The ban on Ambedkar Periyar Student Circle (APSC) in IIT Madras, endorsed by the Ministry of Human Resources and Development and undersigned by the Minister Smriti Irani, is nothing but the operation of the Brahmanical caste system to exclude alternative voices from Indian academia and its polity. It is a new strategy by Brahmanical politics to suppress opposition to the caste system in the realm of knowledge.
Akhil Bharathan, an active member in APSC and in the protest against the “derecognition” of APSC, reads and defines this as the latest episode in the history of operation of Brahmanical hegemony in IIT Madras. He says the power of brahmanical domination is present everywhere in academc discourses and programmes. The following is an interview with him:
Rupesh Kumar: Last year, I was in IIT Madras for a screenwriting workshop. Then I felt the silent operation of the brahmanical caste system in Chennai IIT. The vegetarian culture, the political groupings, brahmanical academicians, the character of workshop itself – all these were different modes of brahmanical operation. How do you see Chennai IIT as a brahmanical system, with reference to its history and current politics?
Akhil Bharathan: IIT Madras has been a brahmanical space for years, for most people here it appears as normal. Having no access to mutton, beef etc does not even appear as a problem to them. It would be accurate to call IIT Madras Iyer-Iyengar Institute of Technology, Madras. The operation of brahmanical system in IIT Madras is in no way silent, it is as loud as it can be ever. Regular classes on Bhagavad gita, Sanskrit etc are being conducted in IIT Madras premises. Every building construction activity starts with Bhoomi Puja being conducted by some brahmin in the presence of the Director (who is also a brahmin). Pujas are being conducted even in the academic spaces with the support of the faculty. Faculty population itself is dominated by Brahmins. RTIs filed by some friends and me shows the extent of caste discrimination within the IIT space.
The extent of discrimination is not hidden from anyone. IIT Madras, which has tried hard to keep bahujans out of the faculty positions, does not have any problem in appointing brahmins who do not even have PhD in faculty positions. An Assistant Professor in my department, a kuduma-ponnool wearing brahmin, is a person who does not even have a PhD. Possession of a PhD is supposed to be the minimum qualification for applying for a faculty position officially, but it seems being brahmin is seen as a greater qualification in IIT Madras. The situation is worse in MS and PhD programmes.
Rupesh Kumar: In one of your media interviews you said: “IIT Madras, in the past few years, has hosted some of the most embarrassing guests to lecture its students, making it a festering ground of unscientific buffoonery.” Yes, it is unscientific “brahmanic” buffoonery. What is happening with the brahmanic discussions in Chennai IIT?
Akhil Bharathan: The brahmanic discourse in IIT Madras is trained to not look at any discussion on caste discrimination. It does not even accept the existence of any caste discrimination. The disourses that exists in IIT Madras encourage people to believe in the greatness of the brahmanical system. IIT Madras has had lectures by individuals who make claims such as quantum physics is in the vedas (see videos at the end of this interview). These organizations are being promoted by IIT Madras administration too.
The Vivekananda Study Circle (VSC) which organizes events on such brahmanical views, even as an independent student body like APSC is derecognized, has been given a room in Brahmaputra hostel as its library and its website is hosted in the institute’s domain. It is no surprise that a brahmanical institute would be in forefront of spreading such ignorance rather that promoting scientific knowledge.
Rupesh Kumar: The histories of these comics, the brahmanicals/seculars/leftists in Indian campuses “taking up the issues of caste”, has always been according to a clear plan to exclude Ambedkar, Phule, Kanshiram, Ayyankali, Periyar, Poykayil Appachan. These brahmanicals kill Ambedkarite discussions of caste. How do you read this?
Akhil Bharathan: The situation in each space can only be comprehended by understanding the situation that exists in its premises. In IIT Madras we have seen a unique alliance which has brought together the views of different social reformers and revolutionaries to bring about a change in the situation in the campus which is dominated by the hindu groups which are adamant on not allowing any criticism on caste discrimination and the regressive views present in hindu scriptures. Dean (Students) is one of those brahmins who claims to respect Ambedkar but cannot tolerate even the most common quotes from the analytical texts produced by Babasaheb.
Rupesh Kumar: The ban of Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, as we know, is not simply a Smriti Irani ban, but it’s a brahmanical ban. And Brahmanism is afraid of Ambedkar because Ambedkar critiqued Hinduism/Brahmanism. What do you think?
Akhil Bharathan, APSC member
Akhil Bharathan: Definitely. This is clear even from the anonymous complaint that was sent to MHRD. Complaints that were raised betray their brahmanical nature. APSC is being accused of talking against imposition of vegetarianism and Sanskrit. This bunch saw the attempt to point out the caste based discrimination and violent nature of hindu scriptures as spreading hatred against hindus. It seems the brahmanical forces cannot even tolerate the criticism which is being directed against them. Paranoia coupled with intolerance that was being exhibited by MHRD is explicit from its attempt to silence a small group which was trying to spread the message of Ambedkar and Periyar. There cannot be any doubt about the fear that these ideas inflict upon brahmanism.
Rupesh Kumar: What is the current situation of protest and ban in Chennai IIT? Any change of mindset and any vibrations?
Akhil Bharathan: Since the protest started we were able to connect with more students who are like minded. We have been getting support from students who were earlier afraid to come out in the brahmanical context of IIT Madras. We have also seen brahmanical forces trying to spread lies about the situation that lead to the ban in order to reduced this to an issues of technicality. IITM administration and slaves of brahmanism in institute have been the prominent propagtors of this view. The attempt is obviously to curtail any dicussions on the ideas of Ambedkar and Periyar in the campus.
In this context it is imperative that we be clear about certain certain aspects regarding derecognition of Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle:
• On 22 May 2015, a mail originated from Dean (students) of IIT Madras which stated “This is to inform you that because of the misuse of the privileges given to your study circle (Ambedkar-Periyar study circle) as an independent student body, your student body is de-recognized by the institute.” APSC members met Dean (Students) to enquire about the reasons behind such an act. It was in this meeting Dean (Students) provided the APSC members with the copy of anonymous complaint and letter from MHRD behind derecognising APSC (the letters which were provided by Dean and uploaded by APSC are the ones which are being circulated in media and social networks now).
Letter from Dean (Students) derecognizing APSC
• MHRD was breaking bureaucratic procedures and protocol when it forwarded an anonymous letter to an autonomous body. When political pressure mounted and MHRD realized it, it stepped out of its boundaries to promote the view of the political party in power at centre. MHRD pulled back and argued that the letter forwarded had no impact on the derecogition, it is an internal issue of IIT Madras.
• The ‘Guideline’ which the institute claims was violated by APSC is the use of the institute’s name, ‘IIT Madras’. APSC call themselves ‘an initiative by IITM students’. Administration argued against IITM students calling an initiative by them as ‘initiative by IITM students’, The position seems to be that students of IITM cannot call themselves ‘IITM students’ without the institute’s permission.
• The ‘Guideline’ which the institute is currently using, if true, has been violated by groups like Vivekanda Study Circle (VSC), Santhulan, Vande Mataram etc. All these groups use IITM tag in their name and VSC even uses IITM logo. Even some of the private enterprises initiated by IITM students too call themselves ‘an initiative by IITM students’. It is indeed surprising that only APSC, against which a letter was sent through MHRD, is being derecognized. When MHRD washed its hands of the affair and declined to take up any responsibility, IIT Madras administration was hard pressed to find some kind of justification for derecognizing.
Screenshot of Vivekananda Study Circle’s (VSC) website
• The guideline which is being circulated and is being used by IIT Madras administration is not the one which was passed by Student Affairs Council (SAC) on 28th January, 2015. Current guidelines used are those which were modified by Dean (Students) without sending it back to SAC for further voting.
Student Affairs Council speaker’s mail about guideline being imposed by the Dean
Rupesh Kumar: Filmmakers, activists and intellectuals, internationally, have responded to this issue. But still the brahmanical mainstream intellectuals and activists have kept silent. How do you feel?
Akhil Bharathan: APSC welcomes support from all kinds of progressive democratic forces which fight for the sphere in which we can have discussion and debates without the fear of threat and violence. The views of Ambedkar and Periyar are the ones which are capable of bringing great about social revolution in this country. We have received support from many groups and individuals. We hope that more will come in the following days. We urge all sections of society to read the works of Ambedkar and Periyar.
Rupesh Kumar: Please give a brief description of your role in this protest.
APSC protest at IIT Madras
Akhil Bharathan: I have been involved with APSC from its 1st event onwards. APSC was formed on 14 April 2014, I believe there is no need to elaborate on the importance of the day. Over the last one year, APSC conducted events such as: on the politics behind Hindi and Sanskrit imposition, ‘Understanding Bhagat Singh’, ‘Contemporary Relevance of Ambedkar’ etc. It was the unjust derecognition from the part of IIT Madras administration, under the influence of MHRD, which made us launch this protest. We believe that this is a fight to gain space for the views of Ambedkar and Periyar. We have been interacting with the student body to spread these ideas to ak the hegemony that has been attained by the brahmanical world view in the institute’s space.
Rupesh Kumar: Do you think the so-called progressive Kerala behaved inclusively on Ambedkar debates?
Akhil Bharathan: Debates and discussion on the Ambedkar are absent from Kerala’s public sphere. It is still not a public sphere in the true sense of the term, rather the sphere of certain caste ideologies which have kept the discussion on Ambedkar at a distance. This can be seen in the apathy shown by many from Kerala society on the issues of brahmanical hegemony . Accepting brahmanism without any kind of critical thinking can be seen within the Kerala space. We who were part of so-called progressive students organisation during our undergrad period in Kerala know it exhibits extremely male chauvinist, patriarchal and brahmanical attitude towards relevant issues.
Some unscientific, brahmanic buffoonery encouraged at IIT Madras in the name of ‘science’:
Rupesh Kumar is a documentary film maker, writer and film critic. Please visit his production company’s website Buddha Never Sleeps for more details.