Why have India’s elite institutions sounded the death knell for Dalit Adivasi-Muslim scholars ?


The suicide of bright, young scholar Fathima Latheef at the IIT Madras is reflective of an ugly reality. It reveals, yet again, a brute and atrocious caste order at work within these institutions of higher learning. This order discriminates against Dalit, OBC, Adivasi and Muslim students.

This suicide is another institutional murder where both masterminds and caste supremacists who orchestrate this discrimination are well protected. The list is long. There have been several incidents in recent years that have exposed how young, dynamic scholars –particularly those hailing from Dalit Adivasi Muslim backgrounds– are being targeted not merely by the Savarna students but the faculty. So deep-rooted is caste sentiment that it is difficult for India’s savarnas, who sport a racist bias, to accept self-respecting scholars from other communities who do not agree with them.

I term these institutions as Gurukuls. Where a Droancharya is ready to cut the fingers of students from the marginalized sections. These institutions have become the hunting ground for these students who aspire to greater heights from a position of societal weakness and discrimination.

Rohith Vemula was “murdered” thus in the Hyderabad Central University Campus, Dr Payal Tadvi faced very similar pressure in her medical college in Mumbai while nineteen years old Fathima has become the latest victim of this murder series. Where is the national Outrage at her death?

Fathima was a topper in the entrance examination. She topped in her earlier exams too. Hailing from Kollam district in Kerala, Fathima had big dreams when she got into Integrated MA programme in Humanities and Social Sciences at the IIT Madras. Her parents have accused Prof Sudarshan Padmanabhan for mentally torturing her.

Fathima’s story is not hers alone. Privileged, caste forces have revolted with a vengeance everywhere. Their attack is through targeting institutions and individuals. Look at JNU and how regressive forces and the present government have joined hands to destroy this credible institution. They are unable to break the spirit of the University, yet through the misuse of media and the peddlers of lies, we are witnessing a campaign against mandatory provisions which ensure that children of all the communities who are at the margins can both enter into a credible and privileged institution and stay and study there.

The IITs and IIMs are actually even more regressive with their caste and communal prejudices, which is why it is very difficult for girls like Fathima to survive there.

Not long ago, a Ph.D award to a scientist who happened to belong to a scheduled caste community was held up by the brahmanical faculty in IIT Kanpur, accusing the scholar of plagiarism, when everybody knew the track record of the senior scholar as brilliant. His father passed away, carrying the painful burden that his son might not get his hard earned Ph.D. Finally, after a rigorous campaign against this entrenched discrimination,  friends IIT- K was compelled to appoint a committee to look into the false allegations. Ultimately, the charges against him were dropped.

In universities like JNU, despite all differences, the students from the margins can enjoy freedom to challenge the might of caste and privilege. This has been hard earned. Such freedom does not exist in any other institution. In fact, the brahmanical elite are now ensuring that other institutions do not go JNU way.

I do not consider the JNU space a revolutionary one but given today’s circumstances, it is a model that the government could have adopted elsewhere . Much like the Navodaya vidyalayas that have spread across the country to ensure that persons from the marginalised sections participate in our nation building and contribute.

How will students from marginalised sections contribute to the national,  intellectual endeavour when all these institutions are being put beyond their economic limit and capacity?  The fees and other expenses at the IITs, IIMs and other medical institutions are deliberately being made such so that the students who hail from economically weaker background do not reach there. The social and cultural environment in these institutions is also alienating students from Dalit-Adivasi-OBC-Muslim community who, suffering silently, become mute and totally isolated. They remain in atmospheric intimidation which I call a criminal and oppressive environment which reminds students of their discriminated against ‘social background’.

Can the Ministry of HRD respond to Fathi ma’s death?  What happened to the probe into Rohith Vemula’s murder ? What happened in the Payal Tadvi case ? What happened to Najeeb’s disappearance? And what is the progress in the investigation of murder of Fathima Latheef?  These are institutional issues and need to be seriously addressed.

If our institutions are becoming the killing fields for scholars from Dalit Adivasi-Muslim communities,  it is time, then,  to have a serious look into their structure. Are there teachers from these sections in these institutions ? Are there enough students from these sections ? Is there enough staff from their communities ? If not, then the students will always remain in ‘alien in wonderland’.

Sad part is that there is no out cry. Political parties as usual remain silent as these are not issues for them. More criminal is the silence of those who ‘represent’ Dalit Bahujan-minority communities. Making one statement is simply not enough. It is time, they develop their vision for education and address this question: how are they going to strengthen and encourage India’s huge Bahujan communities into these institutions?

Fathima Lateef’s killing is also the story of discrimination against Muslims too who are now increasingly feeling excluded and othered at every level. Isolation, contempt and attempt to define them further.

We must speak up against such efforts. You say communities are being pampered. You blame them for not being ‘educated’ but what happens when the students from these very communities come into their own? 

Fathima was not even wearing ‘Burqa’ so by all the ‘standards’ of the brahmanical IITs, she was a modern Muslim girl and yet she was forced to die.

The basic question is why Fathima died or was killed or allowed to be killed ? The answers are simple and not far to seek. Read into what is happening in our campuses over the last six years. Institutionally, all of them are being restructured in such a way so that the Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi-Muslim students remain outside their domain or are unable to make an entry into them. If they somehow do qualify against all odds, and are able to make an entry inside the brahmanical club, then the atmospheres created ensures that they are isolated, depressed and compel to commit suicide. So these institutional murders will continue if we are unable to democratise our institutions and that will only be possible if they reflect diversity of India in these institutions and not merely brahmanical diversity but non brahmanical diversity too. Representation of India’s diverse religious and ethnic, caste groups is important for democratisation of our institutions. Will it be possible ? I dont think those who have enjoyed privileges and fruits of power for last so many years will easily leave it. The only way is political battle and our continuous struggle for social justice and human rights when political parties have failed to take up the cause of people. That is the most worrisome part in India but there is a reality and that is a revolution happens in the most frustrating situations and I am seeing that in India, people are feeling it. Will those who are socially excluded organised themselves not merely in the University campuses but also politically and outside the urban domain, in our villages too. If they do it, I can say, we will not have to see the sad and deeply painful lives of Fathima or Rohtih Vemula or Payal Tadvi, cut short by brahmanical crookedness.



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