withdrawn and the climate of debate and discussion, befitting a university, is restored in the campus.
We strongly suggest that a committee of SC/ST/OBC and Minority/Muslim teachers in EFLU (along with some well known academics from these communities) is set up to look into the many grievances of the students.
We demand the immediate intervention of all concerned in what is happening, instead of leaving our students to the hands of the police.