"Every time there is an incident – or an incident of discrimination is called out – the administration first bullies the students, puts pressure on them, and forces them to come to a compromise," a student of the Indira Gandhi National Tribal University (IGNTU) in Amarkantak town in Madhya Pradesh's Anuppur district told The Quint.
He was one of the four students hailing from Kerala, who were allegedly beaten up by the university's security staff on Friday, 10 March, after they climbed atop a water tank to click pictures.
"It [the administration] manipulates the events to make it look like an 'unbiased institution.' In reality, it is rotten to the core from the inside," the student, on the condition of anonymity, added.
Naseel KT (Masters in Social Work), Adil (BA), Abhishek (MA Museology), and Adnan (MSC, Zoology) said they were climbing down the water supply tank in the institute when they were approached by a few campus security staff.
The students claimed that they were thrashed after a ruckus broke out, and they sustained severe injuries to their eyes, ears, nose, and legs.
Speaking to The Quint, Naseel said: "We were climbing down the water tank near the main gate when we stopped to click some pictures, as the view was good from the water tank area. We were unaware that the area was restricted to students. Students usually go there to see the full view of the university. There was no signboard indicating that the water tank area is restricted."
"While we were getting our pictures clicked, some security staff approached us, asked us for our ID cards, and clicked our photos. We gave them our names, told them that the ID cards were in our hostel rooms, and started walking towards the hostel," he added.
Naseel claimed that they heard one security personnel calling out to someone and saying that 'some Kerala people are coming', following which a security vehicle arrived on the spot and the guards started abusing and thrashing the students.
'Discrimination on University Campus Common'
Following the incident, several students from Kerala spoke to The Quint on the condition of anonymity, claiming harassment and discrimination by fellow students, and at times, by the university authorities.
They claimed that students from Kerala and other south Indian states are "looked down upon."
"This incident has come to light because our friends were beaten up. We constantly face the pressures of stereotypical behavior. We are given fewer marks and teachers don't talk to us like they do with the other students. It is a constant and continuous cycle of region-based discrimination," a student from Kerala told The Quint.
Another student alleged that the administration has even resorted to blackmailing and threatening students with academic consequences in the past, whenever questions were raised against the lacunas within the university.
She added: "Once, a student was hurt and the university didn't even have a wheelchair to carry them back to their room. We raised questions about why there's not a single wheelchair in the university. But we were asked to remain silent or face consequences in our academics."
University Refutes Discrimination Claims
Tarun Kumar Thakur, IGNTU's proctor, however, refuted the allegations of discrimination against the students, stating that "there is no such problem." He added all students are considered equal by the university authorities.
"We don't discriminate against students on the basis of their regional identity. We are teachers and all children are our students. We have around 4,000 students from all parts of the country. So, why would we discriminate? As for the incident, the VC (vice chancellor) has constituted a committee and we are also cooperating with the police."Tarun Kumar Thakur
Vijay Dixit, the PRO of the university, said that action would be taken against whoever is found guilty in the case.
An FIR has been registered based on the complaint of the students, the police said.
Incident Takes Political Turn
After the incident came to light, leaders including Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan took to social media to voice their concerns.
Vijayan called out the attack on the students and said:
"Attacks on Keralite students at @IGNTU are appalling & highlight the need to resist the growing hostility towards individuals based on their identities in our country. The university must take prompt action against the culprits & ensure the safety of all the students on campus (sic)."
Rahul Gandhi demanded that a probe be launched into the matter. Taking to Facebook, he wrote:
"Shocked to hear about the vicious assault on four students from Kerala at the Indira Gandhi National Tribal University in Amarkantak, Madhya Pradesh, purportedly by the University' security personnel. It is shameful and completely unacceptable. A swift and fair probe must be carried out into this incident to bring the culprits to justice."