The alumni of Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University have issued a statement in unequivocal support of Dr. Maroona Murmu, Associate Professor of History at Jadavpur University, who is being incessantly trolled, and having to face casteist abuse, for a comment she posted on a social media platform on the ongoing debate about holding examinations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the statement, around 30 scholars said “the vicious and hateful social media campaign against one of the most powerful voices of Dalit and Adivasi empowerment in contemporary India is utterly deplorable.”
On 2 September, Professor Murmu commented on a Facebook post by her friend Neelkonto Naskar regarding the issue of holding examinations, saying students’ lives were being put at risk by the government’s decision. A young woman replied to her comment saying, “Maroona Murmu, what surprised me was the fact that Jadavpur University has professors with such mentality. I am astonished. Let me brief you a bit on the difference between ‘quota’ and ‘unquota’ (non-quota). To know that life is more important than an academic year, one doesn’t require to be a professor [sic]. It’s not about lagging one year but about how some unqualified and incompetent people take undue advantage of the reservation system and their caste is now helping them be successful, while the deserving lag behind for ever. Our parents are stepping out, taking a risk every day to get us food, while some are sitting at home and getting paid for doing nothing.” After a few hours, the same person put up a post on her Facebook profile saying, “Today morning, just reminded one ‘Murmu’ a Santhal about her Adivasi lineage. That too in a polite manner. But some people like her, just made me realise that so-called professors are getting fat simply drawing paychecks.” Since then, she has been trolled incessantly, with numerous hate messages and casteist comments being directed towards her. The troll machine has been at work against Prof. Murmu unceasingly.
“Strict action must be taken against the perpetrators of this kind of violence that seeks to silence marginalized voices, denigrate the contributions of a leading Adivasi scholar-activist, and maintain established forms of Brahmanical hierarchy in our society,” scholars urged authorities.
Dr. Murmu is an accomplished and highly respected historian and educator, who has published widely on women’s history and literary production in Bengal. In addition to her many scholarly contributions, she has also been an important and active voice against discrimination based on caste and adivasi identities in the realm of education in West Bengal and across India.
The statement also stated that it is a matter of great consternation for them that the casteist society does not sensitize its young members to the long history of violence against Adivasis, Dalits, and Bahujans and to the need for affirmative action for the purpose of representation and empowerment, which have been previously stolen from them.
“It is a matter of grave concern that Dr. Murmu is being subjected to such vicious attacks. These attacks throw light on structural inequalities in the academe, despite the usual legal and institutional safeguards,” reads the statement.
Dr. Murmu has been a tireless advocate of increased representation of Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi voices in education and in public life and has written extensively on systematic and structural discrimination in post-independence India. Her writings and public activism have played a significant role in bringing the ‘caste question’ to the forefront of discussions in West Bengal, in a manner that has been transformative and path-breaking.
The undersigned scholars pointed out that the love and respect that she receives from her colleagues and students is evidence of the important role she plays within the university community — as a teacher and a mentor as well as a highly-regarded scholar.
They affirmed that they stand in solidarity with Professor Maroona Murmu and with her fight against casteist oppression.