Ashoka University Falls Short on 'Constitutional Morality', Students Assert

A representative of the Social Justice Forum claimed that the data submitted by University for the year 2023 confirms that the representation of SC, ST, and OBC students is a measly 6.8% (124 students out of 1823) within the undergraduate cohort and 7.6% (31 students out of 404).
Ashoka University Falls Short on 'Constitutional Morality', Students Assert

Lucknow- In the last few years, caste census has emerged as the buzzword in Indian politics, with opposition leaders trying hard to make it a poll issue to counter the formidable Hindutva pitch of the Congress. The Bihar government also carried out a caste survey, which revealed several crucial statistics regarding caste and representation.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, has made a strong pitch for a caste census. The subtext of the caste census was the asymmetric representation of some powerful caste groups in jobs. The Bihar caste census also triggered the announcement of a caste census in states such as Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

The issue of caste census has now rocked Ashoka University, a private university located in Sonepat district of Haryana, about 50 kilometers from the National Capital, Delhi. Students of the university started their sit-in protest outside the gates after staging a demonstration inside the campus.

In a video circulated on the internet, some students can be seen entering the classrooms and sloganeering, demanding a caste-based survey.

The issue gained momentum last year when the Social Justice Forum, a student outfit consisting of individuals from the marginalized communities of the YIF (Young India Fellowship) batch of 2023, initiated a signature campaign to demand an anti-discrimination cell in the university, along with other demands.

However, the demand was not met, and the Vice-Chancellor instead offered a Student Grievance Redressal Committee (SGRC) in accordance with the latest UGC Regulations of 2023, besides constituting an Equal Opportunities Cell. The SJF, in response to the VC's offer, contended that there was an immediate necessity for a caste survey at Ashoka University.

The students clamouring for a caste census have cited a 2019 report about the diversity in the Young India Fellowship, considered the fellowship program of the University. The report was based on a survey conducted on 228 students regarding their socio-economic background. Some of the highlights of the survey are as follows:

  • Four out of five fellows hailed from an urban background.

  • 88.7% of respondents reported being from the General Category.

  • Approximately 5% belonged to the Creamy layer of OBCs.

  • 79% of respondents have exclusively received their education at private schools, and 8.3% have been only educated at government schools.

  • Only 4.39% of respondents received a full scholarship.

The findings of the survey revealed a skewed picture of the diversity in the private university. Furthermore, a representative of the Social Justice Forum claimed that the data submitted by Ashoka University for the year 2023 confirms that the representation of SC, ST, and OBC students is a measly 6.8% (124 students out of 1823) within the undergraduate cohort and 7.6% (31 students out of 404).

He pointed out that there has been a drop in the intake of students from these categories if the data of NIRF for 2022 is to be considered. "The data we have been able to find in the NIRF shows that 11.4% of Ashoka’s undergraduate population in 2022 belonged to SC, ST, or OBC communities. This sharp fall in the percentage of student composition between 2022 and 2023 testifies that the 682 students admitted to Ashoka as freshers in 2021-22 were significantly less diverse along caste axes compared to the graduating batch of students from the 2018 intake."

Failing to get any response from the University administration, the students started a sit-in protest on the campus with three demands:

  • A comprehensive annual caste census.

  • An annual event called the Ambedkar Memorial Lecture.

  • A change in fee payment policy in which late payment is penalized unfairly by blocking their access to Google Classroom and mess meals.

Speaking to The Mooknayak about these demands, a protestor from the Social Justice Forum said, "The students moved out of the campus when the Vice-Chancellor rejected their demands, offering alternatives, which the students found to be flimsy."

Speaking to The Mooknayak, a representative of the Social Justice Forum said, "The demand for the caste census is the first step towards demanding reservation, which has always been the end goal. The census is necessary to gather data to work towards reservation as it is a testimony of the university to fulfill the diversity and social justice criteria."

He added that the demand for an Ambedkar Memorial lecture to be addressed by faculties and students from marginalized communities is being made because faculties here belong to upper-castes, and for them, lectures on social justice and equality are just a performance done mechanically, as opposed to the marginalized communities who have lived experience of discrimination and social injustice.

Growing Private Universities and the sheer gloss over of diversity

Over the past few years, the University Grants Commission has given approval to private universities at an unprecedented rate. The universities provide no reservation to students belonging to SC/ST/OBC and other marginalized communities. However, the private aided universities are within the purview of reservations.

Speaking to the Mooknayak, Prashant Negi, Assistant Professor at the K.R. Narayanan Centre for Dalit and Minorities, said, "The private universities are functioning under the purview of the University Grants Commission Act, and the universities get a lot of incentives from the government like the subsidized rates of land, and therefore, they ought to abide by the government's policies of affirmative action."

The Social Justice Forum maintains that Ashoka University has failed to maintain constitutional morality as evident in the skewed representation of weaker sections in the university. Therefore, we demand an official caste census and reservation subsequently.

The Mooknayak approached the Media Cell of Ashoka University seeking a response to the allegations made by the students.

The media cell issued a statement which reads as follows: "Ashoka University prioritizes inclusion and diversity, and adheres to all relevant norms prescribed for private universities. The University has engaged with its students over the last few weeks, including a Town Hall meeting with the Vice-Chancellor last week, and shared its position, which is consistent with the Government of India, Government of Haryana, and UGC norms. We are actively working on creating an Equal Opportunity Cell, whose role will include making recommendations to the University to improve prevailing practices and policies on inclusion, diversity, and sensitization. It will have faculty, staff, and elected student representatives as members and will become operational soon. The idea of an annual lecture with a focus on matters of inclusion, justice, and representation was also agreed upon, and plans for the same are underway."

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