The Kerala government has promised to deliver justice to Deepa P Mohanan, a Dalit PhD scholar at the Mahatma Gandhi University (MGU) in Kottayam, Kerala, whose indefinite hunger strike after alleging caste discrimination against her at the university enters its 9th day.
Higher Education Minister R Bindu, via social media posts, expressed concern "about the health of the student" and asserted that "steps will be taken to ensure justice for Deepa."
MGU has been directed by the government to remove the professor accused of casteism, and if that decision remains pending, the state government will directly ask the professor to resign.
Mohanan, a 36-year-old scientist, says that the university authorities have been deliberately delaying the completion of her PhD degree.
She has been on a hunger strike since 29 October, outside the International and Inter University Centre for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (IIUCNN) at MGU. Mohanan claims that for the last 10 years, her progress is being scuttled by the director of the institute, Nandakumar Kalarickal, allegedly because she is a Dalit.
Why the Hunger Strike?
Mohanan joined MGU in 2011 to pursue an MPhil degree, after completing her master's in medical microbiology. She alleges that since her first year at the university, Kalarickal has been obstructing her education.
Kalarickal was a joint director when Mohanan started studying at the institute and is now the director of the IIUCNN. The News Minute reports that Mohanan claims he has stopped her from accessing the lab, accessing chemicals and polymers at the lab, has denied her seating at the workplace, has worked to block her stipend and even locked her alone inside the lab on one instance.
Mohanan has also alleged that he has been rude and abusive towards her, the only Dalit scholar in her batch, and has done what he can to ensure that she doesn’t get her PhD on time.
“I already have an MPhil, and could ideally have finished my PhD by 2015,” Mohanan argues.
Mohanan has been on a hunger strike demanding three things
Her research guide be changed
She be provided with materials to complete her research, like all the other PhD scholars are
Nandakumar Kalarickal be removed from the institute.
On 1 November, the university reportedly agreed to the first two demands, but refused to remove Kalarickal from the IIUCNN. But Mohanan says she won’t end her hunger strike unless he is removed. She argues that her prior experiences prove that if Kalarickal is at the centre, she will not be able to complete her research as he will be looking for revenge.
Despite Complaints to University and Police, a Problem That Persists?
In 2015, Mohanan had filed a case of caste discrimination against Palarickal with the university. At that time, the university had set up a two-member committee to investigate the matter. The committee had stated that the allegations by Mohanan were true and had recommended that the university provide her all the facilities needed to complete her research.
The following year, in 2016, Mohanan filed a police complaint against Palarickal under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
When she tried to meet the Governor of Kerala to submit her complaint, she was reportedly detained by the police and kept in a station for two days.
She has been supported by several student unions and social justice organisations, including Bhim Army Kerala, Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students' Association (BAPSA), and Ambedkar Student Association (ASA) are demanding #JusticeForDeepa.
(With inputs from The News Minute.)