LOKESH KAMBLE is pursuing his PhD on Dr B R Ambedkar’s thoughts on secularism and their relevance today. Son of a Dalit farmer from Babulgaon village of Udgir district in Marathwada, he is also networking with fellow students across communities and is confident that caste polarisation due to the Maratha rallies is not felt on the campus of of Dr B R Ambedkar Marathwada University.
His close friend Satyajit Maske, who belongs to the Maratha community, and doing his PhD in “globalisation and Dr B R Ambedkar’s economics”. He is taking part in discussions over tea, or “chai pe charcha” sessions, in the campus canteen, seeking to engage all communities without letting prejudices interfere, Caste conflict, specifically between Marathas and Dalits, is closely tied with the university’s history, which in turn contributed a key chapter to the politics of the state. Inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1958, it was then called Marathwada University. It was after Sharad Pawar’s Congress government renamed it after Dr B R Ambedkar in 1994 that communal riots broke out in Marathwada.
The traditional Maratha vote bank was so upset with the Congress that it looked for an alternative. The unrest then is accepted as one of the reasons that propelled the Shiv Sena-BJP to power. The late Bal Thackeray, then Sena chief, had taken a vocal stand against reservation stand. After 22 years, it is the Marathas who are demanding reservation besides scrapping of the SC/ST Atrocities Act which it says is being misused by Dalits.
And today, the 4,000 students on the campus are disturbed by reports of conflict from their villages. Lokesh said he does not want a rerun of the events his father had seen. Twenty-two years ago, Baburao Kamble, 65, had plungeto in the “Namantar Chalval” movement and witnessed arson and rioting in his village.
“Those of our generation from the villages know of the horrible consequences of the earlier caste riots,” said Lokesh, who is part of the SFI. “Despite differences, we discuss things without bitterness.”
“In 1994, the university was the hub of political activities and the renaming divided people on caste lines,” said an administrator, Sanjay Shinde. “Today, students are cautious and trying to prevent the reservation issue from turn into ugly conflict.”
At 11am, the reading room of the was packed. “There are various forums on campus where we sit together and debate issues. Instead of looking at it as something against one another’s community, students are trying to get to the root causes and accept them,” said Yogesh Arjun Ghorpade, pursuing an MSc in zoology.
Students speak their mind. “Why are Marathas, who can compete in the 50 per cent open category, seeking to confine themselves to a 16-per-cent quota?” said Deepak Hujre (MA, geography). And Babasaheb Jawde (PhD scholar, history of Dalit Panthers) said, “There is not a single government report that can substantiate allegations that number of atrocities cases registered against Marathas has risen.”
Lahu Radhod is doing his B Tech in food technology. “We believe that in a democratic system, everybody has the right to differ,” he said.
“Those who don’t subscribe to one view also has the right to respect different views.”