Alumni of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) Centre for Historical Studies (CHS) and several concerned citizens wrote an open letter in support of Jadavpur University’s Associate Professor of History Dr. Maroona Murmu and her fight against casteist oppression. Professor Murmu was mercilessly harassed for her comment on social media platform Facebook about the ongoing issue of holding examinations during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Dalit and Adivasi activist was subjected to vicious and hateful social media campaign. The alumni called this attack on Dr. Murmu, one of the most powerful voices of Dalit and Adivasi empowerment in contemporary India, utterly deplorable. They demanded strict action against the perpetrators of such violence that silenced the marginalized voices, denigrated the contributions of a leading Adivasi scholar-activist, and maintained established forms of Brahmanical hierarchy.
“It is a matter of great consternation for us that our casteist society does not sensitise its young members to the long history of violence against Adivasis, Dalits, and Bahujans and to the need for affirmative action for the purpose of representation and empowerment, which have been previously stolen from them,” said the letter.
The incessant trolls, hate messages and casteist comments were directed towards Murmu following a series of comments on one of her friend’s posts on September 2 2020, that addressed the aforementioned issue.
Murmu commented that students’ lives were being put at risk by the government’s decision to hold examinations during the pandemic. Shortly after, a woman replied to her comment, “Maroona Murmu, what surprised me was the fact that Jadavpur University has professors with such mentality. I am astonished. Let me brief you a bit on the difference between ‘quota’ and ‘unquota’ (non-quota). To know that life is more important than an academic year, one doesn’t require to be a professor [sic]. It’s not about lagging one year but about how some unqualified and incompetent people take undue advantage of the reservation system and their caste is now helping them be successful, while the deserving lag behind for ever. Our parents are stepping out, taking a risk every day to get us food, while some are sitting at home and getting paid for doing nothing.”
The woman then went on to post on her profile, “Today morning, just reminded one ‘Murmu’ a Santhal about her Adivasi lineage. That too in a polite manner. But some people like her, just made me realise that so-called professors are getting fat simply drawing paychecks.”
As the alumni letter detailed, Dr. Murmu is an accomplished and highly respected historian and educator, who has published widely on women’s history and literary production in Bengal. In addition to her many scholarly contributions, she is also an important and active voice against discrimination based on caste and Adivasi identities in the realm of education in West Bengal and across India.
She is a tireless advocate of increased representation of Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi voices in education and in public life, and has written extensively on systematic and structural discrimination in post-independence India.
The letter reminds that her writings and activism played a significant role in bringing the ‘caste question’ to the forefront in West Bengal, in a manner that has been transformative and path-breaking.
“The love and respect that she receives from her colleagues and students is evidence of the important role she plays within the university community — as a teacher and a mentor as well as a highly-regarded scholar,” said the letter.
The letter added that the vicious attacks on Dr. Murmu throw light on structural inequalities in the academe, despite the usual legal and institutional safeguards.
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