They Did Not Know We Were Grass

R. G. Sudharson, an assistant professor at the Madras School of Social Work (MSSW), was summarily dismissed by the college administration. A petition with 167 signatures was sent to the administration, and no reply has been received. Some students and alumni organised a meeting regarding ways to move forward. COLLECTIVE was asked to speak at this meeting. Here we publish the text of their statement.

Thank you for giving us your time this afternoon. On behalf of my organization COLLECTIVE, I extend solidarity to RG Sudharson who has been unjustly terminated by the Madras School of Social Work due this political beliefs. I thank you for coming forward with your experiences and, I think I speak on behalf of all of us here, that we hear you and you are not alone in this struggle.

As I see this gathering today, I am reminded of the lines of the revolutionary poet Paash, who says (I paraphrase), ‘They thought they could bomb our schools and hostels… They did not know we were grass, we would grow back over their injustices.’ MSSW thought that they could eliminate struggling voices in campus by removing one teacher, and here we are, so many of us, thinking together about the way forward as a result.

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Press Release for Rights In Our Campus Event

On the 6th of June, 2021, the students and alumni of the Madras School of Social Work (MSSW) and Notes on the Academy organised a webinar on the theme of Rights in Our Campus. The meeting was precipitated by a growing list of issues faced by MSSW students on their campus. The need for such a discussion was realised after the unlawful termination of Prof. R. G. Sudharshon, a popular faculty member in the Department of Developmental Management who was known for his strong pro-student views and his consistent opposition to hierarchical practices on campus. Also invited to participate in this webinar were Collective (a Delhi-based revolutionary student organization), and The Teachers’ Collective (a Chennai-based teachers organisation). 

The meeting was attended by several faculty members and students from other colleges as well, and saw a lively and wide-ranging discussion of the suppression of democratic rights of students and faculty members in MSSW and other campuses across the country. In particular, the discussion of the campus environment and practices of several faculty members by MSSW students and alumni shook participants to their core. 

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Why R.G. Sudharson’s Dismissal From Madras School of Social Work Must Be Resisted

Recently, Prof R G Sudharson was terminated from the Madras School of Social Work without due process. A petition with 167 signatories was sent to the administration, and they did not reply. The NotA Collective wrote an op-ed for The Wire, reproduced here.

On May 5th, R. G. Sudharson, an assistant professor at the Madras School of Social Work (MSSW), was summarily dismissed by the college administration. His appeal for an enquiry into the circumstances of his dismissal was ignored. The letter of dismissal makes no reference to any complaints against Sudharson, and indeed, in the testimony of many students over the last four years repeated mention is made of the positive environment Sudharson had cultivated in his classroom, his thoughtful and diligent mentorship of postgraduate students, and his steadfast commitment to and advocacy for the welfare of students not just in his college but in the wider city of Chennai.

No charges were brought, no committees were constituted, no due process was followed. He was given an impossible choice: to either resign or face termination. Further, to the surprise of many, his letter of dismissal casts baseless aspersions on his professionalism, by alleging that he was not “diligent in the discharge of duties expected”, a vindictive move that is surely calculated to make it difficult for him to secure another academic position.

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Statements of Resistance

– Ronak Gupta

I vividly remember watching Nagraj Manjule’s searing debut film Fandry for the first time, a few years ago. I had never quite seen anything like it until then. Fandry uses tropes of love stories from mainstream cinema and yet does something these movies consciously avoid – it indicts the caste system. Manjule said in an interview,1

“Caste is the foundation of our society. It’s a reality that you need to have a special talent to avoid. Bollywood has that talent, I don’t…”

Indeed, Hindi films largely gloss over the subject of caste and blunt most conflicts down to a class disparity, as illustrated particularly starkly in the Bollywood remake of Manjule’s sophomore feature Sairat. Manjule’s Fandry introduced me to a radical artistic voice, the kind that was conspicuously absent from the media I had consumed until then. It made a deep impression on me. It implored me to seek out a different kind of cinema and expand the scope of art I engage with. It is on this path that I discovered Yogesh Maitreya’s excellent collection of short stories Flowers on the Grave of Caste.

Yogesh Maitreya is a writer, poet, and translator who also runs Panther’s Paw, a publishing house with a strong focus on promoting anti-caste literature. His collection contains six stories across which he widely experiments with literary style and scope. The result is an eclectic collection of short-fiction that is written in simple but often poetic prose. Yogesh’s sentences invoke powerful imagery and nowhere is this more apparent than the contrasting images that begin and end the first story “Re-evolution,” a fable of revenge, in which Yogesh weaves a personal journey coming to full circle.

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End Casteism in IITs: A Statement by APPSC IIT Bombay

APPSC IIT Bombay

A few days ago, a couple of videos surfaced from a preparatory English course (conducted for SC/ST and PD candidates) hosted by IIT Kharagpur. In these videos, Dr. Seema Singh, an associate professor at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences was seen verbally abusing students in the class. The videos, the links to which are given below, show the brazen nature of the act and the impunity which the professor seems to enjoy in the IIT ecosystem.

Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC) IIT Bombay has issued the following statement regarding this incident, with demands for actions against Dr Seema Singh as well as for institutional reforms to rid IITs and other similar institutions of their savarna bubbles. We, as a collective, display full solidarity with the statement and the demands stated herein.

We also urge the reader to go through the valuable resource Caste on Campus created by APPSC IIT Bombay. The website collates various documents procured on reservation norms being violated in various central institutions including the IITs.

Casteism in Indian campuses has been a long standing problem. Please read the Thorat report on discrimination against the SC/STs in AIIMS, Delhi. Read our invitation to the Thorat report at The Spectre that Haunts Academia: Caste and the Thorat Report. Also see An Invitation to Beyond Inclusion.

Link to the videos: Video 1, Video 2

It is amidst desolate cries and the numbing daily reports of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic raging across the nation, that we all have witnessed a video recording of an online class for the Prep English Course (IITs Preparatory Course for SC/ST and PD Candidates) of IIT Kharagpur that have been doing the rounds in social media since yesterday. Shocking would surely be an understatement, as we watch Associate Professor Seema Singh of the Humanities and Social Sciences Department of IIT Kharagpur, abusing the students and their families on record. She openly threatens the students that she would fail them in the course and arrogantly challenges them to complain to the Ministry of Women and Child Care and Ministry of SC/ST/Minorities after repeatedly calling them “bloody bastards”. Some of the students had not stood up to the National Anthem that was played and this was, apparently, the reason that the Professor had started throwing casteist slurs at the class. There was also another video recording where she humiliated a student who had requested for leave from the class for a few days as the student had lost his/her grandfather who had been infected with covid. The professor is seen explaining to the entire class how excuses such as birth, death and marriage cannot be used for taking leave from class. She is seen asserting that she is a ‘Hindu’ and respects the rituals associated with death, but as the covid protocols do not allow for any rituals to be performed, there is simply no cause for the student to have taken leave from her class. More students have expressed that this is not the first time she has behaved in this manner. She has been behaving similarly to students in past as well.

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Making Sense of the Present Moment of ‘Onlinisation’ of Teaching

– Rahul Varman1

This article was originally published by the Research Unit for Political Economy.
We read this, loved it and thought you would too.

Along with COVID 19 and its associated terminology, we are currently being educated in a new jargon regarding one of the oldest occupations, namely, teaching. We now are told of online learning, e-teaching, edtech, edutech, smartphones in the new role of teacher, and so on and so forth.

India is a large country with a very young population, where almost all households (at least in the urban areas) have some or the other experience with education. But in recent months ‘online classes’ have become a new normal, from the most elementary level, such as teaching nursery rhymes, to the most advanced level – the courses offered to graduate or medical students. Some think that, though the pandemic forced it upon us, this development opens up new possibilities and realms for education; others consider this a temporary phase, after which things would go back to ‘normal’.

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Contract Workers at IITK: A Response to Commonly Held Misconceptions

– Rahul Varman

In light of the ongoing strikes of sanitation workers at JNU, we have elected to republish this article from Sanhati. While about contract workers at IIT Kanpur specifically, it is relevant to every institute of higher education across India, and talks about issues entirely ignored by the academic section of these institutes, see for example “We Are No Longer Afraid” and “Higher Learning and Exclusion.”

We at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IITK henceforth) today are dependent upon contingent workforce for most of the work and services and a large amount of such work has been contracted out. Today the campus, where close to 10,000 of us work and stay, is almost completely dependent on contract workers, whether for cleaning, horticulture, security, messing, civil & electrical maintenance, construction, laying cables, research assistance, the list can go on. By reliable estimates, as the institute has no system to keep consolidated records of such workers, the contingent workforce can be as high as 3,000 1. Given such a large workforce and given the fact that they work without any framework of rights and responsibilities, we keep hearing of arbitrary hiring and firings, accidents, grievances, signature campaigns, office orders, reports, and so on relating to the contingent workforce, and yet we do not seem to be any closer to addressing the ‘problem’. The present write-up is based on my 2 interaction with various constituencies on the issue during the last 15 years. Over these years of my stay in the campus I have primarily endeavoured to understand the problem from ‘below’ by interacting fairly closely with various kinds of workers. In the process I have also engaged with different constituencies on the issue – students, staff, faculty colleagues, authorities at various levels, contractors and have also been involved with minimum wage monitoring, handling worker grievances officially, etc. In this brief piece I am attempting to understand various aspects of the problem and what can be the possible ways of addressing them as I have understood personally with all its biases and limitations.

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Pay five-months salary or we stop work: JNU sanitation workers

Vallari Sanzgiri

We are republishing this article from Sabrang, about very important events unfolding in JNU. It is important that we as academics pay attention to those who are so crucial to our lives, the “essential workers.”

For the last five days, sanitation workers at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) have been protesting the non-payment of their salaries. They have not been paid in the last five months, reported Dalit Camera.

Tired of being sent from one department to another, All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) members demanded a concrete resolution to the problem of pending wages. Workers warned that if their demands were not accepted in coming days, every sanitation employee will stop work inside campus.

AICCTU member Ajith Kumar said that workers at the JNU Central Library have been on strike since March 15 to demand their stipend that was last paid in July 2020.

“Even in July, we did not receive the full salary. Some did not get any salary at all. Only 10-15 people were paid,” said Kumar, emphasising that families have no milk for their children nor any money to pay for education.

Another AICCTU Sanitation Worker Staff Leader Anju said that members were forced to work for “free” for months together without salary. Speaking specifically about workers in the college campus, she demanded that people receive equal pay for equal work.

“I want other people, outside the campus, to see the torture that we are facing in the JNU,” she said.

As a consequence of pending salaries, workers said families have to skip at least one meal a day. Ration shopkeepers and landlords do not believe the employees who claim to have no salaries for the last few months.

Moreover, workers stated that despite working for years, members are yet to receive identity cards from college authorities. As per the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers & their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, every person should receive a photo ID with details of family-dependents and one-time cash assistance.

Nonetheless, few sanitation workers in cities across India avail such entitlements. Despite falling under the category of essential service, they do not enjoy the title of frontline workers.

The injustice of JNU officials was condemned by JNU Students’ Union’s Ex-President Sucheta De as well who on March 16, tweeted, “Sanitation workers of JNU library are on strike because they haven’t been paid for 4 months. JNU admin is a repeat offender. This is happening to every sanitation worker. When will this exploitative & casteist practice end?”

Critical Comments on the Mehta Affair

– The NotA Collective

Last week, the trustees of Ashoka University, a private liberal arts college in Sonipat, extracted a resignation from the political scientist and public intellectual Pratap Bhanu Mehta which, soon after, prompted the resignation of Arvind Subramanian, the economist and former Chief Economic Advisor to the Government of India. Subramanian, who resigned in solidarity with Mehta, wrote that Ashoka University “can no longer provide a space for academic expression and freedom”. Mehta’s letter of resignation1 clarifies that his affiliation to Ashoka University was considered a “political liability” by the trustees. This was followed by student protests,2 which in turn prompted the authorities — along with Mehta and Subramanian — to release a statement about the whole affair.3

The discourse surrounding the Mehta Affair is fraught with confusion, so we at Notes on the Academy thought it would be worthwhile to jot down a few loosely related thoughts. Before we begin, we’d like to clarify: the purpose of this article is not to provide a defense of Mehta or his politics, which has been inconsistent4 to say the least and with which we have significant disagreement. Nor is the purpose of this article to rehabilitate the image of Ashoka University, which is no stranger to the accusation5 that the liberal ideals it champions do not reflect in the actual functioning of the university.

This is not an article about Mehta or Ashoka University — it is an article about everything in this episode but them.

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Higher Education: A Luxury?

– The NotA Collective

Tuition fees in premier higher education institutes in India have seen an exorbitant increase over the last few years. There is a consistent trend of fee hikes in several public institutes of national importance,which creates barriers to upward social mobility for several sections of the society. This article will report on this trend considering the case of IITs, NITs and IISERs.

The fee hike is an important issue to consider for two reasons. Firstly, these public institutions were established to address the lack of a competent skilled workforce needed for a country like India. The demographics of such institutions dictate the composition of the skilled workforce we create with regards to caste and gender. As is well known, studying in these institutions leads to well paying positions. Thus, providing equal access to these institutes is an issue that we must all care about. Secondly, the barriers presented by high tuition fees effectively means public institutions now only cater to a small well-to-do elite, which is emphatically not the purpose of public institutions of higher learning.

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