New Delhi— Women across the country have taken to the streets in their fight for justice. Just a few months ago, female wrestlers from the country staged protests and a dharna at Jantar Mantar, raising their voices against the Chief of the Wrestling Federation of India. Now, it's an assistant professor's turn to protest against caste discrimination.
Dr. Ritu Singh, an ad-hoc teacher in the Psychology Department at Daulat Ram College, Delhi University, has been on strike for the past many days. She is demanding the removal of Dr. Savita Roy, the Principal of Daulat Ram college.
Dr. Ritu Singh is a Dalit teacher. Just a month after completing her PhD in the Psychology Department at Delhi University, a temporary vacancy opened up in the SC category at Daulat Ram College, where she applied and joined as an Assistant Professor. She taught at the college from August 2019 to August 2020. However, in 2020, she was terminated from the college. Ritu Singh alleges that her removal was due to her caste, and during her one-year tenure (2019 to 2020) at the college, the college principal, Dr. Savita Roy, discriminated against her based on her caste.
In protest of her dismissal, Ritu Singh staged a protest outside the college, which lasted for more than ten days. However, due to Covid guidelines, she had to discontinue the protest. Since then, she has been engaged in an ongoing legal battle. And now, once again, she is on strike, demanding the removal of Savita Roy.
Dr. Ritu Singh herself explains, "I became upset and initiated a protest outside the college because I had no other choice. How much can one endure when 'institutional murders' were already happening? There were cases like Rohit Vemula and Payal Tadvi. I couldn't comprehend how all of this was happening to me. I requested the DUTA (Delhi University Teacher Association) to support me because I was being treated unfairly. I was wrongfully terminated. This was an illegal dismissal. At that time (during Covid), the Ministry of Human Resource Development's guidelines stipulated that ad-hoc or contract-based teachers should not be terminated, replaced, or denied their salaries."
Ritu further explains, When this matter reached the court, the court rigorously questioned the principal. However, during this period, the Principal presented a letter in court stating that students were dissatisfied with Dr. Ritu Singh, alleging that she disrupted classes. This matter was brought before the High Court and the SC Commission. On behalf of the Principal, a letter signed by 35 students was presented to the SC Commission, claiming that the students were unhappy. Subsequently, it was discovered during the investigation that Dr. Ritu Singh had never taught those 35 students who signed the letter. Ritu says, 'When the investigating officer probed the matter, it was found that those 35 students, supposedly taught by me, were nowhere to be found in the entire college. Consequently, a charge sheet was filed in this case."
As of now:
This case reached the SC Commission.
A case has been filed under several serious sections.
A charge sheet has been submitted. However, instead of taking action against the principal, Dr. Savita Roy was appointed as the General Secretary of the Principal's Association.
On the other hand, Dr. Ritu Singh has been navigating the courts since 2020. She says, "I am tirelessly pursuing justice. It took me a year to file a case under the SC/ST Act. Obtaining justice is not easy for us. I was unfairly terminated, subjected to caste-based mistreatment, and faced offensive language. My FIR was not registered. I wrote to the VC and the university seeking justice, but I received no response. Dalits are unheard in most places. Hence, I decided that I would pursue justice regardless of the challenges." According to Ritu Singh, who is entrenched in an ongoing legal battle, her court appearances keep getting postponed. The principal was neither arrested nor removed from her post. Therefore, she is now on strike once again, demanding the suspension of Principal Savita Roy.
"I am protesting on the road for justice," she asserts. "I studied here (at DU). Daulat Ram College, from where I was expelled, is right across from this arts faculty. Where do I go? That's why I am protesting on the road for justice." I appealed to my community, saying, 'If you don't want to see my picture alongside Rohit's and Payal's, then support me. Is the university blind? Can't the administration see? Are all the rules biased against Dalits? Dalits are denied the right to education and participation in society. When a Dalit woman becomes educated and raises her voice, this is the treatment she receives." If this is how we treat our children, how will they ever succeed?
Sonu, a social worker who came to support this dharna, said, "Dalit women are harassed everywhere. Somewhere in the field, somewhere while fetching water from the well, somewhere while their daughters are in schools. Their voices cannot even reach here. Who will raise it? When this is happening to girls like professors and doctors, who will speak up for the girls in villages and rural areas? We are celebrating the Amrit Mahotsav of Independence. We have reached the moon, but our daughters, like Chand (the moon), are being subjected to torture.
Shyam Babu has also been sitting on strike with Ritu Singh for the last five days to support her protest. He said, "This protest will continue until justice is provided." He further stated, "As we continuously witness numerous atrocities committed against the Bahujan community, they are being harassed in many places. We must collectively respond to the Manuwadis."
Many people are coming in support of Dr. Ritu, expressing their views. However, only time will tell the impact of this protest. It is quite surprising that the principal against whom a case has been registered, and a chargesheet has been filed, has faced no action. Mahmood Pracha, a senior lawyer in Ritu Singh's legal team, explains, "In Ritu's case, filing the FIR itself was a great challenge. The police are conducting the investigation under pressure. The court has made very stern remarks about the investigating officer. So far, two IOs (Investigation officers) have been changed, one on court orders, and the third is also trying to protect the accused. There are allegations against the Principal, the Registrar, and five to six professors, who collectively created fake statements from 35 non-existent students, complaining that Ritu does not teach well. An investigation revealed that those 35 children whose names were written were never students of Daulat Ram College."
Registering the case under the SC/ST Act took a long time for Ritu. Pracha says that this is also a significant violation, as action should have been initiated immediately even on a verbal complaint.
Despite receiving support from people in her fight, very few teachers from the SC and ST community of Delhi University were seen participating. Pracha explains, "No one is able to muster the courage because such an intimidating environment has been created."
Attempts to contact Dr. Savita Roy, Principal of Daulat Ram College, to inquire about her response to these allegations failed till the time of writing this news.
(With courtesy to Newsclick.in, this news article is being shared to raise awareness about human rights issues and promote sensitivity.)
Story Translated by Geetha Sunil Pillai for The Mooknayak.