After a decade of protests, the Kerala government has promised support to Deepa P Mohanan, a Dalit PhD candidate at Kottayam’s Mahatma Gandhi University who has been on a hunger strike since October 29, alleging that she has not been able to finish her doctoral studies due to caste discrimination by university officials. On Saturday, November 6, state Higher Education Minister R Bindu wrote on Facebook that the university must meet all of Deepa’s demands at the earliest.
Deepa has been on a hunger strike demanding access to resources needed to complete her PhD, a change in her research guide, and the removal of Nandakumar Kalarickal, the director of the International and Inter University Centre for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (IIUCNN), from the institute. Nandakumar has been a major roadblock in Deepa’s research work, she has alleged. On November 1, the university had promised to fulfill all of Deepa’s demands except the removal of the director, following which Deepa continued her protest. On Saturday, Minister R Bindu asked the university to take action on Nadakumar’s removal at the earliest.
"The government has asked the university why it has not conducted an inquiry and removed the professor who faces allegations. We have asked for an explanation, whether there is any technical problem in removing the professor and if yes, they are asked to produce documents on the same," the minister wrote.
R Bindu said that the government, as well as the minister personally, are worried about Deepa's health. "If the university further delays in removing the professor, the government will ask the university to do so," the minister said. She also told Deepa to take her words as a promise and requested her to step back from her strike. She also said that was not able to visit Deepa, as she was in hospital after contracting COVID-19.
Deepa joined the Mahatma Gandhi University in 2011 for her MPhil, after finishing her masters in medical microbiology. She alleged that since her first year at the university, Nandakumar Kalarickal has been obstructing her education. According to her, she would have finished her PhD by 2015, but it was delayed because she was allegedly not provided the materials required for her research and not allowed to use university facilities.