THE VARANASI district administration and the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) authorities are on their toes ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to his parliamentary constituency Monday, as several Dalit organisations have planned to protest over Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide and “attempts to saffronise” the university.
At the forefront have been the BHU’s SC/ST Teachers’ Welfare Society and SC/ST Chhatra Samiti who have found support from several other outfits — Ambedkar Buddha Mission, Savitri Bai Phule Mahila Shasaktikaran Samiti, Buddha Vani, Lord Buddha Society, Sangh Mitra Mahila Samiti and Bhimrao Ambedkar Vichar Manch.
Distributing pamphlets among the public Saturday, the outfits have appealed to Ravidas’s followers — known as Raidasis — not to get “misguided” by the BJP which is “anti-Dalit and against reservation”. Their pamphlets take a direct jibe at Modi, asking him to explain whether he is a Dalit hitaishi (well-wisher) or Dalit virodi (opponent).
Members of the teachers’ and students’ association say that ministers have met them but only to ensure that Modi’s visit does not face any disruption.
“Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Vijay Sampla had met us last week only to ensure that no protest occurs during the convocation programme where the PM will be the chief guest,” Kunal Kishore, president of SC/ST Chhatra Samiti, said.
Professors cite “glaring” incidents of discrimination and atrocity that students belonging to the Dalit community repeatedly face on the campus. Professor M P Ahirwar, the general secretary of the SC/ST Teachers’ Welfare Society, says atrocities on Dalit students have increased in the central universities, including in BHU, as has the intervention of RSS and its affiliates in educational institutions since the BJP came to power at the Centre.
Speaking to The Indian Express during a seminar on Guru Ravidas, held on the campus Sunday, Ahirwar said Dalit students have been facing atrocities for several decades but Rohith Vemula’s suicide has motivated them to raise their voice against the harassment.
“One Ashish Gautam has topped in all five years of BAMS (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery) but gold medal is being given to an upper caste student of paramedical course (BPharma). The authorities shifted research scholar Pukhraj Meena to another department after a year,” Ahirwar alleged. (Pukhraj confirmed his transfer, saying his one year of research work was wasted and alleged that his fellowship was not released because he belongs to the Scheduled Tribe.)
Ahirwar also said that teaching posts reserved for SC/STs have been lying vacant, while Dalit students face discrimination in enrollment as research scholars. “Even after their enrollment, they face hurdles created by supervisors and university administration. Congress government had been at least listening to our voices but this BJP government is trying to suppress these voices,” Kishore alleged. He claimed the government pays heed to problems of any community only when that community finds support from other political parties. Like Professor Ahirwar, Kishore too is of the view that Rohith Vemula’s suicide has “united the Dalit community.”
There are, however, others who say they have been on the campus for several years but have never faced any harassment or discrimination.
Pradeep Prasad, a research scholar in Political Science, said that he has been staying on the campus for eight years but had not faced any problem. “But I have heard that language of hate is used for Dalit student by upper caste students,” he said.
Research scholar in Economics, Krishna Kumar Bharti too denied facing any harassment during his 10-year stay. “But now politics is being done after Vemula’s suicide. All the parties are trying to attract Dalit voters by showing regard for Guru Ravidas and speaking on Vemula.”
BHU spokesperson Rajesh Singh denied the allegations. “All the admission and examination process are carried out as per the Constitution and rules framed by the central government.” He said that university was not biased against anyone. About allegations of saffronisation by allowing RSS activities, Singh said there has always been an office of RSS on the campus and the organisation’s pathsanchalan is still taken out but that does mean any particular ideology is being imposed on the students.
Meanwhile, members of Maharashtra-based Bharatiya Vidyarthi Morcha have reached Varanasi and announced support to BHU organisations opposing Modi’s visit by waving black flags. BVM is associated with Backward And Minority Communities Employees Federation. BVM’s national in-charge Vilas Kharat and its UP president Vijay Pratap Bharatiya had sought permission from the Varanasi district administration to protest before the PM but were arrested and later released on personal bond.