'They find a Dalit student and use all means to stop his education,' says Malayali PhD scholar suspended by TISS

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Dalit PhD scholar Ramadas Prini Sivanandan, who was suspended from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) alleging ‘anti-national’ activities, says there is a systematic and institutionalised attack on student communities across India.

The 30-year-old from Kalpetta in Wayanad believes that the administration perceives students from marginalised groups, like him, as vulnerable. TISS has debarred him from entering its campuses for two years; Sivanandan fears the institute might also cut his National Fellowship for Scheduled Caste (NFSC) students.

“Being a Dalit student, I see this as their way to cut my fellowship, which would then make it possible for them to stop my education as well. All they are trying to do is find a Dalit student and use all means to stop their education,” Sivanandan told Onmanorama.

Sivanandan recounts the tragic death of Rohith Vemula, another Dalit student and PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad, who died by suicide on January 17, 2016. He too was suspended and his fellowship of Rs 25,000 was discontinued for raising student issues under the banner of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA).

In a show-cause notice issued to Sivanandan on March 7, TISS cited his activism, particularly his participation in the “Save Education, Reject NEP, Save India, Reject BJP” march to the Parliament organised by the United Students of India in January as one of the reasons for the suspension. Additionally, the university flagged his social media post encouraging students to watch Anand Patwardhan’s documentary ‘Ram Ke Naam’, which explored the Vishva Hindu Parishad’s campaign for the Ram temple and the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.

Ramadas Prini Sivanandan is the first person from his family to attend college. Photo: Facebook/@ksramadas

Sivanandan, a former general secretary of the Progressive Student Forum (PSF) at TISS, is a member of the central executive committee of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), affiliated with the CPM, and the joint secretary of its Maharashtra State Committee. He has also been accused of screening the banned BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the TISS campus and organising the Bhagat Singh Memorial Lecture (BSML) by inviting “controversial guest speakers”.

Sivanandan, who has been part of BSML since 2018, says, to his knowledge, the institute has never denied permission to any speaker. This is the first time the authorities have raised an issue, according to him. The speakers list included P Sainath, Gopal Guru and Hannan Mollah.

Sivanandan is a first-generation learner, whose parents failed to clear the Class 10. He was the first member of his family to attend college. But now he has been branded ‘anti-national’. “They have a clear-cut agenda of targetting the most vulnerable people who are more likely to be affected.”

Ramadas Prini Sivanandan is a member of the central executive committee of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI). Photo: Facebook/@ksramadas

“I attended the Parliament march and BSML event out of my interest. However, the response I got from the administration was that while ‘you may be a member of SFI, you received membership in this organisation because you are a student of TISS. Therefore, they will release a circular stating that no person affiliated with the institution can be a part of any political activity. The masses would think that TISS students’ opinion as TISS’ opinion. So, we are taking action against you,’ ” Sivanandan says.

In his third year of PhD, the suspension and two-year debarment leaves Sivanandan with no options to complete his programme. He had taken a year’s extension on his PhD due to health reasons and is unable to extend it further under the current circumstances, he says.

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