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‘I am not here by luck. I am equal to everyone else’ says lone Adivasi faculty at MG University, Kottayam as she battles against caste discrimination

This is the second of the three-part series of stories documenting caste discrimination against Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi students /faculty at the Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, Kerala. Read part one here

By Amit Kumar, Twocircles.net

When Manjusha KA became a faculty at the School of Gandhian Thought and Development Studies at the Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, it was a special moment for her, as well as the University. For Manjusha, this was the result of a seven-year period which saw her rise from a lower division clerk at the State Schedule Caste Development Department to the position of Assistant Professor and became the first member of the faculty from the Adivasi community.

Six years later, Manjusha, who belongs to Ullada (medical healers) a Scheduled tribe, continues to remain the only Adivasi faculty in the campus, and she believes that this is not a good indicator. In these six years, she has to face discrimination, both subtle and outright, and has realised that discrimination against people from marginalised communities is deeply embedded in the academic system.

In a conversation with Twocircles.net, in her office at the School of Gandhian Thought, we discussed cases of caste discrimination in the campus, including that of Deepa Mohanan and Vivek Kumaran. Manjusha pointed out that while the number of students from marginalised communities has surely been showing an encouragingly expanding trend, the same cannot be said about the faculty in these campuses. This, along with the fact that more often than not, the administration plays to the whims and fancies of the government, makes it even more difficult for these students to avail justice. “Take Deepa’s case for example. She has been fighting for so long, but what justice has she got? It is clear that the administration has tried time and again to protect the accused,” she says. Vivek’s case is also familiar to Manjusha since he is a student at the same centre where she teaches.

In her own situation, the discrimination is not always straightforward, probably because as a member of the faculty, she believes she is in a ‘slightly more powerful’ position. But when Manjusha looks back at her six-year tenure, she realises that the signs were there since the time she joined. “Do you see my nameplate on the top of the door? I had to pay for it after the university kept delaying providing it to me for a long time. I had to wait for weeks to get an office room too. These may not appear to be big issues for a lot of people, but when you are the first Adivasi faculty in the campus, it is difficult to not notice such things happening only with you,” she says.

But beyond these issues, Manjusha’s problem of facing discrimination ran much deeper. She has been pursuing her Ph.D. via correspondence from the Tata Institute of Social Science, and her submission is due this August. Last October, she applied to her director, Roy C Matthews, for a month’s leave to do her field work in Kerala, and was expecting it to be sanctioned. “Every University has provisions which allow faculty to pursue further studies and allows them to take leave for the same. My case was no different. At least that is what I thought,” she says. Initially, her leave was accepted, but within a few days, for some inexplicable reason, it was cancelled. “He went to the Vice Chancellor (VC) and discussed faculty shortages at the Centre and appealed to him for my leave was to be cancelled,” she says. “I had submitted all the necessary documents and had even said that I would be ready to go for leave on half-pay or zero pay. This was not my personal trip, it was for my field work for Ph.D. And yet, it was denied,” she says.

When asked if this has ever happened to other faculties, Manjusha said, “No. Universities have special provisions for hiring part-time teachers, guest faculty to ensure that the students do not suffer because of existing faculties taking leave for studies.”

Incensed by what had happened to her after five years of service, Manjusha filed a written complaint to the VC via post, alleging harassment at the hands of the Matthews. Apart from the issue of the leave, Manjusha also pointed out the anomalies over the conduct of examinations, publication of results and other issues with adequate document proof. “During the 2015 academic year, all but one student from the Centre had cleared the exams, and this was the status when the final results were sent to the administration. However, when the results were announced, six students had failed and of course, a majority were Dalit students. Someone had clearly tampered with the final result tally. I pointed out all these in my complaint,” says Manjusha.

Following the complaint, Manjusha was finally given leave for three weeks, and of course, she had to take a pay cut for this period.

Taking note of her complaint, a three-member inquiry committee was instituted by the administration. “Despite all the proof being made available, the committee took three months to submit its report. Why? The accused is retiring on March 31, and this is a clear attempt to save his career,” Manjusha adds.

To make matters worse for Manjusha, the findings of the committee were never tabled in front of the administration. Initially, when this correspondent met Manjusha she had said that the report will be tabled on March 27, four days before Matthews was scheduled to retire. However, the report was delayed again for unknown reasons, and as of now, Matthews has retired with full benefits and sans a blemish on his academic record. It is clear to see why one person is being protected to such great lengths.

Matthew’s proximity to the Left parties has helped him all his life, Manjusha states. “He joined on a temporary basis as a Project officer in 1995,” Manjusha says, showing me a copy of his letter of appointment, “A year later, his experience as a Project Officer was deemed good enough for him to be appointed as an Assistant Professor,” she adds. “In all these years, he has authored one paper and that was also related to a seminar. I have authored more than 20 papers, yet continue to remain the same position,” she says.

Manjusha says that she has learned over the past six years that even if the authorities do hire faculty from the marginalised communities, they expect the candidates to be absolutely obedient, passive and mostly remain quiet. “If you want to see how effectively casteism works in a campus, just take a look at how any administration reacts when a student from the marginalised community points out the anomalies of the higher-caste officials,” Manjusha says. “A lot of my colleagues often remind me how lucky I am as an Adivasi to have such a nice job. It is not luck, it is my hard work, and there are a lot more among our communities who deserve these opportunities,” she adds.