For Munavath Sriramulu (belonging to the ST category), life was shining bright, full of hope and plenty of dreams to fulfil despite the many obstacles he faced economically and socially. He was a fourth semester student of BA German in the prestigious English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, in the year 2012. Little did he know that his life was about take a drastic turn. In April 2012, he had a severe medical condition due to which he was admitted in the hospital (Kamineni Hospital, Hyderabad) for most of the month. As a result, he could not appear for at least half of the end-semester examinations and the ones he did attend ended on a disappointing note as he failed in them.
Missing classes meant that the only way to cover the syllabus and to take the exams he missed out was through remedial classes. His reasons being genuine and medically valid and because of the fact that he could not afford external tuitions, he confidently applied for remedial classes through a letter (dated 20th April 2012) addressed to the VC through the Dean of Germanic Studies. The faculty were available and there was no apparent reason for him to be denied these classes. But there was no correspondence from the authorities regarding it for over a month. On 27th July 2012, he wrote another letter (addressed to the VC) requesting remedial classes.
There was no response for this letter either. Hoping for a favourable answer he waited for another month. By then, the next semester (August – November 2012) classes had already commenced, and out of sheer frustration, he wrote another letter (dated 8th of August) asking for at least a conditional permission to attend the classes till the results of the supplementary exams were out and he demanded the VC’s immediate attention in the matter. Repeated RTI inquiries on these requests bore no fruit. The stakes involved for Sriramulu increased substantially when the Dean of Germanic Studies refused to accept the fee challan for the make-up exams. Through his repeated requests Sriramulu expected to get justice, but the teacher-administrators clearly had their plan of action well-charted out.
There was no help or hope as the (German) Department clearly stonewalled the issue and trivialized the concerns of Sriramulu. This became clear by the response given by the Dean of Germanic Studies in reply to an RTI regarding the letters he wrote to the University informing of his plight. This shoddy letter was not befitting a responsible and illustrious Senior Professor- Administrator. The letter makes fake claims that remedial classes were offered but the student in question never availed the opportunity. It also makes interesting accusations like ‘..he had no time for German. He was busy moonlighting, doing part-time jobs, attending courses with the Tourism Department, and acting as a guide for them, organizing Film shows, tutoring students admitted to German Universities..“
This exemplifies to an extent the surprisingly strong prejudicial stands the Department takes in handling the issues of its students. Definitely, if Sriramulu was in the good books of the Dean (also safely assuming that, for sure, he were not a student from the ST community), she would have for sure given him extravagant recommendations and would have readily acknowledged the hard work the Dean herself testifies he has done.
The German Department was clearly biased and clearly knew the impact of their actions on Sriramulu’s academic future and career. They were never ready to acknowledge his plight and they were successful in covering up the harassment he faced at the hands of ruthless Teacher-Administrators for almost a whole year. This was not surprising to many, as the Department was accused of caste-based discrimination of its students many times in the recent past. Sriramulu was never given a fair chance to prove his worth as a student because of his identity. The Police complaints on harassment and discrimination he lodged were also quelled systematically.
The University was rather forced to look into his issue after petitions were filed with the State Human Rights Commission, AP State Commission for SCs and STs and the National Human Rights Commission. An Inquiry Committee was constituted by the VC on 17th October 2012. This Committee had three changes, till date, in its composition where members were added or removed, as if to suit the best interests of the administrators. Its report or the minutes of its hearings are not available, if at all they ever existed.
In March 2013, the long struggle to prove the validity of his case and save his academic career from a bureaucratic deadlock left Sriramulu weak physically and psychologically. The news of the suicide of a PhD student (Mudasir Kamran) added to the pressure and aggravated Sriramulu’s already weak state of health. He suffered from a psychiatric attack due to the intense amounts of stress the whole ordeal caused. He was admitted in the ICU (of Yashoda Hospital, Hyderabad).
What happened next was well-planned. He was shifted from the hospital to a Mental Clinic by the administrators- an attempt to make it appear as if he was suffering from a chronic mental condition (which in turn would be seen as the reason for his complaining against certain Administrators).
There are clear guidelines put forth by the UGC, that weak students from the SC/ST categories should be given remedial coaching classes. The UGC also goes on to state, in its Eleventh Plan (2007-2012), that ‘education is meant not only to nurture the excellence already in a gifted person but also to uplift the not-so-gifted, so that he / she is equipped to safeguard his / her interests in independent democratic India’.
This definition of education is taken not merely as a joke by the aforementioned Department and its very able administrators. Dumping his case in a heap of technical and procedural delays, the Department, out of its suspiciously overwhelming responsibility, had marked him as an ‘ex-student who has to be evicted from the University Hostel’ in a note to the Controller of Examinations and Basheer Men’s Hostel Warden.
Sriramulu, and four other students of EFLU who supported him in his quest to end the discrimination he faced are now being charged with defamation by the Dean of Germanic Studies. The promptness in covering up the whole issue for about a whole year rather than addressing it, and the academic deadlock it created for him paints the real picture of helplessness of students at the hands of those who use positions of administrative power and authority to discriminate against students like Sriramulu, and the immunity they enjoy in getting away with their atrocities.
George Thomas is a student at English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad.