Deepa Mohanan’s struggle against the oppressive savarna academic discourse is a symbol of strength for every student from marginalised communities.
The Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi (DBA) samaj cannot afford to lose any more Rohith Vemulas and Payal Tadvis at the hands of the oppressor. Back in 2016, we witnessed the institutional murder of PhD scholar Rohith Vemula that fuelled a raging protest all over the country. But it is quite evident that atrocities against students from marginalised communities have continued unabated.
A Dalit PhD scholar from Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, Kerala, Mohanan has been a victim of caste-based discrimination at the hands of her upper-caste professor Nandakumar Kalarikkal for the last ten years.
She went on an indefinite hunger strike on October 29, 2021, because according to her, Kalarikkal had been causing many hindrances to her doctoral studies. On November 8, the university accepted all her demands and removed the casteist professor from his post.
This was a victory for people from the marginalised community and a slap on the face of people who claim Kerala to be “the land of progressives” and “caste-less”. In reality, people like Mohanan are continuously reminded of their caste identity over and over again.
In an interview, Mohanan stated how the Communist Party of India(M) did not hear her pleas and all her issues fell upon deaf ears. Kalarikkal, she alleges, is close to the party and that’s why the Student Federation of India – the CPI(M)’s student wing – did not show any support for Mohanan’s battle.
This victory is a major one, but one should also not miss the fact that it took almost five years and endless struggles for Mohanan to get justice. Moreover, there are unaccountable brutalities against marginalised communities which are barely noticed, and even if they come to the forefront they vanish from the public eye in no time.
Every day, people from the marginalised communities face caste viciousness. Students like Payal Tadvi die by suicide after being harassed because of their caste identity. Professor Maroona Murmu’s Santhal identity was ridiculed by a savarna woman and Dr Neelam, a Dalit professor in Lakshmibai college, was slapped by the HoD of the Hindi department, Ranjit Kaur.
The list never ends.
A savarna is never questioned about their merit, but folks from the marginalised communities have to prove their worth at every point to survive this savarna-dominated society.
On top of it all, the very fact that the oppressive upper castes think they have the right to be the voice of the DBA community is infuriating.
Savarnas have always been gatekeepers of academia. Back in July, renowned author Ravinder Singh posted about how the 27% OBC quota in medical is apparently “killing the merit”. For savarnas like him, only upper-caste students are “meritorious enough”. It is very easy for the upper caste to talk about merit with all the privileges in the world. The abilities of marginalised students are humiliated as “quota students,” they are derided. The sad truth is, as soon as the oppression comes with caste, savarnas are nowhere to be seen.
Most of the elite institutions and educational institutions, in general, are hegemonised by the savarnas with minimal to n0 representation of teachers and students from oppressed-caste backgrounds.
While Mohanan’s victory is a daily reminder that students from the DBA and Pasmanda samaj have to fight their own battles, it is also time for people to reflect on how deep-rooted casteism is and how it is not a story of the past. Casteism is practiced and prevalent to date no matter what elite institution you study at or work at.
As a person from a marginalised community, my heart aches to witness the rampant casteism that takes place and how people who boast to be “progressive” join hands with the vices or maintain a deafening silence. We can only hope that no more lives are lost due to the deep-rooted casteism practiced in academic spaces and almost all the savarna-dominated outlets.
In times like these, we can only pin our hope for better times when each day of our existence will start with a full stop instead of a question mark.
Prasangana Paul pursuing International Relations from Jadavpur University loves to create art and believes to rattle the bones of the vices from her words
Featured image credit: Twitter/Editing: LiveWire