Non-Brahmin students protest discrimination at Kanchi varsity
Kancheepuram, August 29
"Cultivate friendship, which will conquer all hearts. Look upon others as thyself…"
Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swami, Sankaracharya of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitham.
Quite the opposite, it seems, at Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swami Viswa Mahavidyalaya (Deemed University). Enforced segregation of Brahmin and non-Brahmin students of the institution may ruin the Sankaracharya's message of brotherhood.
The university, set up on a sprawling 100-acre plot amid lush paddy fields in 1994 on the outskirts of the holy city of Kancheepuram, 75 km from Chennai, is run under the direct guidance of the Kanchi Sankara Math.
The trouble began when about 600 hostel students of the university were segregated recently on caste lines. The students were forced to live in two adjacent, yet separate, hostels in the campus. They have been strictly instructed not to visit each other's hostels, which have separate kitchens and dining rooms. What's more, the authorities have posted 10 security guards round the clock - allegedly to prevent the students of different castes from interacting with each other.
About 100 students, most of them non-Brahmins, have already left the hostel in protest and are staying in rented accommodations in the city.
However, when contacted, Sri Jayaendra Sarasawati Swami, the 69th Peetadhibathi, or head of the Kanchi Math, told the TheNewspaperToday, "Neither I, nor the Kanchi Math has anything to do with the university. It is run by a separate trust and the students run the hostels themselves through a cooperative-type arrangement."
But, the official website of the Kanchi Math, www.kamakoti.org, clearly states that the deemed university is part of the Math's social activities. "Attempt has been made by the Math to bring back to Kanchi the celebrated Ghatika (educational institutions for higher study) of the past.
"At Enathur, near Kanchi, the establishment of Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Viswa Maha Vidyalaya (Deemed University), Sankara Arts & Science College, engineering, computer science, business management at graduate and post-graduate levels, The Chandrasekharendra Saraswati International Library and Research Centre, an Ayurvedic College and a hospital in the Kancheepuram District, are some of the recent steps taken towards this objective," the website claims.
How The Wall Became Unassailable
Initially, the university had two hostels - Katikasthanam and Annapoorani. Katikaasthanam was exclusively reserved for Brahmin students who learn the Vedas. And as non-Brahmin students are not allowed to learn the Vedas in the university, Katikasthanam has always been a 100 per cent Brahmin hostel, where rooms are bigger and facilities are better.
All the other students, who have enrolled in the Master of Business Administration, Master of Computer Application, Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Science courses, have been accommodated at Annapoorani. With the ever-growing student population, the university built a new hostel, Visalakshi. When the ground floor of the new hostel building was completed in the middle of last year, students of all castes were allowed to stay there.
But by the time the students returned after the summer vacation during the first week of July this year, three important changes had taken place: Construction of Visalakshi was completed; Katikasthanam was closed; and all the Brahmin students who were staying there were shifted to the new hostel building.
And then, all non-Brahmin students staying in Visalakshi were ordered to move to Annapoorani and the Brahmin students, who had been staying at Annapoorani, were asked to move to the new hostel building immediately.
"The idea is to convert Annapoorani into a non-Brahmin hostel and Visalakshi into an exclusively Brahmin one," explained a faculty member of the university on condition of anonymity.
"We protested against this move," recalls Ramu (all names of students have been changed to protect their identity), a second-year BE student from Andhra Pradesh. But the hostel authorities did not relent. He said, "They clearly warned us that if we want to stay at the hostel, we have to follow the authorities' diktat."
Favouritism Angers Non-Brahmins
As the new Visalakshi hostel has bigger rooms, tiled bathrooms and continuous water supply unlike Annapoorani, the non-Brahmin students complained that they were being treated as second class citizens.
"The university and the math collects more money as donation from non-Brahmin students. But when it comes to providing facilities, Brahmins always get the best," says Varadharajulu, another student.
According to him, the Math extends various subsidies to Brahmin students. And for this, it collects hefty donations from non-Brahmins. "It's funny. They don't like us. They don't respect us," he alleged.
Most non-Brahmin students complain that the Brahmins are pampered in more ways than one. "From donation amount to hostel room rent, Brahmin students always get things at a cheaper rate. And from getting Internet connections to various scholarships, Brahmins always top the priority list," says another student.
With the Kanchi Math being run by Brahmin priests, Brahmin students enjoy an easy access to the Math officials for bringing down the donation amount.
"While we are not complaining about the Math's commitment to helping poor Brahmin students, we feel hurt and humiliated when the Math treats non-Brahmins shabbily," says Selvan, a Second-Year BSc student.
Some non-Brahmin students even complain that the Brahmins get "special treatment even in exams". There are also allegations that the Brahmin students "always get higher internal marks than the non-Brahmins".
Moreover, most of the time, donations from the students are collected in the name of the Kanchi Math, which enjoys Income Tax exemption. "So, it is very difficult to prove how the university extorts hefty donations from students," explained a student who joined the course on paying a Rs 2-lakh donation.
How The Math Tightened Its Grip
But although the students feel humiliated over the forced segregation, they cannot do anything, because the deemed university is run by the Kanchi Math, among the most influential religious organisations in India.
"With 25 per cent marks on each subject depending on internal assessment, we cannot antagonise the university administration or the Math, explained a student, adding, "We have no students' union or any other body to voice our grievances. Since we have joined here after paying a hefty donation to the Math, we cannot afford to discontinue our studies either."
But despite all this, some non-Brahmin students approached a senior police official and a few local journalists to seek help. While the police official told the students that he could not do anything without a written complaint being filed, the Math head 'politely advised' the local journalists not to rake up "these small matters and bring disrepute to the Math, a holy institution".
Interestingly, about 10 of the more than 100 students who have recently moved out of the hostels are Brahmins. "I am a Brahmin. But I don't like this. The very idea of dividing students on caste lines upsets me. So, I moved out of Visalakshi and I am staying with a few of my non-Brahmin friends in a rented room," says Shyam, a Second-Year Brahmin student.
Tomorrow: Is Kanchi Math Trying to revive Varnashrama? .