Ashoka University assures discussion on affirmative action; students suspend protests temporarily

Will Ashoka University become the first private university in India to consider implementing affirmative action? The students hope so...
The students warn of resuming protests if this demand is not met by the administration
The students warn of resuming protests if this demand is not met by the administrationEdexLive

The Ashoka University administration has assured protesting students that a discussion on caste census, reservation, and other social justice policies in the university will ensue soon, which has led to a temporary suspension of the protest. 

It may be recalled that for 13 days, students of this Sonepat-based private university were protesting demanding the implementation of several affirmative action policies. 

The protests have primarily been led by the Social Justice Forum, an independent student collective founded by Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, Muslim and Kashmiri students at Ashoka University. Their demands were: 

  1. Implementation of an annual caste census for students and staff, which is the first step in the struggle to demand reservations 

  1. Sanction of funds and organisation of an annual Ambedkar Memorial Lecture event on campus with themes of social justice and inviting speakers from marginalised communities for the same, and

  1. Removal of the late fee penalty policy of Rs 200 per day of delay including a block on the defaulters’ access to their Google classroom account and mess coupons

The Pro-Vice Chancellor of the university, Eswara Venkatesam sent a written confirmation to the Social Justice Forum yesterday, April 4, stating that an Equal Opportunities Cell would be established formally by the end of next week and that it would conduct a mandatory “socioeconomic survey”, with questions regarding caste categories as mentioned in the Constitution. Further, it is also in the purview of the Equal Opportunities Cell to organise the annual Ambedkar Memorial Lecture event. 

In addition, the administration also decided to roll back the late fee penalty. 

The communication from the pro vice-chancellor further informed that the proposals for affirmative action and financial aid for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) students would be discussed in the next Governing Body meeting in two months, says the Social Justice Forum.

“This is probably the first time a private university in India is considering implementing affirmative action, and it is a cause of happiness for us,” says a representative of the Social Justice Forum. 

The representative also adds that the protests would be resumed if the administration rejects the proposals, or calls for amendments that could potentially dilute it. 

“Let it be clear, the temporary suspension of physical protests does not imply a slowdown in implementing these policies. Transparency and consistent updates from the administration are non-negotiable. Failure to meet these expectations will result in revitalised protests,” the Social Justice Forum wrote in an Instagram post, announcing the updates.

To refresh memory 

According to a timeline posted by the Social Justice Forum on their social media accounts, the university's Vice-Chancellor Somak Raychaudhury called for a meeting with the forum and the Student Government, on March 28. 

In this closed meeting, the vice-chancellor approved the demands for the annual Ambedkar Memorial Lecture event and the roll-back of the late fee penalty policy. With the demand for the annual caste census stuck in negotiations, the protest continued. 

Then, on April 1, a second meeting took place between the administration and the protesting students, to further negotiate affirmative action in the university. 

This meeting was also joined by the Pro Vice-Chancellor Eswara Venkatesam, Dean of the Young India Fellowship & VC’s Office Aniha Brar, Vice-President of External Engagement Ali Imran, and Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives & Financial Aid Vineet Sabharwal along with the vice-chancellor. 

The Social Justice Forum was asked to submit proposals for affirmative action. 

On April 3, the forum sent proposals for affirmative action and the financial aid policy, to ensure that students from marginalised castes are better represented in the student body. 

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