On 22 May 2015, the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IITM), a student group namely Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC) was ‘derecognised’ by the Dean of Students following an advisory note received from the Under Secretary to the Human Resource Development Ministry, Government of India. The note from the MHRD referred to an anonymous complaint that APSC created “hatred” against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hindus, and subsequently tried to justify the action in the garb of ‘misuse of privileges’.
APSC is a duly recognized independent student body, of about 100 individuals, formed on 14th April, 2014 on the birth anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar. The group has been facing threats and intimidation from upper caste right wing groups within the campus and administration from the very beginning. Earlier in June 2014 and again in September 2014, the Dean of students had asked APSC to change its name as both Ambedkar and Periyar were political leaders. The immediate provocation was the recent lecture organized by APSC on 14th April 2015 by Dr. R. Vivekananda Gopal of Kuppam University, Andhra Pradesh on the topic “Contemporary Relevance of Dr. Ambedkar”. In his speech Prof. Gopal had accused NDA government of favouring big business and criticised its policies on land acquisition, labour etc.
APSC strongly believes that caste discrimination is very much prevalent, even in current times, and is particularly pervasive in these ‘premier’ academic institutions. APSC aims to make a common platform for all students irrespective of caste and creed, so as to dismantle the evils of caste barriers. Emphasizing the direct linkage between the hierarchical caste structure and conditions of peasants and labour, they have been organizing talks, discussions, debates, movie screenings on labour policies, language politics, communalism, land acquisition ordinance, beef ban and ghar wapasi programmes etc.
IIT Madras is notoriously infamous for its casteist /Brahminical and rightwing ideology and dominance. Making a mockery of the government policies on reservation, IITM had never implemented the policies resulting in very dismal representation of dalits and tribals in both faculty and student front. Social activists who have been fighting for proper implementation of reservations for Dalits describe IIT Madras as a ‘modern day agraharam — a Brahmin enclave’. According to WB Vasantha Kandasamy, Assistant Professor in the Mathematics Department, of the institute’s entire faculty numbering to 460 a meagre 0.86 percent are Dalits, about 50 are from OBC, and the rest belong to the upper castes(2007). Even at present, the number of Dalits among faculty members is less than 1%. In 2008, IIT Delhi also was in the news for terminating 12 Dalit students citing "poor academic performance". "So far at least 20 Dalit students from all IITs have committed suicide in the past decade," says a PhD student from IIT Delhi. There are many such instances of discrimination and persecution of dalit students and faculty in the IITs which are never covered by the mainstream media. A recent survey among first year students (2013-14 batch) belonging to various SC, ST and OBC categories at IIT Mumbai, has revealed that an alarming 56% of them feel discriminated in a very subtle manner. The dropout rate of Dalit students at IITM is among the highest in the country. Even basic freedoms like having food of their choice in a common space is frowned upon by the administration which wanted separate mess halls for students who are vegetarian.
The incidents in IITM in derecognizing Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle expose the real attitude of NDA government towards Dr. Ambedkar whom they are desperately trying to bring into the Hindutva fold. It may be further noted that IITM which has derecognized APSC because of its anti-establishment views is extending all possible help to many rightwing student groups like Vivekananda Study Circle, Dhruva, and Santulan which are engaging in unscientific and religious discourses.
The incident at IITM is not an isolated one. It is part of the overall strategy of rightwing forces to stifle democratic spaces in educational institutions. In June 2014, nine students including editor, subeditor and advisory members of the college magazine of Sree Krishna College in Kerala's Guruvayur University were arrested for publishing "objectionable and unsavoury" language against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a crossword puzzle in the magazine. Around the same time seven polytechnic students along with their Principal in Thrissur were arrested for including Narendra Modi in a list of "negative faces" along with Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, George Bush and a few others in their college magazine.
PUDR expresses deep concern over growing intolerance shown by the Modi government which is going for an all out offensive against every form of dissent. We strongly condemn the efforts of government in stifling democratic voices in educational institutions, thus violating the constitutionally guaranteed right to free expression. PUDR also condemns the role of police authorities in containing the protests by various students, civil and democratic organizations both inside and outside IITM. We strongly believe that the action of the Dean of students of IITM in derecognizing the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle is undemocratic and unilateral, and demand its immediate and unconditional roll back.