Published: 18th October 2019
Called Dalit Elite for using lipstick: How years of casteism pushed AUD PhD scholar to call the cop
Preeti* said that her classmate has consistently run a campaign against her and has 'maligned her image by saying that she misuses her caste identity
A PhD student from Ambedkar University Delhi has filed a case against a fellow student under the SC/ST Act with the Women's Cell of the Sabzi Mandi Police Station. The student claimed that it's been 40 days since she registered the FIR but the police have not taken any action. However, she says that the harassment itself has gone on for three years and she first approached the University administration in June this year.
The student, Preeti*, is pursuing her PhD in Women's Studies and first experienced the casteist treatment from her classmate when she was pursuing her MPhil in 2016 — a time when she was not open about her caste. "Back in 2016 when we were doing our MPhil, I was not open about my caste identity in public. However, she went around talking about my caste to both my seniors and juniors. In a university campus, as in my case, atrocity comes in the form of verbal abuses, insult and humiliation in public by fellow students. She has been causing repeated insult by commenting on my clothes and lifestyle," the PhD student told us.
Taking it one step further, Preeti said that her classmate has consistently run a campaign against her and has 'maligned her image by saying that she misuses her caste identity.' "She has indulged in commenting on my parents and their profession to establish a hostile environment for me on the campus. For some, a casteist slur only means calling someone by derogatory caste names such as “chamar or bhangi”. However, atrocity is beyond these words. The latest incident which compelled me to file an FIR was when the accused in a public meeting said, “bheeg mangne ki adadt tumko hogi, hume nahi" (you might have the habit of begging but we don't)", Preeti explained. Others at the meeting had also raised an objection but the classmate had refused to take it back, claiming she had not said anything casteist.
Preeti says that having been the target of continuous verbal abuse has hit her hard, "As it is normal for any human being, this propaganda by the accused created annoyance and discomfort for me, which resulted in anxiety and at times depression." Preeti said that what has particularly affected her is being called 'Dalit Elite' by upper-caste 'leftists' on campus allegedly just for wearing decent clothes, using lipstick and wearing sunglasses. "I have been tagged as a liar. My attempts to engage in independent political activity is heckled when they call me a “Dalit Elite.” They have used “Dalit Elite” as an alibi to delegitimise my political interventions," the student adds.
Interestingly, it wasn't Preeti who first approached the University about the harassment she was facing, "My seniors who are also my witnesses sent out a joint appeal to the professors including the Dean of the School of Human Studies at AUD on June 13, 2019. There was no response to it. Then I had sent an email as an individual to appeal for a departmental meeting to discuss this kind of behaviour," she explained.
Preeti had requested for a departmental meeting and also a written apology from the accused, however, they did not respond to her for the next three months. It was only after this that she approached the police.
The University has also been criticised in the past for not having an SC/ST Cell in place, "There is no Grievance Cell, no Equal Opportunity Cell, no SC/ST Cell. Some of these were constituted after my complaint but we still don't have an SC/ST Cell in place I had stated clearly that there is no SC/ST Cell and that is why I was reaching out to the department since we were both from the same department," Preeti said.
According to Preeti, authorities she reached out to said things like — 'You two are adults and political individuals. Please deal with it on your own', 'I didn’t get time to read that big email that you sent but yes I got to know you have some complaint'. But when the department did eventually hold a meeting, the classmate apparently never showed up, according to Preeti. The scholar also said that while nobody said anything to her directly, her friends were asked to 'remind' her that she would have to complete her PhD here and need a job in the future so she 'can't take enmity to those places, it won't work'.
"Professors were asked to speak to me and convince me to make a settlement. A couple of Dalit Bahujan students were also convinced to say that the accused cannot do any such a thing since she is a sympathiser of Dalits," the scholar complained.
Preeti also stressed upon the fact that her FIR was only registered after the police conducted their preliminary enquiry into the matter, even though that is not required in such a case. "The mainstream understanding about caste and atrocity only evokes an image of rape, violence, mass killings and burning of Dalit bastis. In a university space, it is mostly presumed that atrocity is committed by the professors. However, atrocity, as defined by the state, includes wide-ranging vulnerabilities Dalits undergo in their everyday life including verbal abuse, insult and humiliation," Preeti explained. Which is why she demands that the police take swift action in the matter.
University officials are yet to respond to our queries. The copy will be updated when they respond.
(*Name changed to protect identity)