Published: 03rd November 2021
For almost a week, researcher Deepa Mohanan has been on a hunger strike in front of Kerala's MGU. Here's why
Deepa P Mohanan has been a PhD scholar in Kerala's Mahatma Gandhi Univesity's Centre for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology for almost a decade now
On the sixth day of her indefinite hunger strike, Deepa P Mohanan is not ready to give up. With a trembling voice, gathering strength, she says, "I will not give up until my demands are met." Deepa has been a PhD scholar in Kerala's Mahatma Gandhi Univesity's Centre for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology for almost a decade now and for years, she has been alleging caste-based discrimination from her research guide. She also says that the administration has not been letting her submit her thesis and complete her research.
Things went south on October 29, when Deepa decided to go on a hunger strike in front of the university, seeking to have Dr Nandakumar Kalarikkal removed from the position of Institute Director, for allegedly discriminating against her. She also claims that the Kerala High Court had ruled in her favour in this matter. However, we are yet to access the order. Deepa adds that her research guide Dr Radhakrishnan EK and the university's Vice-Chancellor Dr Sabu Thomas too have ganged up against her.
While Deepa is scheduled to meet Thomas to discuss the issues today, an open letter that she had written from the site of the strike has gone viral on social media. In the letter, she says that Radhakrishnan, Kalarikkal and Thomas will be responsible if anything happens to her life. "I am a student who has been denied education, owing to my caste status. My health condition is quite vulnerable and anything can happen to me anytime," reads the letter.
Incidentally, she was hospitalised on Tuesday and had moved back to the original protest site on Wednesday. "Right now, I understand the situation that my dear brother Rohit Vemula went through and why he ended his life...But I have to win this fight for many, who lost before me," she says in the letter. Deepa's strike is now backed by a lot of Dalit welfare and Ambedkarite organisations, including Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan's Bhim Army.
But what could be a solution here?
Deepa says that she will not end her strike until Kalarikkal is expelled. However, Thomas tells us that this is an impossible situation. "How can I expel a faculty member with such good academic credentials and is quite productive?" he asks. "We are ready to offer all support to Deepa. She has to finish her research soon and get a PhD degree. We want her back in the lab soon. This issue has to be resolved," he says, adding that he had even offered to be Deepa's research guide. Deepa had met Thomas a few days ago, but the meeting did not end on amicable terms.
In early 2020, Deepa made it to the news when she was arrested and kept in preventive custody by the police when Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan visited the university. "Meeting the governor and complaining to him about my plight seemed like the only possible way for me to continue my research. He was supposed to meet the scholars of my department. But I was first asked to go out of the campus and was later arrested and kept under preventive custody," she then told EdexLive. She also said that she was once locked inside a laboratory, accused of theft and did not get funds released for research.