The Director of Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History denied the scholar’s allegations, but a faculty said they were true.

 Discriminated targeted excluded for being Kashmiri PhD scholar accuses TN institute
news Human rights Thursday, May 25, 2017 - 11:04

Even as a national debate rages on how to channelise the energies of the protesting youth in Jammu and Kashmir, a PhD scholar in Tamil Nadu has accused the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) at Anaikatty in Coimbatore district of discrimination and exclusion for being a Kashmiri.

Mohammed Zeeshan Malik, a registered doctoral student at SACON, the Union Environment Ministry’s centre for excellence, notes that while he should be “celebrating and enjoying” the formal completion of his doctoral work, a series of events over the past month has left him depressed.

The discrimination, he says, began when he tried finding accommodation on campus to prepare for his viva examination that was scheduled on May 22. Having been a student at SACON since 2012, Zeeshan was confident of getting accommodation either at the hostel or at the guest house. Despite multiple email or telephone requests, the PhD scholar from Rajouri district was denied accommodation.  “First the hostel accommodation was denied by saying that “it is not available”. A subsequent request for the guest house was denied by telling that ‘it is under renovation’,” he says. While calls to the hostel warden went answered, the Director at SACON turned down his request to share accommodation with his friends, with the latter allegedly stating, “We are not allotting to anybody.”

Forced to take accommodation outside campus, Zeeshan says that when he started working, he found out that a senior colleague had been given hostel accommodation while outsiders had been allowed to stay at the guest house.

Zeeshan states, “I felt sad, terrified, mentally tortured and heartbroken to realize that I was being targeted and excluded. The reason behind the denial of accommodation for me was not its unavailability but something else, which I now understand as my identity by birth, and more over I am hailing from Kashmir.”

But the scholar alleges that his discrimination did not end there. Zeeshan alleges that the Director requested his research supervisor to shift his viva outside the university. Arguing that no other student defended their PhD thesis outside the institute, he writes that this “confirmed his doubts” that he was being discriminated, targeted and excluded by the Director. His viva, however, was finally held at a classroom at the insistence of his guide. Zeeshan also alleges that the Director attempted to “sabotage” his viva by scheduling a meeting with faculty at the same time as his examination.

“The meetings were on Annual report and website improvements I understand. At the height of his hatred towards me, the meeting kept at 11 was to discuss about the website design. It was this day that I realized sheer discrimination and violation of my basic human rights; not only he tried to sabotage my viva so that most of the faculty could not participate in that, but set a demonstration of the power of the chair,” Zeeshan writes.

Demanding justice, he has asked J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, former CM Omar Abdullah and others for an inquiry about the issue.

“I strongly feel for my home town, my depression makes me think will the residents of J&K never become a part of the mainstream India because of a few people holding some position. I am a citizen of India and feel I should get equal rights in any part of the country,” he concludes.

Reacting to Zeeshan’s allegations, Dr K Sankar, Director at SACON says, “There was renovation happening in the hostel. He had asked for accommodation for a long period of 15 to 20 days and the other guests had already booked the guest house. We cannot let him stay for few days and then tell him to leave for few days.”

Denying allegations that the viva was to be shifted outside the university, Sankar told TNM that his PhD was conducted in the classroom on Monday. As far as the accusation that many faculty were unable to attend his viva, the Director says, “The institute cannot be shut for the viva, there were other programmes happening. The website committee was meeting and only three to four faculties were involved in it. There is no compulsion that all faculty members should be present for a viva. But many faculty members attended his viva.”

However, a faculty member from SACON who spoke to TNM on the condition of anonymity confirmed Zeeshan’s allegations. “He was not allowed to stay in campus and also his guide was asked to conduct the viva somewhere outside. All this is true. But in the end, the viva did happen in the institute. As per the university rules, the research institute should facilitate that. Also, there were meetings when his viva was scheduled because of which many faculty members were unable to attend his viva,” says the faculty member. He also adds, “He could have felt discriminated because this has never happened before in our research institute. It is quite natural for him to feel that way.”

Speaking to TNM, Zeeshan says that he has filed a petition with National Human Rights Commission and with J&K’s grievance cell for the mental torture he was put through. He notes that while he “felt loved” for the last five years, he felt he had a responsibility to bring out the issue. “I have attended a lot of vivas in the last five years and never seen a meeting scheduled during a viva to plan a website. For other allegations, I have emails as evidence, it consists of my request for accommodation and their responses,” he says.

Edited by Anna Isaac

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