Students say they were accused of defamation after they 'called out' a professor's alleged discrimination.

From campus to court EFLUs Dalit tribal students continue to battle discriminationFile photo: Wikimapia
news Caste Friday, November 11, 2016 - 12:07

"Munavath Sriramulu," a voice calls out. That was the cue for him, and a group of people to hurry into a court hall at the Nampally Criminal Court in Hyderabad. Roughly 20 minutes later, they come out and one of them remarks with a smile, "postponed to November 30."

The group consists of present and former students of the English Foreign Language University (EFLU) who are fighting against an allegation of defamation filed against them by from their own varsity professor Meenakshi Reddy, Dean of the School of Germanic Studies.

But the group of students say they were accused of defamation after they carried out a sustained campaign that 'called out' her alleged discrimination against students from lower castes in the university.

Munavath Sriramulu, the chief accused in the case, says that he was targeted and discriminated against since 2011 for belonging to the ST Category.

Sriramulu, who has obtained the UGC’s Junior Research Scholarship in German language, says, "My course was a five-year integrated from 2010 to 2015 and we did not have a permanent VC for the first two years. Due to this, the Dean enjoyed extra power over the school of Germanic studies. Ever since I joined, they have tortured me mentally."

"She was very casteist. She would say things like you are SC/ST, and you should go back to your village and work. You are not up to studying,"says Ravichandran, one of the other accused in the case.

Last month, Sriramulu wrote to President Pranab Mukherjee, PM Narendra Modi, the HRD ministry, Ministry of Tribal Affairs and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), alleging that the university conspired against him by failing him in eight papers in German.

Students allege that in 2011, Meenakshi changed the rules in a way that she could fail students and force them to discontinue their studies. Students were graded on a nine-point scale with the lowest grade being E, and allowing them to be ‘promoted’ to the next year with backlogs. Students alleged Meenakshi had the E grade removed, allowing her to detain students after deliberately failing them. Anyone who failed eight times like this, would be disqualified from the course.

Maintaining that according to a Supreme Court judgment, the E grade could not be removed, they protested, and alleged that they were targeted even more.  

Accusations of casteist discrimination and harassment have been made against certain professors of the central university, known as Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages (CIEFL) until 2006.  

In 2009, students claimed that G Rajitha, from the German language department, had attempted to jump in front of a train and commit suicide alleging harassment, but her friends had persuaded her against it.

In 2011, the Osmania University (OU) police questioned two university professors including Meenakshi Reddy after the NHRC took notice of R Jayamurugan, a Dalit student pursuing German, who claimed that he was being failed consistently in his semester examinations, which forced him to discontinue the course. 

At the time, a police officer said, "According to Murugan, Meenakshi Reddy said that he should rather take up his caste (pallan) profession than waste university money...the professor once remarked that he (Murugan) managed to get admission in EFLU only because of reservations."

In 2012, Kush Kumar, a Dalit student from Bihar, consumed 20 naphthalene balls, after he failed in his sixth semester, alleging that faculty members from the German language department had a personal grudge against him.

"Two things are very important to any student who comes from a disadvantaged background: Remedial classes, so that s/he can catch up with the other students, and scholarships, both of which are mandated by UGC guidelines," says Sriramulu.

"In 2011, after we had protested under the banner of Dalit Adivasi Bahujan Minority Students Association (DABMSA), against a move by the Dean, the discrimination got more serious and public," he adds.

Sriramulu alleges that the university stopped issuing him the scholarship money and also cancelled remedial classes.

"Whatever money I got from the state scholarship, went for my mess. I practically had no money to spend. I was economically isolated," says Sriramulu.

In 2012, Sriramulu claims to have filed six RTIs over a period of four to five months, asking why remedial classes and his scholarship were stopped but says that he got no response.

In 2013, a Kashmiri student Mudasir Kamran was found hanging in his hostel, which triggered protests in the campus.

"Mudasir's death affected me greatly because I would see him frequently as were in the same hostel. I was already under stress and depression due to what was happening with me, and I fell really sick and fainted. I was shifted to three different hospitals for treatment," Sriramulu says. 

Since he was hospitalized, Sriramulu could not write his exams that year.

Once he was back, Sriramalu alleges that he received a letter stating that he was no longer a student as he had failed eight subjects and also claimed that a notice was sent to the hostel warden to remove any 'ex-students' living in the hostel.

They reportedly even locked his room, with all his possessions inside.

"There were days when I slept on the streets of the university. You can find footage from EFLU's cameras," he says.

The same week, student unions in the campus, organized a semi-nude protest in response to the university claiming that he was not a student anymore.

Following multiple petitions and even moving court, the SC/ST Commission visited the college, and pulled up the college for its discrimination and gave it a strict warning.

After the Commission’s visit, Sriramulu alleged that special classes were arranged for him and he wrote his final exam, scoring 68 per cent, but his certificates were never given to him, as he refused to withdraw the existing cases against the administration.

"When I wrote the UGC NET exam for German language, I realized that I was the country's first tribal student who qualified for the exam and a JRF (junior research fellowship). However, they have not issued the certificate for my five-year integrated course, due to which I can't pursue my PhD," Sriramulu says.

For now, the university continues to claim that Sriramulu is not a student, while he claims that he has been systematically denied his education. The ball is now in court.

 

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