United for Equality
Genesis of Egalitarians
Last year (2020), during the coronavirus lockdown period, we came across a post on Facebook. The post alleged that a first-year Dalit female student was driven to suicide by the casteist abuse perpetrated on her by her roommate and other students in her college (in Madurai, Tamil Nadu). We made enquiries to investigate the veracity of the post. We were not able to find the real reason for her suicide. We were told that she had a few health problems, and her death took place when she was admitted in the hospital for treatment. However, they confirmed that the student had indeed, been subjected to verbal abuse by her classmates. The university administration had conducted enquiries with a few students following a complaint she had filed. But some of the parents of the accused students were influential members of the ruling party. So, no action was taken. When we made investigations in the university, we learned about the dominance of some of the ‘intermediate castes’ in the college. Students belonging to these dominant intermediate castes were insulting Dalit students everywhere from the playground to the classroom. Some of the students had formed WhatsApp groups with other students of the same caste. They kept watch on their fellow students’ personal relationships with each other, especially if they were from different castes. We also learned that there were some cases where the allotment of post-graduate and PhD seats and the recruitment of new faculty members were conducted against the prescribed reservation norms, to favour certain dominant castes.
As former students of the university, we wanted to challenge this. We filed an RTI and asked the university for their data on recruitment of staff and PhD / post-grad admission to check whether the rights of the Dalit and Adivasi students are protected among other things. However, the university refused to release the data citing absurd reasons. We filed an appeal to the Tamil Nadu Information Commission. Upon their intervention, after a gap of nearly ten months, the university finally released its data on student admission. Our other appeals to the Tamil Nadu Information Commission are still on the waiting list.
Last year, the #BlackLivesMatter movement took the world by storm after the murder of George Floyd in the United States. Universities in America set aside a week to discuss racial discrimination in higher education. Prof. Deepak Malghan, a scholar we highly regard, raised a very pertinent question – why is it that India never saw its own #DalitLivesMatter movement following the suicide (murder) of Rohith Vemula, or when so many caste-based atrocities are wielded against Dalits every single day? In his article (Link), he highlighted the presence of Black faculty and students in institutes of higher education in America, and how their substantial presence directly contributed to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Similarly, he said, if India should see its own #DalitLivesMatter movement, then Dalit faculty and students need to be present in increased numbers in the Indian academic spaces. The Indian constitution has an affirmative action policy for Dalit and Adivasi students in education and employment to ensure their equal representation and to correct historical wrongs. But premier institutions like the IITs and IIMs do not follow these mandates (Link 1, Link 2, Link 3). There is no policy of reservation implemented at IIM Ahmedabad for their PhD programme till date – the court case related to this is still ongoing. It is still an uphill battle for the Irula caste in Tamil Nadu to get a community certificate. (Link)
It was from this point that we started using the Right to Information Act to enquire whether the Dalit and Adivasi students in other universities were obtaining their rights. We then wondered why we should not create an informal organization with the aim to strive for the rights of Adivasis, Dalits, and Transgender community; to create a casteless egalitarian just society. That was how Egalitarians was created, on 15th of July 2020.