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Caste, Higher Education and Senthil's 'Suicide'

The death of Senthilkumar, a dalit research scholar, at the University of Hyderabad earlier this year is one more example of how, reservations notwithstanding, caste discrimination continues to afflict India's institutions of higher learning.

COMMENTARYaugust 16, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly10is required for the identification of not only the conditions under which these can occur but also the policies that need to be pursued under these circumstances to en-sure a greater acceptance of diversity within multicultural societies.Notes1 For an overview of minority rights within a multi-cultural perspective see Kymlicka (1995).2 In 1956, there were 14 languages in the VIIIth Schedule. Eight more were added in subsequent years.3 The Nehru Report of 1928 was a memorandum outlining a proposed new dominion status for India. The parties included the INC, the Muslim League, the Hindu Mahasabha and the Central Sikh League. 4 With subsequent reorganisations there are now 28 states and seven Union Territories.5 Statement IV, Census of India 2001. However, the next largest linguistic group (Bangla) constituted less than one-tenth (8.11 per cent) of the popula-tion of India.6 In the matter ofTMA Pai Foundation and Others vs State of Karnataka and Others – Writ Petition (Civil) No 317, 1995 (8 scc 481: AIR 2004 sc 335).7 These seven states do not have Hindi even as an additional official language.8 TheHindustan Times, June 16, 2008. Another ex-ample of potential conflict between an economi-cally better performing “minority” group and the “majority” group is the reported agitation by an offshoot of the Shiv Sena against Hindi migrants into Mumbai – the capital city of the linguistic “minority” state of Maharashtra, which was ranked thirdin 2005-06 in terms of per capita incomes.ReferencesGovernment of India (1955):Report of the State Reor-ganisation Commission, New Delhi.Kumar, T Ravi (2005): ‘Tax Devolution and Regional Disparities’,Economic & Political Weekly, May 14, Vol XL, No 20, pp 2020-22.Kymlicka, Will (1995):Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights, Oxford, United Kingdom, Clarendon.Pandharipande, Rajeshwari V (2002): ‘Minority Mat-ters: Issues in Minority Language in India’, Inter-national Journal on Multicultural Societies, Vol 4, No 2, pp 1-30 (available at http://www.unesco.org/most/v14n2.pandhari.pdf) Caste, Higher Education and Senthil’s ‘Suicide’Senthilkumar Solidarity CommitteeThe death of Senthilkumar, a dalit research scholar, at the University of Hyderabad earlier this year is one more example of how, reservations notwithstanding, caste discrimination continues to afflict India’s institutions of higher learning.The suicide earlier this year of Senthilkumar, a dalit PhD student at the University of Hyderabad, has once again exposed the murky realities of caste discrimination in our universities. The debate on reservations in higher education has centred around the ques-tion of who “deserves” reservations, while the brahminical ordering of institutions of higher education has received only sporadic attention.1 Senthil’s suicide has re-affirmed the fact that the dominant academic culture works relentlessly to subvert the logic of reservations. The body of Senthilkumar was dis-covered in his room at the New Research Scholars Hostel on February 24, 2008. Since then, the attitude of the university has been one of denial and cover-up. The initial claims were that Senthil had died of “cardiac arrest”. Even after newspaper reports suggested a case of suicide,2 the university did not take any action, and continued to feign ignorance. While the post-mortem report ascertaining the cause of death as “poisoning” is dated February28, it was not made public until April. A dalit student agitation demanded an enquiry as well as compensation for the family – the minimum an academic insti-tution is expected to do in the circum-stances. To this the registrar’s response was that “there was no such provision in the University guidelines”. In an open letter to the vice chancellor, the SC/ST Joint Action Committee (JAC: comprising students, faculty and staff as-sociation members) on campus demanded that the rules regarding the fellowships for students be modified, in order to “pro-vide a much broader philosophical premise for the grant of scholarship” and that the procedure for allotting guides to PhD students be made transparent. They also demanded a judicial enquiry; there was no response to this. Instead, an internal fact-finding committee was appointed in mid-March, only afterinter-vention from D Ravikumar, the well known dalit intellectual and a member of the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly. The committee comprised only faculty mem-bers of the university; the JAC refused to depose before it. The report submitted by this committee was again withheld until an application under the RTI Act (from the JAC) forced the university to make it available, finally, on April 28. In what follows, we draw from this re-port, newspaper coverage and personal discussions to demonstrate the reason for all these evasions and denial – Senthil was yet another victim of the entrenched realities of caste discrimination that per-vade academic spaces and practices in the university. SenthilSenthilkumar was the first to enter higher education not only from his family, but the entire Panniandi community. His parents The Senthilkumar Solidarity Committee is a group of intellectuals and activists based in Hyderabad.

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