In a message posted on social media, the Minister urged the university to resolve the student’s complaint as soon as possible
A day after the mediation attempt initiated by the Kottayam district collector broke down, Higher Education and Social Justice Minister R. Bindu on November 6 reached out to the Dalit PhD student who has been on a hunger strike in front of the Mahatma Gandhi University, and promised to address her demands of keeping the accused teacher out of his office.
In a message posted on social media, the Minister urged the university to resolve the student’s complaint as soon as possible by taking into account the stance of the Kerala High Court as well as the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Commission on the issue.
“The university has been asked what prevented it from conducting an inquiry on the accused teacher by keeping him out of the office and to furnish the documents, based on which a technical impediment for the same is being cited”, said the Minister.
Registering the State government’s concern over the deteriorating health condition of the student, Ms. Bindu promised immediate action to ensure justice to the student immediately upon receiving an explanation from the university. The Minister said she had been admitted to a hospital due to COVID-19 infection and hence was not able to meet the protesting student in person.
“If the university drags its feet on keeping the accused teacher out of the office, the authorities will be instructed to ask the teacher to stay away. The student is requested to take this as an assurance and withdraw the strike”, she added.
According to the Minister, though university authorities had approached the issue from the student’s point of view, the difficulty cited by the institution in taking action against the accused teacher has prolonged the strike.
“The Vice-Chancellor himself has assured the student would be given the opportunity to complete her research without causing any mental challenges and would be provided with all the necessary infrastructure, including library, lab, and hostel facilities. The VC has also assured to work as the guide and the student is understood to have taken these into confidence”, noted the Minister.
The PhD student, who launched the hunger strike in front of the university entrance on October 29, has alleged that she was not allowed to enter the laboratory and faced casteist abuses from Nandakumar Kalarikkal, joint director of the university. Based on her complaint, the university syndicate had initiated action against the said person, but Mr. Kalarikkal later secured a favorable order from the High Court.
During the course of the ongoing hunger strike, the student also raised sexual harassment charges against one of her fellow researchers.
Though the university authorities led by the Vice Chancellor Sabu Thomas held talks with the girl and the representatives of the dalit organisation Bhim Army earlier this week, it broke down after the two parties sticking to their stance with regard to the dismissal of Mr. Kalarikkal.