Chekc Saraswati Karketta : Latest victim of caste slur and harassment in Rabindra Bharati University, Calcutta | hastakshep news

Saraswati Karketta : Latest victim of caste slur and harassment in Rabindra Bharati University, Calcutta

Saraswati Karketta : Latest victim of caste slur and harassment in Rabindra Bharati University, Calcutta

“Calcutta University worshipping the Chandal” was the vicious campaigns when Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee had, in the University appointed Mukund Behari Mallick a Pali teacher in 1921.

Dr A K Biswas

The news of victimization of a tribal lady, a university teacher targeting her on birth, complexion and gender is the latest illustration of deep-rooted    caste-based prejudice and discrimination prevalent in the state of West Bengal. This one is inescapable because the ugly incident has unfolded in the University named after Rabindra Nath Tagore, located in the heart of Calcutta. A section of infatuated Bengalis believe as also propagate aloud  that they are above caste and creed. But fact is that they are the actors and factors in the attack of the victim, Saraswati Karketta in the cultural highland of India. An assistant professor of Geography in Rabindra Bharati university, Saraswati Karkettta, a tribal scholar from Cooch Behar, West Bengal was targeted and taunted her “on the basis of her caste and skin colour.” [1] The country from west to east, north to south is under a crushing burden of perception that caste, tribe and community have not any takers in the blessed Bengalidom!

Fact remains that till date no voice from the civil society has been heard to condemn the ugly incident that led to resignation of several faculty members of Rabindra Bharati University. A delegation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes activists held a demonstration and waited upon the Vice-Chancellor after the news broke in a Bengali newspaper. [2]

One would immediately recall the tragedy that befell Chuni Kotal, a Lodha girl, first in her tribe to graduate and to enroll in the M. Sc [Anthropology] in Vidyasagar University, Midnapur. She committed suicide in the teeth of sustained and humiliating persecution on the campus by her teacher Falguni Chakraborti. Chuni had protested by submitting written complaints to the authorities in the University against her harassment and her harasser without luck till her death. Her death created uproar which led to institution of an Inquiry Commission under retired Justice S. S. Gangopadhyay of Calcutta High Court by the Left Front Government of Jyoti Basu.  The one-man commission concluded as follows:

“On a consideration of all the materials on record we are constrained to hold, therefore, that the allegations brought against Falguni Chakraboraty by Chuni Kotal were not sustainable and further that Falguni Chakraborty never practised nor he had any reason to discriminate against Chuni simply because she was a Lodha. It may be that on occasions Falguni Chakraboraty took Chuni to task for her let or non-attendance or for some such reasons. This was mere trivialities which occur as a matter of course between the teacher and the taught without any personal involvement from either side.

“These trivialities were blown big beyond all proportions to transform them into the items of petition of complaint. On the findings arrived by us, we conclude that the behaviour meted out by Falguni Chakraborty to was not as to cause intense mental pain to Chuni so as to break her heart and lead her ultimately to commit suicide.” [3]

So, the abuser was granted a clean chit as “trivialities” that had occurred between him and his victim was not the reason to cause intense pain for Chuni Kotal to commit suicide! A news report subsequently appeared in the media to suggest that Lodha children had started dropping out of schools as that fate of Chuni held out lingering clouds of threats of their future if educated like their first graduate! No elucidation needed as such.

[Proof reading done]

In a joint statement, 231 accomplished academicians from home and abroad, e. g. UK, US, Canada, Australia, Singapore, etc. have strongly and unequivocally condemned the attack on Dr Saraswati Karketta and demanded justice for her from the administration at the earliest. They have .reminded that “Dr Kerketta is by no means an isolated incident, but in fact the part of a long tradition that continues unabated.”

Shoe-shiner’s son needed Calcutta High Court’s

intervention to re-join duty! [4]

Some take pride in pro/claiming that Bengalis are above caste and creed. Competent authorities had appointed Nakul Ruidas as a teacher for Sukanta Smriti Bidya Mandir, Tarapur, District Bankura after he passed the required examinations conducted by West Bengal School Service Commission. Ab initio he faced stiff opposition and prejudice from all corners in the school because he was a Chamar whose ancestral profession was skinning, tanning, shoe-shinning, etc.

Once Nakul, under due intimation to the school, had availed of sick leave. On recovery he reported to school for his duty. The headmaster did not accept his joining report, for which no reasons were shown. Nakul Ruidas, as the last resort, moved the Calcutta High Court. A furious at the harassment of the petitioner, Justice Tapen Sen directed the District Inspector of School to ensure that Nakul Ruidas was not harassed in any manner, besides all his arears were paid in ten days. The High Court gave vent to its strong disapproval against prejudicial attitude of any person or persons of the school management to deny a job in school after clearing prescribed examinations.

The news report disclosed that Nakul had moved heaven and earth including the local police, School Managing Committee and District Inspector of Schools for intervention before approaching the High Court. Nobody paid any heed to his pleas. His advocate strongly agitated the point before the Court that instances were many who, in similar manner, were harassed on filmy grounds. The report does not mention the reasons highlighted during hearing of the case before Justice Sen but we guess prejudice against candidates for their caste was the obvious reason!

Father of a girl seeking admission in KG school harassed for caste

Bikas Sardar wanted his daughter’s schooling in Kishalay, a kindergarten section of reputed Jadavpur Bidyapith, Kolkata. All formalities complete, he was called to the school for counselling once. When the father reached the school, the Principal gave a 4-page printed rules and regulation and asked Bikas to read it out aloud. Surprised being singled out, he asked why he alone? The Principal retorted, “You are a scheduled caste. I want to see and be sure your daughter is eligible for admission.” [5] A furious parent, he  demanded immediate refund of Rs. 11,000 he had deposited.  He was chased away. But Bikas, who did not pocket the insult, went to Alipur Court and filed a complaint against the school before the ACJM. The Court had ordered the Calcutta Police Commissioner to hold an enquiry and report. We have no knowledge of further development in the matter.

The education department in Bengal was described as “Hindoo institution”, a remark recorded by Lord George Campbell Lieutenant Governor of Bengal in Bengal Administration Report 1870-71. In his unique description, “the Bengal Education Department may be said to be a Hindoo institution.” [6] What did the Lieutenant Governor want to convey by the term “Hindoo institution”? The field officers of education department of Bengal were divided and subdivided into Inspector of Schools, Deputy Inspector of Schools and Sub-Deputy Inspector of Schools who worked under control and guidance of Director of Education or DPI. Below the Director, sixty field offices in charge of districts from East Bengal to West Bengal were held exclusively by Bengali Hindus who were simply inimical to the educational needs and aspirations of the low castes and Muslims. By 1887-1888, eleven Hindu Inspectors of Schools held charge of Circles each coterminous with Revenue Division in Bengal Bihar and Orissa. [7] We can not imagine of Hindu institution without a greasy coat of prejudice and hatred applied over each of them against the low castes, tribal and minority communities.

Historian Sumit Sarkar attests this with appropriate example. According to him, the Namasudras, an untouchable community wanted to start an English high school in 1908 at a dreary village Orakand in Faridpur district of East Bengal [now Bangladesh] because the upper  landlords and money-lenders tricked the illiterate and ignorant peasants in everyday matters of rent and debt-payment receipts. “They encountered stiff opposition from local high-caste Kayasthas who were afraid that their sharecroppers and servants would no longer work for them if they become educated.”  [8]  The upper castes needed illiterate and ignorant men as tenants who would be exploited as slaves to live an exalted life marked by aristocracy. Rabindra Nath Tagore too bemoaned in the same way. In 1911, G K Gokhale’s  Compulsory Primary Education Bill was defeated in Central Legislature  by upper caste leaders who included Surendra Nath Banerjea besides others. Education alone could drive the country like an engine out of the degraded position in the colonial era and after. But opposition to education for low castes, tribes and minorities rendered upper castes as enemies of the country too by that token.

As the President of Calcutta Session of the Indian National Congress (1911), Bishan Narayan Dhar, had observed that “…. there are some who object to it [compulsory education] on social and political grounds. Those who are opposed to it because they dread the loss of their menial servants, and desire that millions of poor men may remain steeped in ignorance so that few wealthy magnets may live in luxury. I am surprised that even in some respectable English journals opposition has been offered to Mr. Gokhale’s Bill on the ground that education would create political discontent among the masses and thus tend to disturb the even tenor of British rule in India.” [9]

Puja of Chandal in Calcutta University

On appointment of a Namasudra as Pali teacher

Mukunda Behari Mallick, a Namasudra was a reputed advocate of Calcutta High Court, an eloquent orator and an articulate legislator as well as a minister in colonial Bengal. One day Mallick was called in the High Court by Ashutosh Mukherjee in 1921. He asked him to Join the University as a Pali teacher. On appointment he joined the University. Mallick was perhaps the first untouchable teacher to join the faculty of the Calcutta University. This sparked off vicious nefarious whispering campaigns targeting Mukunda that, “Calcutta University worshipping the Chandal.” [10] By the way we may mention that Mallick was also drafted for teaching in the University Law College. He was latter made a Fellow of Calcutta University. Mallick was the paper-setter and examiner of Pali for ten years. [11]

The ugly and shameful incident of harassment and slur against Dr Sawaswati Karketta has placed West Bengal, make no mistake, at par and alongside Haryana, Rajastha, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra etc. which are haven for atrocities and dehumanization of the socially marginalized, weak and vulnerable.

[Cobbler’s son prevented from joining service]

Ei Samay, a Bengali daily, published from Calcutta broke the news of harassment and persecution of Saraswati Karketta on June 17, 2019.

“On a consideration of all the materials on record we are constrained to hold, therefore, that the allegations brought against Falguni Chakraboraty by Chuni Kotal were not sustainable and further that Falguni Chakraborty never practised nor he had any reason to discriminate against Chuni simply because she was a Lodha. It may be that on occasions Falguni Chakraboraty took Chuni to task for her let or non-attendance or for some such reasons. This was mere trivialities which occur as a matter of course between the teacher and the taught without any personal involvement from either side.

“These trivialities were blown big beyond all proportions to transform them into the items of petition of complaint. On the findings arrived by us, we conclude that the behaviour meted out by Falguni Chakraborty to was not as to cause intense mental pain to Chuni so as to break her heart and lead her ultimately to commit suicide.”

The Indian Express, June 19, 2019

Rabindra Bharati University: Five professors quit to protest ‘caste slur’ on woman teacher by students

According to the teacher’s complaint, on May 20 a group of students allegedly gheraoed her in a room for nearly four hours and harassed her with verbal abuses.

Five professors of Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata have resigned in protest against a delay in action against students who allegedly harassed an assistant professor of Geography in the varsity and taunted her on the basis of her caste and skin colour.

The Trinamool Congress Chattra Parishad, the ruling TMC’s students’

wing, which runs the student union at the university, denied the allegations and instead accused the teacher of threatening and harassing students.

According to the teacher’s complaint, on May 20 a group of students allegedly gheraoed her in a room for nearly four hours and harassed her with verbal abuses.

The university’s vice-chancellor, Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury, is yet to accept the professors’ resignation and has called a meeting on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, State Education Minister Partha Chatterjee went to the university campus and held a meeting with both the V-C and some of the professors who have put in their papers.

The professors who have quit are Amal Kumar Mondol, Head of Department (HoD), Sanskrit; Bankim Mondol, HoD, Political Science, and director of Bangladesh Study Centre and School of Languages; Bindi Shaw, HoD Economics; Bharati Banerjee, HoD Education, and Ashish Kumar Das, director, Ambedkar Study Centre.

They had submitted their resignation on Monday.

The minister said, “A probe has been ordered, and we want it to be completed at the earliest. Anyone found guilty will be severely punished. What happened is a matter of serious concern and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is herself looking into the matter. We could not make contact with the victim professor. I will try and contact her and make her speak with the Chief Minister.”

Chatterjee also said, “I have told the students that if their behaviour made professors feel insulted, they should immediately apologise.”

Confirming that a probe has been started on the basis of the complaint by the teacher, Vice Chancellor Ray Chaudhury said, “Such incidents should not take place in any academic institution, especially not in one named after Rabindranath Tagore. If others have specific complaints, such complaints will be probed as well.”

But a section of professors alleged that the university authorities are yet to take any concrete steps against the students accused.

Bankim Mondol, one of the professors who resigned, said the victim was so scared that she left her paying guest accommodation and moved to a relative’s house. “I was not present; she (victim) told us about the incident later. She said that she had asked students to go for a review since she herself did not evaluate the copies,” Mondol said.

Biswajit Dey, a TMCP leader who is pursuing PhD in Drama at the varsity, however, told The Indian Express: “We trust the probe committee. Let the truth come out. The lady professor used to harass students and threatened to destroy their careers. She was ill-mannered. There were several complaints against her by students. On that particular day, students approached her because she gave abnormally low marks in examination. No one harassed her,” said

The Indian Express could not contact the teacher in question.

One of the students accused, who did not wanted to be named, said, “We did not harass her. We just asked her why many of us got so low marks.”

The victim, who comes from Jalpaiguri in north Bengal, had joined Rabindra Bharati University as an assistant professor of Geography in September 2017. She has studied in Benaras Hindu University and the Delhi’s Jawaharlal NehruUniversity.

She lodged a complaint with the V-C and the teachers’ council on May 23, based on which a probe committee was formed.

In a bid to put pressure on university authorities to act on the matter, members of the Arts Teachers Council held a protest rally at BT Road campus of the university.

“The university authorities are trying to push the matter under the carpet. There is an Internal Complaints Committee and Prevention of Caste Based Discrimination Committee at the university. Instead of referring the matter to these committees, the vice-chancellor formed a new committee which has been sitting on the complaint for a week,” Prof Bankim Mondol said. “We decided to take out a rally and hold a convention (but) a section of students insulted us. We are scared – the students have harassed us repeatedly. That is why I decided to resign.”

“First they harassed a woman professor, and when we protested, they harassed us,” said Amar Kumar Mondol, a professor in Sanskrit Department.

Debabrata Das, English professor and secretary of the Arts Teachers Council at RBU, said: “Even during our rally, some people, mostly from the students’ union, hurled abusive slogans at us. They even shouted caste slurs against the Geography professor. Student union members gheraoed us for over five hours when we held a convention to discuss the issue. Yesterday, we held a meeting again, where the professors decided to resign as a mark of protest against the incident.”

Head of the Department of Mass Communication and Videography, Debjyoti Chanda, said: “We strongly condemn the incident. We want the authorities to take immediate action,” he said.

But TMCP’s Dey maintained: “The students were agitating and protesting for a long time against private tuition offered by professors, and against hiring of guest lecturers by HoDs. We also demanded biometric attendance for professors, who are irregular.”

The Deccan Herald

Casteist harassment: 7 members resign at Bengal University

https://www.deccanherald.com/national/casteist-harassment-7-members-resign-at-bengal-uni-741207.html
  1. S. Gangopadhyay Commission on

Chuni Kotal case

“Statement issued members/research scholars across institutions in India and abroad on caste-based attacks on Saraswati Karketta

As some of you might be aware, our friend and colleague, Dr. Saraswati Kerketta (Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography, Rabindra Bharati University), has recently been a victim of caste-based attack in the university. We write this statement to unequivocally condemn the same.

We, the concerned faculty members/research scholars across institutions in India and abroad, are deeply disturbed by this incident of caste-based attack on Dr. Kerketta. Dr. Kerketta is a young faculty member from a Scheduled Tribe background, and the sole faculty member appointed in a substantive position in her department, thereby taking on the tremendous task of running the department on her young shoulders. This brazen instance of caste-based harassment meted out to her by a group of students who claim to be affiliated to a political party has hurt and disturbed us immensely as citizens of India. The nature of attack meted out to her for instance she has been followed by the students up till home after the incident also showcases the gendered nature of her vulnerability. The incident has been followed by mass resignation on the part of other faculty members from various positions in the university, thereby showing indirect proof of the same.

We would like to remind everyone that the harassment meted out to Dr. Kerketta is by no means an isolated incident, but in fact the part of a long tradition that continues unabated. All of us remember the tragic fate of Chuni Kotal, after a life of caste-based attacks in academic institutions. There have been several recorded instances of similar attacks and harassment of faculty members from deprived backgrounds and ethnic identities, to say nothing of the many incidents that are only whispered about in the corridors of colleges and universities. Such incidents come to the forefront, create headlines, and then disappear as the news cycle ends.

The Hon’ble Vice Chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University has already formed an enquiry committee under the instruction of the Hon’ble Minister of Higher Education, West Bengal. This is a welcome step. However, we feel that the formation of a committee alone cannot ensure actual justice for Dr. Kerketta. Therefore, we demand strict legal action as per the law of the land against the culprits, and hope the university authorities will ensure the same.

Furthermore, we feel that it is necessary to sensitize the institutions on caste identity and social justice in India to build democratic spaces that offer equal opportunities to students and faculty from impoverished backgrounds and marginalized identities. We hope the matter will soon be dealt with proper legal action, and that the university authorities will vow to ensure that no such incident happens against any faculty members in the future.

“……..you propose to adopt extreme course of starving yourself to death……….solely to prevent the  Depressed Classes who admittedly suffer from terrible disabilities today, from being able to secure a limited number of representatives of their own choosing to speak on their behalf in the legislatures which will have dominating influence over their future.” Ramsay MacDonald,(12 October 1866 – 9 November 1937)  J. Raysay MacDonald, British PM, 8 September 1932 to Gandhi.  Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar,  W & S, pp. 85-86.

[1] The Indian Express, June 20, 2019, “Rabindra Bharati university: Five professors quit to protest ‘caste slur’ on woman teacher by students.”

[2] Ei Samay, Calcutta, June 17, 2019

[3]  Suman Chattopadhyay, Ananda Bazar Patrika, Calcutta, June 6, 1995.

[4] Ananda Bazar Patrika, Kolkata, February 4, 2010.

[5] Khabor 365 Days, a Bengali Daily, Kolkata, Friday 20 September 2013. p. 3.

[6] General Report on Public Instruction in Bengal for 1887-1888, pp. 12-13

[7] General Report on Public Instruction in Bengal for 1887-1888, pp. 12-13.

[8]    Quoted in article ‘Rabindranath Tagore: An Extraordinary Zamindar’ by A K Biswas, in Mainstream, vol. LV no. 21 New Delhi May 13, 2017.

[9]   Congress Presidential Address complied by A M Zaidi, Vol. I, 1998, p. 499.

[10] “কলিকাতা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে চণ্ডালের আরাধনা করা হচ্ছে।” কিরণ তালুকদার, জননায়ক মুকুন্দ বিহারী মল্লিক, quoted by N. B. Roy, A People in Distress, B. Sarkar & Co., Calcutta, Volume 2, 1987, Chapter XII, endnote 24, p. ii.

[11] Ibid.

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