Twenty-seven-year-old Rabeeha Ahdurehim, a student of the Puducherry University, was seated in the row G3 in the college auditorium, waiting in anticipation for her convocation ceremony to begin on Monday afternoon. The mass communication student was among those who would be receiving a gold medal for excellence in academic performance and she was looking forward to being addressed by President Ram Nath Kovind who was invited to be the Chief Guest.
But around 12.30pm, a female police officer came up to Rabeeha and claimed she wanted to have a word with her.
"She led me out of the auditorium, asked me to wait there and then went back in, locking the door behind her," Rabeeha tells TNM. "I didn't understand what was happening. As I was waiting, I heard the President come into the auditorium and the convocation begin. I asked the police officials around me why I was made to wait, but no explanation was offered," she says.
Meanwhile, inside the hall, the President was addressing students and giving medals to a select few.
"So many thoughts were running in my mind. The entire episode was so insulting," says Rabeeha. "I kept wondering why I was singled out. If it was because of my protests against the government while inside the campus, then others too should have been called out from the hall. There were people seated next to me, who took part in the protests as well. I can't tell whether it was because of my hijab or religion because the police never explicitly gave me a reason at all," she adds.
When she was called out, Rabeeha anticipated dialogue with the police on her participation in previous protests. In fact, it was the manner in which she was 'misled' that made her decide to reject her gold medal on stage.
"I had not decided on rejecting the medal as a sign of protest till this happened," she says. "I thought they will ask me questions and I can clarify that I will follow any protocol they have set. But as I stood there, a flood of thoughts, swirled in my mind and I gathered the courage to fight back. Their attitude towards me, made me decide that I will not accept the gold medal. In fact their actions gave me the courage to stand up for myself and in solidarity with those protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register for Citizens (NRC)," she adds.
Twenty minutes after she was brought out, Rabeeha was allowed to enter the hall after the President left. When she went on stage, she accepted her certificate but refused to take the gold medal.
"I explained what happened to the Vice Chancellor and the others on stage and they understood," she says. "For me, it was a chance to stand up for students who were detained and assaulted for expressing their dissent," she adds.
She has also been clarifying to the media that reports of her being sent out for wearing a 'hijab' are false.
"They orchestrated my removal from the ceremony so smartly and without even saying a word," she points out. "The discrimination cannot be explicitly spelt out here," she adds.
Rabeeha has now returned to Kozhikode to her family who has been supportive of her actions. But have these difficult moments in the convocation scarred her experience in Puducherry?
"Not at all," she says. "Yes, I was very emotional. But at the end of the day I delivered a powerful message. I stood up for myself and students across the country. And that is only because of what I learnt in my university and from my fellow students. Education must always empower us to fight for the right causes."