TWO WEEKS after he was arrested for making a “derogatory” comment on Chhatrapati Shivaji, Sunil Waghmare, a professor in Khopoli, has approached the police with a complaint against the principal of his college, alleging discrimination on caste lines. Waghmare, head of the commerce department at KMC College in Khopoli, was arrested on March 17 for questioning, in a WhatsApp post, why the warrior king’s birthday was celebrated twice in a year.
He approached the Khopoli police station on March 27 with a letter alleging harassment at the hands of the principal, Narendra Pawar. In the letter, the 34-year-old Dalit professor alleged that the principal “targeted” him several times in the past few years. “His (Pawar’s) behaviour towards me was partial, discriminatory and prejudicial. He had once told me that because I belong to a Scheduled Caste, I had reached this position due to reservation and not due to merit. This he would constantly remind me of on many occasions,” read the letter.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Waghmare said, “He (Pawar) would issue memos to me to cause harassment. All this will be clear when the police investigate the matter.” In his letter to the police, Waghmare wrote, “I am writing to you to bring to your notice the inhuman treatment meted (out) to me and seeking strict action against him [the principal] taking note of his casteist behaviour towards me.” The Indian Express has accessed a copy of Waghmare’s letter with the investigating officer’s acknowledgment of receipt. The police, however, said they had no knowledge of such a letter or any complaint by the professor.
“The professor visited the police station a few days ago but he didn’t make any complaint,” said Ashok Thakur, the investigating officer at Khopoli police station. Raigad Superintendent of Police Anil Paraskar, too, said the professor had not approached the police with any complaint. Principal Narendra Pawar did not respond to calls and text messages. The birth anniversary of Shivaji is celebrated in both February and March, as there is ambiguity on the warrior king’s actual date of birth.
On March 15, the second date for the celebration of Shivaji’s birthday, Waghmare had on a WhatsApp group for teachers made a comment questioning the practice. It hurt the sentiments of many in the group, who then sought an apology from the professor. Waghmare refused to do so and later the group was deleted.
Thereafter, he was assaulted by a mob gathered on the campus on March 17. The police, which had reached the spot to protect the professor, later arrested him Section 295A (hurting religious sentiments) of the Indian Penal Code. Paraskar said the police could not book the assailants as Waghmare had refused to file a complaint. The professor was released on bail three days later, but the college suspended him for six months. Waghmare then left for his native town in Nanded, but came back 10 days later to lodge a complaint against the principal.
“I did not target anybody in particular or intend to hurt anyone’s sentiment with the message. I don’t know how a message sent on a private group was leaked to people from outside,” Waghmare told The Indian Express.