Dalit student's charge kicks up row
PUNE, AUG. 25. The alleged buckling in of Pune University to a failed student's use of the ``caste card'' has kicked up a row on the campus. A number of professors and heads of departments have submitted a memorandum to the Vice-Chancellor saying they feared ``academic anarchy''.
The student, Jay Abhyankar, who failed in two subjects in the `Bachelor of Communication and Journalism' course, orally complained to the pro-Vice-Chancellor that he was deliberately given less marks in the paper `News Editing and Graphic Communication', because he hailed from a Scheduled Caste.
The Pune University has, of late, been giving academic autonomy to its departments, allowing them to design their own syllabi and teaching methods. They now follow the increasingly popular ``semester-credit'' method in which a student gets up to 40 per cent marks in each subject for performance during the semester as assessed by the teacher concerned. The remaining 60 per cent are to be obtained through the conventional written test conducted and also assessed by the department.
The oral complaint, and the university administration's instant response to it, have unnerved many a department. At least one department has reverted to the old examination system after introducing the credit system to ward off similar troubles in the future, according to campus sources. Over a dozen heads and senior professors have submitted a memorandum to the Vice- Chancellor, Dr. Arun Nigavekar, saying that the credit and internal assessment concepts could not be implemented if the university did not trust the departments. They urged the Vice- Chancellor to come down on the tendency to use the ``caste card''; they complained that academic standards were being sacrificed at the altar of campus politics.
Abhyankar's complaint was that he was given very low marks by his teacher at the behest of the Head of the Department, Mr. Arun Sadhu, because he was a Dalit. The complaint was deemed weak not only because it was oral, but also on two other grounds. The student had not done well in the written component, he had failed in one more subject, and had got only pass marks in other subjects, it was maintained.
Head's pro-Dalit record
The second ground is the reputation of Mr. Sadhu - both as a journalist of integrity and a progressive Marathi writer of repute, having close ties with the Dalit movement in the State. He was the script-writer of Mr. Jabbar Patel film, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. In fact, Mr. Sadhu was invited by the then Vice- Chancellor, Dr. Vasant Govarikar, some years ago to head the department in view of his professional and social credentials.
But the administration, instead, sent two officers to the Department of Communication and Journalism demanding submission of examination records of the last five years. The department head and the faculty members found such a ``raid'' humiliating, and refused to part with the records.
Meanwhile, the Satyashodhak Vidyarthi Sanghatna, a ``paper'' union of the students, shot off a letter to the Vice- Chancellor making allegations against Mr. Sadhu and suggesting his prosecution under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.
This was followed by a letter from the Registrar and a visit of the Vice-Chancellor to the department. The Vice- Chancellor was first asked to ensure that the complaint and the Registrar's letter were withdrawn before he could satisfy himself about the authenticity of the examination and assessment records. He could then appoint a committee of two prominent journalists for a scrutiny, a faculty member suggested.
The administration, however, chose an escape route -
the Vice-Chancellor announced a committee, but the department members are not aware of who are on it. When contacted, Mr. Sadhu told The Hindu, ``It is sad. Some misguided Dalit organisations and teachers who care little for Dr. Ambedkar's teachings about doing hard work to earn merit, are misleading the students.''