ARGDU (A Dalit Adivasi Bahujan Minorities Collective)‘s Q & A with Abul Kalam Azad, a Student of IIT-M in the backdrop of the APSC row.
ARGDU: Good Afternoon Abul, As one of the strong allies of APSC, IIT-M , how would you see the reactions of the other ‘liberal’/’liberated’ students of IIT-M when the APSC was in operation in the campus ?
AK: Any serious engagement with the current crisis, should begin with the cognizance of the structure of IITs as apolitical bubbles, carefully curated over decades, where apathy is nurtured and ignorance of social reality celebrated. So, naturally, the student reception of an unapologetically political body like APSC is not that overwhelming. However, the stubborn persistence of groups such as APSC has made it difficult for the larger student community to ignore their ideas and to not take note of their relentless resistance. So, slowly, the debates these groups ignited are spreading through the fire-proof armors of institutional arrogance.
ARGDU: Was the student polity supportive of the APSC or was there a symbolic stigma attached to the naming and thus towards the group as well , as you are aware that anything to do with Ambedkar has a stigma attached to it especially by the ‘progressive’ liberals?
AK: As the group has already stated, there was, initially, a resistance from the Dean( Students) to the usage of Ambedkar and Periyar in the group’s name because of the ‘political’ nature of the icons. Here again, one could sense the pervasive narrative, that of politics being something beneath us – the meritorious institutes ,that doesn’t deserve our hospitality. As far as ‘upper’ caste students are concerned, I don’t think most of them are familiar with Ambedkar, the anti-caste revolutionary. Ambedkar, to them, begins and ends with constitution. If you push a little further, maybe reservations. So, this group was also subjected to the stigma that comes gift wrapped owing to the dynamics of such a congregation .
ARGDU: Was APSC able to sensitise the IIT-M students of the presence of caste in our modern society and especially in the academic spaces ?
AK: As I have said earlier, the reach of such a radical group is bound to be limited in a brahminical space such as IITs. Sensitize, maybe a few. But definitely they set the discourse around caste rolling. Unfortunately, the dominant voice that echoes through the community is unrepentantly regressive. Did it change the nature of politics in the institute? Yes. Is it enough? Definitely not. We have a long way to go before we can claim to have ‘sensitized’ the students around a deeply misunderstood/neglected maladies such as caste.
ARGDU: Where are we going forward from here, any concrete solution/s or blueprint for a better and informed student polity that includes the marginalized, not merely the Dalits but other minorities as well ?
AK: It is heartwarming to see the proliferation of such study groups in different institutes. The solidarity is overwhelming. This, as I see it, is a significant gesture of student resistance to a fascist regime. I think the way forward should involve inclusion of more and more students into the socio-cultural-political conversations, especially the marginalized and the underrepresented, such as Dalits,Adivasis, Muslims,Women, LGBTQ communities and the differently-abled. One most significant thing that needs to be done, especially in spaces such as IITs, is to destigmatize and normalize difficult and self-reflective discourses surrounding caste, class, communalism etc. Once we succeed in convincing the imminent need for such political engagement, I feel we are half, if not more, way through.
ARGDU: It is curious to see a Non-Humanities scholar like you, as you know the backdrop as I ask this, being vibrant in anti-Caste and anti-Minorities issues. Your take on this apathy of both the science and the humanities scholars alike, especially in IITs towards things that matter ?
AK: The apathy, for the IIT students, has a lot to do with the society and the family that shields them from any exposure to socio-cultural and political issues, considered a distraction, or unworthy indulgence, to their ultimate aim of cracking JEE,which is, of course, feasible due to their caste-class position. The society,as long as it bows down uncritically to these meritorious overlords, they shall never be dethroned from the pinnacles of their privilege and shameless arrogance.
Abul Kalam Azad is pursuing B.Tech. (Computer Science and Engineering ) @ the world-renowned IIT-M.
(POST RELEASED ON 4 JUNE 2015)
(AMBEDKAR READING GROUP: A Dalit Adivasi Bahujan Minorities Collective, Delhi University)