Anti-SC/ST Atrocities in St. Teresa’s:
Politics of Vote Bank Arithmetic Delays Action
Even after one year of public exposure of the caste discrimination against the SC/ST girl students in the prestigious St. Teresa’s College hostel in Ernakulam, no action has been taken against the culprits largely due to the typical vote-bank politics maintained by all leading parties in Kerala.
St. Teresa’s College in Ernakulam, the foremost harbour and industrial city of Kerala, is one of the leading and oldest educational institutions for girls managed by Catholic Church authorities. This prestigious institution caught attention last year when government authorities like Tribal Development Officer (TDO) and Directorate of Collegiate Education (DCE) in separate actions identified the ongoing caste discrimination and segregation of Dalit students by the college management at the hostel. Although the local police was investigating the case ever since then, no action has so far been taken against the erring management.
Since the Christian votes play vital role in both Ernakulam and neighbouring Kottayam and Thrissur districts, neither the ruling LDF nor the opposition UDF are interested to pursue the issue since hardly eight weeks are left for the Assembly general polls. The BJP, with its known Hindutva agenda of anti-Christian/Islamic baiting, is also not interested since they are making overt and covert parleys with Church heads in an attempt to gain its maiden entry into the State Assembly this time.
The startling revelations of anti-Dalit atrocities in St. Teresa’s hostel was first identified by the Tribal Development Officer of Muvattupuzha (Ernakulam Dist.). An inquiry conducted by him on January 19, 2000, on behalf of the Scheduled Tribes Development Director (STDD) revealed that “none of the 40 SC/ST students of the college were provided accommodation in the main hostel of the college resulting in their segregation”. Following this report, the Director of Collegiate Education, Chandrasekhara Babu, conducted a surprise check in the college and hostel premises on February 18, 2000, in which the ongoing caste discrimination was established beyond doubt.
The major charges against the college authorities were discriminating against SC/ST girl students by denying them accommodation in individual hostel rooms, and all of them were “forced” to stay only in dormitories. Even final year degree students belonging to SC/ST communities were denied rooms and had to stay in dormitories against the existing rules which stipulate that rooms should be allotted to degree students on priority basis.
The DCE, in his report to the Government, had recommended that action should be taken against the college management, principal and hostel warden invoking relevant sections of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the Indian Constitution which guaranteed right of equality for all its citizens. He had also recommended that action should be initiated against the college authorities for violating the code of professional ethics of the University Grant Commission (UGC). It was also pointed out that the Government directive to allot 20 per cent of the total seats in hostels to SC/ST students was also not complied by the St. Teresa’s management.
The college management, on the other hand, denied all the charges and claimed “total innocence”. At a press conference held early last year when the issue caught public attention, although they admitted that the Dalit students were accommodated in dormitories, they maintained that it was done as they “feared that the Government would not bear the high rent of the rooms in the main hostel”.
Interestingly, apart from this caste discrimination in the hostel, the Dalit students had written complaints to the College Principal against the “crude, discriminatory and demeaning behaviour” of the Head Accountant of the College while disbursing the government’s educational allowance to them.
Although the Ernakulam Central police team, headed by Asst. Commissioner of Police, Thomas Philip, and Circle Inspector, Nirmalan, have completed the investigations in the case and reportedly confiscated relevant records and documents from both the college and hostel, preliminary steps to move the case to the Court like filing of charge-sheet has been delayed. Also, the police have not received individual complaints of harassment on caste lines against the college authorities from the victimised Dalit inmates of the hostel. However, there is ample evidence to prove that none of the final year degree students belonging to SC/ST communities was accommodated in rooms but were, instead, provided accommodation in dormitories whereas most of the students belonging to the general category were accommodated in rooms. During the investigation, the police had interviewed 29 SC/ST inmates of the main hostel where the alleged discrimination had taken place, apart from gathering evidence from 15 SC/ST inmates of another hostel on the TD Road run by the same college authorities. Reports of TDO and DCE are also available for the police to move against the college authorities and hostel warden by invoking various sections of the Protection of the Civil Rights Act. Yet, either the police action is paralysed, or they are waiting for a green signal from the powers that be to go ahead with the case.
It is to be recalled that under Section 5 of the Protection of Civil Rights Act, whoever on the ground of untouchability, refuses admission to any person to any hospital, dispensary and educational institutions, if such institutions are established and run for the benefit of the general public, shall be punishable under the law. Section 5(B) of the Act says that any person who discriminates against any person after being admitted to such institutions shall be punished with imprisonment up to six months and a fine of Rs. 500.
The caste discrimination in St. Teresa’s once again exposes the hard fact that the issue of social justice for marginalised social segments like Tribals and Dalits take a back seat when it comes to the arithmetic of vote-bank power politics even in “God’s Own Country” Kerala, which is being projected as the highest literate, progressive, and “communist” state of India. The St. Teresa’s episode also delivers a dark reminder as to how the age-old tyrannical Aryan cult of Brahminism, deep-rooted in the fascist philosophy of “Chaturvarnya”, has also influenced sections within Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and even Buddhism. Also, one wish that there should be a collective effort to purify these religions from the clutches of Brahminism especially when they talk about the rights Dalits converted into their respective religions.