With a research scholar from the Scheduled Caste community on hunger strike for nearly a week, alleging caste discrimination, Mahatma Gandhi University in Kerala on Saturday removed the director of its Nanoscience and Nanotechnology department, with the government assuring the student that the department and the university are with her.
Deepa P Mohanan, the research scholar, has been on hunger strike since October 30, demanding removal of department director Nandakumar Kalarikkal. She is also demanding access to all research facilities, including the lab, which was allegedly denied to her citing her caste.
State Higher Education Minister Prof R Bindu said: “The V-C (Sabu Thomas) has taken over as the head of IIUCNN. I have given an assurance to Deepa that all facilities required for completing her PhD would be made available (to her) — the V-C will act as her guide.”
She also requested Deepa to end her hunger strike.
Deepa called the action against Nandakumar an eyewash and said she will continue the agitation until he is sacked. She said the university has not taken any disciplinary action against him.
The issue had emerged five years ago with Deepa’s complaint that Nandakumar was allegedly opposed to opening the Nanoscience laboratory for a research scholar from Dalit background. Subsequently, a two-member panel had probed the allegation and submitted an adverse report against the professor.
“Based on the report, he had been removed as director (of the department), and the High Court had upheld the decision,” she said. “However, the university brought him back as director in 2017. It was illegal. The High Court and the SC/ST Commission had issued orders in favour of my demand, but the university is yet to implement them.”
Maintaining that she had been denied her right to education due to caste discrimination ever since she joined the university in 2011 (for MPhil), Deepa, 36, said: “I am going through inexplicable trauma these days, and I can understand why Rohith Vemula (Hyderabad university student) ended his life. But I will not recoil from the agitation without ensuring that justice is delivered. I have to win this agitation for many others who have lost such battles for justice.”
Opposition leader V D Satheesan said hunger strike by a woman against caste discrimination is an insult to Kerala.