Published: 10th August 2018
Muslim student denied PhD admission at TISS for refusing to take MPhil degree from S Ramadorai
The student was at the forefront of the protests last year and had refused to accept his degree on stage from the Chairman to protest against their decision to remove fee waiver for SC,ST students
The Tata Institute of Social Sciences has denied admission to Fahad Ahmad, a student who was admitted to the Integrated MPhil - PhD course in 2016. Why? Because he was a part of the protests against the administration's decision to withdraw the fee waiver granted to SC, ST and other minority students.
Fahad was at the forefront of the massive TISS protests last year and he along with 26 other students was also given show cause notices for the same. However, he is now the only student to be denied an admission and the administration has informed him the reason behind this, is his refusal to accept his MPhil degree from the TISS Chairperson, S Ramadorai — who was also appointed AirAsia India's chairman.
When he was called to receive his degree, Fahad tried to hand the Chairperson a letter with the demands the students had with regard to the SC, ST students. When the Chairperson refused to accept the letter, Fahad had, in turn, refused to take the degree certification from him. "Despite being the general secretary of the Student Union I had never met the Chairperson even once. I couldn't go meet him in his office either. So the only chance I had where I could hand him a memorandum was on stage. But he refused to accept it and so I decided I could not accept the degree from him either," Fahad explained.
Trying Times: Fahad comes from a small town in UP and says this controversy is taking a toll on his family too
Since it is an integrated course, in order to move to the PhD, all the students are to submit their MPhil thesis and attend the viva — both of which Fahad has done. But the administration informed him that he had to submit his degree in order to join PhD which allegedly hasn't been the case all the years. "I've asked many of my seniors if this happened to them and they said that all they had to do was fill up a small form and complete their viva. No one had been asked for their degree certificate. But since they were asking me, I requested for it but was denied it. So since the administration already know that I have my thesis, I told the staff to take a scanned copy of it and help me register. They said they couldn't do so and had to wait for orders from higher authorities," Fahad explained. It was only around this time that he started to suspect that something was wrong.
After a few days, Fahad received a lengthy email from the administration saying that he had disrespected the institution and the Chairperson by not accepting his degree. The letter said: You are guilty of refusing your degree...and your disorderly behaviour amounts to gross disrespect and a conduct unbecoming of a student of the Institute. The letter also states that the student had falsely told the media that he was pushed from the stage when that apparently never happened. It goes on to say that the matter will be enquired into by an enquiry committee and only then will a decision be taken.
"All the students were given identical show cause notice, so why would they single me out? It is not mentioned anywhere that not accepting your degree could lead to you being asked to leave the programme. They say I disrespected them but what about the disrespect that they have shown to the students from marginalised communities?" Fahad questioned. The 25-year-old student also suspects that the institution could be facing pressure from "outside" to also not give him the admission, "There are some videos of me criticising the policies of the current government. These are suddenly being circulated so this could be a result of that too."
Coming from a minority community, Fahad feels that he is also being targeted for being a Muslim student, "I'm a first generation learner and I come from a small place from UP. I got the Junior Research Fellowship and managed to come here, now I'm being singled out from all the others. For what? For protesting against exorbitant fees? There is no way that SC,ST and other minority groups can pay so much for fees. It is our right to protest," he says.
The letter that Fahad received from the administration-
They (opposing groups) want to create another Umar Khalid or Kanhaiya Kumar, Fahad says. "This is causing me so much mental trauma. I have always wondered how it was possible that a VC ended up being accused of being the cause of Rohit Vemula's death. But now I realise how the administration can absolutely push you to the very end. Not that I would ever take that step but I know what it feels like to be in that position and how it's possible to feel like it's the very end," he said.
How has his family reacted to all this? "My family has always lived in fear, especially now when Muslims are constantly being targeted. They would always tell me to be careful, they were scared I would be wrongly accused of being a terrorist or something of that sort. I would always assure them that there are good people in the world and that I would be fine. Now they say that I assured them so much in the past and now it's happening to me," the student said.
For the last two years, Fahad says he has never asked for a single rupee from his parents even though most of his money goes into the institute. "I have four siblings too and I try and help when I can. Now they ask me what I will do if I don't get the PhD seat. They are so worried for me," he said.
In case he doesn't hear anything positive from the administration, the last resort for Fahad is to take the matter to court. "Denying me the degree is denying me my right to education. I have already been admitted to the course, they needed me to provide my MPhil thesis and attend the viva, which I have done. There's no reason that they can deny me my seat now. So I will go to court if that's what needs to be done," Fahad said.