The Conscious Four
"The control of information is something the elite always does, particularly in a despotic form of government. Information, knowledge, is power. If you can control information, you can control people." ~ Tom Clancy
Tom Clancy might be an espionage thriller writer, but then what he says above is just the protocol when it comes to the work of spy agencies or organizations wanting to control a populace. Our entire Indian history is testament to this, with a language such as Sanskrit being specifically constructed so that its learning is made the domain of Brahmins and this language then getting used as the norm as far as knowledge production goes. Knowledge production put in the hands of the Brahmins implied control of the minds of the populace in the hands of the Brahmins.
A minority such as Brahmins wanting to control an entire nation will hence want to dominate the knowledge producing centres at any cost. Hence the struggle to fight this hegemony in knowledge production does not plainly become an issue related to access of education (which is how the constitution may have framed it as a right), but is essentially an issue related to fighting one's own enslavement. You cannot as a people ever be considered free as long as it is 'the other' that creates the knowledge for you.
It is hence in this light that the series of academic suicides of the lower castes that have almost become a norm in institutions of higher learning are in essence similar to elimination of possible threats by a despotic government. The struggle against discrimination in these academic institutions should be seen as being no less than a struggle against enslavement. Therefore, in this regard, it should be recognized that there is an urgent need for the passing of laws which would ensure the democratization of these institutions in principle and not just on paper.
Among the individuals who have studied the issue related to caste discrimination against dalit students the name of Dr. Sukhadeo Thorat, Chairman, ICSSR, stands out (see the Thorat Committee Report on Caste Discrimination in AIIMS) As per his recommendations:
1. Ministry of HRD set up a separate committee to find the discrimination faced by SC/ST/OBC. This committee will look into the various instances of discrimination on students in all its subtleties and will then suggest the laws that should be put in place in order to address the issues related to discrimination.
2. Based on these recommendations a bill should be passed in the parliament specifically making the discrimination against SC/ST/OBC students a crime punishable by the Indian penal code. The crimes punishable should include all instances of discrimination talked about in the committee report.
After discussing with other like-minded students and professors, there are some more recommendations that we think could be considered. They are:
1. Publishing of Annual Diversity Reports of students, faculties and non-teaching staff by all universities and higher educatioinal institutions. These reports should be sent to SC/ST/BC commissions.
2. A mini commission should be constituted, consisting of members from SC/ST/BC commissions along with an overwhelming number of SC/ST/OBC teachers and students respectively as a part of the commission to look into matters of discrimination within the educational spaces. The nature of the commission should be permanent.
3. The commission should have judicial powers and be directly linked with SC/ST/BC commissions. Such a system should be made mandatory for all educational institutions.
4. Special recruitment drive to fill all open vacant faculty positions for SC/ST/OBC. This drive to be completed in 6 months.
5. The scope of the law should include all universities and institutes such as IITs, IIMs, IISERs, CISR labs etc and not just central and state universities.
Apart from the judicial and legislative actions, there are some suggestions that the students should consider. These are:
1. Having an Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) set up in every Institute. This will enable students to gather together and learn about their great leaders. It will also help in commonly addressing any grievances.
2. Having a helpline set up to address students' concerns. This would be done in each zone – North, South, east & West. The helpline would be managed by Ambedkarite volunteers that can help in answering those queries or guiding it to nearest Police station.
All laws, no matter how well thought of, always fail at the stage of implementation. Stalin in Soviet Russia always acted like a benevolent dictator and the people of Russia felt that the guys lower down the ruling order were the oppressors, when it was Stalin who himself gave orders to oppress. This is always a time tested tactic by which oppressors remain in power: Create and advertise bodies which will supposedly listen to people's grievances, which then do not do anything. It is because of this that an institute like AIIMS, which is just miles away from the parliament that houses around 25 percent SC/ST representatives, can act more oppressive against SC/STs than a rural khap.
The SC/ST commission is a particular case in point. As has been talked about in the media, the commission didn't pay any heed to the grievances of the parents of Mr Aniket Ambhore who committed suicide in IIT Bombay. If even in such reported cases the Commission does not do its job, one can hence guess what use it would be to cases that are not talked about in the media. An anonymous source talked about the scamming nature of the organization with all complaints going nowhere and phones to the chairman going to his secretary or to someone else, until no one picks up the phone. It seems that the organization has just become a tool for the people in power to pull up a trump card in the case of high profile cases, without regard for solving issues related to the people at large. Just to get a glimpse in to the scamming nature of the commission, even simple things on its website which should have obviously worked such as a helpline gives the address of a nearby airport (http://www.ncsc.nic.in/pages/view/54-help-line).
The only way to make the Commission to do its job is through the following points:
1. The Commission should release yearly data of the number of cases that have come to it for remedial measures and the number of cases that it actually addressed.
2. Setting up of a committee of SC/ST/OBC academics, social workers etc. who have known to have had a history of fighting for the rights of SC/ST/OBCs to look into the functioning of the SC/ST/BC commissions by publishing yearly reports on the work done by the commissions and setting up targets for the coming year. The committee should be chosen every 2-3 years in order to prevent it from being compromised.
As has been stated earlier, the issue is one of fighting enslavement and should be seen as nothing less. The points made above are definitely not exhaustive, but for sure are at least fundamental and should hence be the part of any struggle for democratization of academic institutions. As Dr Thorat had stated, the momentum gathered by the Dalit student movement should not be wasted around petty issues but with possibilities of long term solutions in mind, lest the coming generations abuse this generation in regards to an opportunity wasted.
The Conscious Four is a group of young Ambedkarites.