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25 years of Mandal protests- His struggle changed India’s politics: Rajeev Goswami’s daughter

In the midst of protests and debate over reservations, the story of a protester from 25 years ago: Rajeev Goswami, whose self-immolation bid made him the face of the anti-quota agitation.

Written by Pragya Kaushika |
Updated: October 6, 2015 4:01:26 pm
Mandal Commission, Rajeev Goswami, anti-Mandal protests, self-immolation, Rajeev Goswami self-immolation, india politics At the height of the anti-Mandal protests, Rajeev Goswami was among the first to attempt self-immolation.

At 16, Simran Goswami has seen it all — her father’s death, her parents’ separation, shifting of homes, and even countries.

The elder child of Rajeev Goswami — the face of the anti-Mandal protests who attempted self-immolation in 1990 and died 14 years later — lives in Michigan, US, with her younger brother, grandfather and paternal aunt, “to get away from India’s divisive politics”.

Simran works in her aunt’s salon alongside studying fashion designing while her brother Aditya is a Class VI student. Simran wants to “make it big” in the world of fashion.

The two moved to the US in 2012 to stay with their grandparents and aunt’s family. But their father’s memories linger on. The nameplate of the family car reads “RAJEEVS”. Simran’s WhatsApp status message is ‘My dad will always be my first and last love’.

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Rajeev Goswami was a 19-year-old student of Delhi’s Deshbandhu College when he attempted to immolate himself, sparking off a series of self-immolations by other students against the implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations for reservation of OBCs in government jobs.

Mandal Commission, Rajeev Goswami, anti-Mandal protests, self-immolation, Rajeev Goswami self-immolation, india politics His daughter Simran lives in the US with her grandfather, brother and paternal aunt, “away from India’s divisive politics”.

Simran, born nine years later, holds strong views on quota politics. Speaking to The Sunday Express on the phone from Michigan, she says, “My father fought against the politics of reservation and for the recognition of merit. His struggle moved India’s politics in a different direction.”

Goswami later joined campus politics and became president of the Delhi University Students’ Union. But he soon called it quits and began a business of his own. He succumbed to jaundice in 2004, at the age of 33.


Simran doubts he would have made a successful politician. “Corruption in politics and government would have never let him succeed,” she says. The teenager says she is glad her “new home has no reservation”. “In the US, only merit is recognised,” she says.

Her grandfather Madan Lal Goswami has no regrets about his son’s self-immolation bid. “It was not an abrupt act. He and two other students had threatened to take their own lives. But while they backed off, he stood his ground. I am proud of what he did even though it put us through a lot of mental agony later,” he says.

For one and a half months after the immolation bid, he recalls, Goswami was admitted in the government-run Safdarjung hospital. “He would get attention only if an important person called up the hospital administration. He was discharged even when he was not fit enough. He did not get the right treatment. So, we got him admitted to a private hospital. When Rajeev learnt that fraudsters were collecting money for his medical expenses, he was furious and issued a statement against them in the newspapers,” he says. “His neck was badly damaged. But he somehow survived all that.”


What he could not survive, however, was “the ugliness of politics, with parties pulling each other down”, says his father. Goswami’s stint in politics was brief because “he decided against joining it full time”, he adds.
Goswami’s cause, the father adds, was later let down by political parties, including the Congress and BJP, “which joined hands on reservation”.

In 1995, two years after his retirement as a postmaster in Delhi, the senior Goswami and his wife moved to the US to live with their daughter. But they kept in touch with their son’s cause.

Goswami’s mother Nandrani flew down to Delhi in 2006 to lend her support to doctors and students protesting against proposed reservations in medical colleges. She passed away in 2012.

“I was repeatedly overlooked for promotion unlike my colleagues belonging to reserved categories. Reservation has to end,” says the father.

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First published on: 04-10-2015 at 12:20:20 am
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