A circular reissued by Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) that lists being vegetarian and a proponent of Indian culture as criteria for bagging gold medals has drawn flak, with political parties and student groups demanding its withdrawal. The gold medals were instituted in 2006 by a trust in the names of Yogmurthi Rashtriya Keertankar Ramchandra Gopal Shelar and Tyagmurthi Shrimati Saraswati Ramachandra Shelar. Postgraduate students from science and non-science backgrounds are alternately awarded the prize.
The 10 conditions for winning the medal include: applicants must not have any substance addiction, must be a proponent of Indian culture, a practitioner of yoga and meditation, and essentially a vegetarian. A circular listing these criteria is reissued every year. This year, the circular was reissued on October 31, following which it drew flak from various quarters. University officials, however, said the varsity does not decide on the eating habits of students and would raise this matter with the trust.
The Congress termed the circular “silly”, with Congress leader Vishwajeet Kadam saying that an educational degree had nothing to do with a student’s food habits. Yuva Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray said, “This diktat should be withdrawn… Are you running a university or have you opened a restaurant. Give a gold medal to those who issued this diktat and dismiss them.”
NCP leader Supriya Sule tweeted, “Shocking disappointing decision by Pune University – so proud of education in our state, What has happened to our universities. Please focus on Education not food.” Some students described the criteria as absurd. “Instead of encouraging students to perform better academically, why is importance attached to what the student eats? How can the committee judge any applicant’s claim of being a vegetarian?” asked Jayashri Patil, a student of mass media and communication. The NSUI warned of protests if the circular is not withdrawn.
SPPU Registrar Arvind Shaligram said the university had no role in formulating the criteria. “Since the award is given in the name of a keertankar, the trust wanted ‘an ideal student’ to bag the same,” he said. On verifying the eligibility of applicants, the registrar said the scrutiny committee (of varsity officials) would “fully trust” the applicant’s statement. “The committee will do its best to verify the criteria… But there is no foolproof mechanism to verify some of these criteria and we will have to believe students,” said Shaligram.
“The university does not decide on the eating habits of the students. We also do not believe in this. We will consult the trust… the sole authority for the same,” said the registrar in a statement.