TNN | Dec 20, 2013, 03.14 AM IST
The students under the banner of ‘Raju-Venkatesh Joint Action Committee’, an organization formed to protest suicides of several Dalit students and alleged caste discrimination, disrupted the talk for 15 minutes, soon after Sen announced the topic of his lecture.
After briefly protesting in front of the auditorium, they marched in around 4.30 pm, holding placards that read: ‘De-castesize education’, ‘Counsel the faculty, not the students’ and ‘Say no to suicides’.Though the protestors, who had black bandages tied around their mouths, initially indicated they would carry out a silent protest against rising suicide rate among students from marginalized sections on campus, events took a turn for the worse soon after Sen introduced the subject of his lecture.
Angry students, raised slogans demanding that Sen, known to preach and live by the teachings of Dr B R Ambedkar, speak on the discrimination against Dalit students on university campuses instead of dwelling on coffee houses, where Dalits seldom set foot.
The protest was the culmination of an online campaign endorsed by 198 people, which had started on December 17, requesting Sen to “address the issue of discrimination in higher education and distinctly explain institutional forms of caste discrimination.” Amidst cries of ‘Jai Bheem’ and ‘They all want us to die’, the students accused varisty authorities of oppressing Dalit students and driving them to suicide.
In fact, some protestors even went to the extent of asking the Nobel laureate to explain why he received a doctorate from a vice-chancellor who resorted to “discrimination” on his campus.
Even Sen’s curt response to their protest, on how agitations should be about “presenting an argument rather than preventing others from speaking,” failed to have any impact on the students.
“If I was told earlier to speak on the Dalit issue, I would have done so. But considering I have no idea about this particular issue, it would be outrageous for me to speak on it now. I am not competent to do so,” Sen later added.
While the students refused to call off the protest even at the insistence of vice chancellor Ramakrishna Ramaswamy and some faculty members, they finally relented after much persuasion by the university administration.