‘TISS Doesn’t Want us to Have Opinions’: Students React to Suspension of Dalit PhD Scholar

Belonging to Wayanad in Kerala, the research scholar in Development Studies has also been barred from entering TISS campuses across the country for participating in agitations and questioning the Prime Minister Narendra Modi regime in the Centre.
Ramadas Prini Sivanadan
Ramadas Prini SivanadanTwitter

New Delhi: Suspension of Dalit PhD scholar by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, has caused an uproar in the students fraternity. Ramadas Sivanadan, a member of Central Executive Committee of the Students Federation of India (SFI) and joint secretary of SFI Maharashtra, was handed over a two-year suspension on April 18 for participating in agitations and questioning the Prime Minister Narendra Modi regime in the Centre.

Belonging to Wayanad in Kerala, the research scholar in Development Studies has also been barred from entering TISS campuses across the country.

Talking to The Mooknayak, a student described the charges against Ramadas. He claimed the Left wing activist has been suspended for cordinating and adressing a protest march at Jantar Mantar. In January 2024, the United Students of India, a students' collective, and Opposition leaders had organized the Parliament March.

He is also accused of urging people though a Facebook post to watch ‘Ram Ke Naam’, a critically acclaimed documentary directed by Anand Patwardhan.

Alleging that Ramadas indulged in “repetitive misconduct and anti-national activities”, his suspension order refers to a show-cause notice dated March 7 — questioning his participation in the protest march and a host of activities on TISS Mumbai campus.

The Dalit scholar, according to the notice, participated in the protest under the PSF-TISS banner, misusing the institute’s name. It says associating the TISS with the PSF, which is not an officially recognized student body, gave a wrong impression of the institute — which receives funding from the Ministry of Education.

PSF stands for the Progressive Students’ Forum, a left students’ collective at TISS Mumbai, of which Ramdas was a general secretary.

With slogans “Save Education, Reject NEP; Save India, Reject BJP”, the United Students of India, a coalition of sixteen student organizations, had organized the march in opposition to the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020.

“It seems that the TISS does not want its students to have opinions,” said the student.

Terming the suspension a “grave threat to students”, the the PSF said in a statement, “If a student dares to express their opinion publically, they will be hunted down by the administration and labelled ‘anti-national’ — especially if the student comes from a marginalised background — so much for an Institute that takes pride in its academic excellence and freedom.”

The statement further charges that the TISS administration prioritizes “suppressing” anti-government demonstrations over enhancing hostel conditions and other facilities. This action has been described as “an open warning to all TISS students against organizing and calling out the administration’s anti-student policies”.

Objecting to Ramadas’s January social media posts, which called on students to attend the January 26 screening of ‘Raam Ke Naam’, the national award-winning documentary, the institute calls it “a mark of dishonour and protest against the Ram Mandir inauguration in Ayodhya”.

The statement issued by the PSF on Friday said that the movie has been officially screened in TISS multiple times. “The documentary is also available for public viewing on YouTube and has also been screened on Doordarshan. The current TISS administration, however, wants to censure voices even in the online space in what students want to share and talk about,” it stated.

The show-cause notice stated that Ramadas has a history of organizing unapproved events and protests under the auspices of PSF-TISS. It also listed additional events, such as the screening of a BBC documentary that was banned on campus on January 28, 2023, the holding of the Bhagat Singh Memorial Lecture with the participation of “controversial speakers” and late-night sit-ins with loud sloganeering outside the TISS director's bungalow.

Although Ramadas declined to comment on the events, one of his close associates said the fpormer has responded to every communication from the institute.

“He (Ramadas) has replied to the March 7 notice. We are astounded by the institute's actions,” the student exclaimed.

According to the PSF, the administration’s actions demonstrate a “pattern of actively supporting the BJP government, which is in power, at the expense of the prospects of students from underprivileged backgrounds”.

“As a first-generation learner, Ramadas has unequivocally defended student rights on campus. Beyond his work as an activist, Ramadas is also a meritorious student, receiving the National Fellowship for Scheduled Castes by the Ministry of Social Justice, Government of India, for excelling in the UGC-NET examination. The autocratic actions of the TISS administration are a direct attack on marginalised students who hope to pursue higher education in public-funded institutions,” the PSF statement said.

However, a top administrative officer at the institute stated Ramadas is more akin to a political activist than a student, adding, “He has been involved in many violations of discipline codes made for students. Such actions harm the institute's reputation and have an adverse effect on other students' opportunities to study there.”

TISS has already faced criticism for allegedly limiting liberties. The institute's administration in January 2024 issued a notice, prohibiting students from organizing any lectures, seminars and other activities on campus until further guidelines.

Even after two months of the ruling, the university has not released any such rules, according to the Free Press Journal. In January of this year, TISS Mumbai banned any protests against the consecration of the Ram Temple in Uttar Pradesh.

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