Saturday, December 9, 2023

Discriminated and Targeted, The Experience of A Kashmiri Research Scholar from SACON

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Discriminated and targeted, the experience of a Kashmiri Research Scholar from Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History. Mohammed Zeeshan Malik from Rajouri, shared the hardship he faced in SACON through his Facebook post. He was denied with basic amenities in the institute and ill-treated by the director of the institute.

His Facebook post :-

I Mohd Zeeshan Malik, from Rajouri District (J & K), have been a registered Doctoral Student at Salim Ali centre for ornithology and Natural History (SACON) since January 2012. I was also a Rajat Jayanti Fellowship (DST, Government of India) Awardee. I completed my Ph.D viva-voce examination on 22-05-2017. My PhD thesis has been highly commended by the examiners. Like any Ph.D student who passed the finishing point after years of intense effort, I should be celebrating and enjoying now after formal completion of the doctoral work. But the series of events that happened in the past one month are preventing me in doing so. These events in fact have seriously depressed me. In fact, I have enjoyed my stay in SACON in the earlier days since my colleagues here were all highly co-operative. The locals in Anaikatty have been extending all their consideration to me, especially since I am from far of J & K state of India. But, the recent events force me to write this in such a situation of extreme disappointment, tension of the way I have been treated by the Director of my institute, SACON (which I earnestly felt as my home during the past five years).

The story begins when I wrote to the hostel warden for accommodation when I wanted to come back and stay at SACON for preparing for my viva examination that was scheduled on 22nd May 2017. Usually at SACON, students are given hostel accommodation and they get priority over the others. I have planned my travels accordingly as I was confident of getting accommodation as usual in SACON. But I was surprised that despite being a bonafide student of the institute I was declined accommodation in the hostel or in the guest house even after frequent consecutive requests over email and phone call. First the hostel accommodation was denied by saying that “it is not available”. A subsequent request for the guest house was denied by telling that ‘it is under renovation’. Later when I was informed from my friends about the availability of accommodation I tried calling the hostel warden who didn’t attend my several calls but just sent a message “is in a meeting”. This repeated for three days. I neither got his call or message even after my incessant efforts. This made me call the Director over the phone to request if I can stay in the earlier room on sharing a base with my friends as these friends had suggested and agreed to. But the request was denied by replying “we are not allotting to anybody”.

With great difficulty, I could manage to get accommodation outside the campus, in the village thanks to the benevolence of the local villagers. I wish to submit that in the premises of SACON, a remote area, accommodation on pay is almost none. After managing to find a place to stay outside the campus, when I went to the office for work, I was shocked to see a senior colleague of mine who was on a casual visit was given accommodation but probably was instructed to not enter his name in the hostel records. The next working day I realized that guest house was also allotted in the previous day to some guests. I also realized that the guest house was available and they are allotting to even outsiders. Hardly 7 to 8 persons were staying in the hostel wherein 24 students uses to be accommodated, I being one of them in the past. On 15th May the day I got another shock hearing that they have removed one bed from the room where I was staying while on my doctoral work; but was accommodation was still available and in fact accommodation was given to individuals who were not even students, interns, researchers nor associated with any project undertaken by SACON. My student friends were too willing to accommodate me there if the Director of SACON was kind enough, willing and considerate to allot accommodation to me. I felt sad, terrified, mentally tortured and heartbroken to realize that I was being targeted and excluded. The reason behind the denial of accommodation for me was not its unavailability but something else, which I now understand as my identity by birth, and more over I am hailing from Kashmir.

Targeting me did not stop by this. Later I came to know that the Director asked my research supervisor to hold my viva at the University; for what reason I don’t know and neither my friends here know as there was no valid reason given. Was I not a student of SACON? I did pay ₹50000 to the institute as my Ph.D fees and submitted my PhD thesis after obtaining no objection and no dues certificate as is required by the university. Don’t I deserve to present my work at SACON in front of my friends and faculties and get their opinion on my work? As you would know as per the UGC guidelines, the final and crucial stage in PhD course is the viva voce examination, during which the candidate has to make an open defence of the work he / she has submitted for PhD. From my knowledge, I never heard the director asking to conduct any students’ viva outside the institute. Incidentally I wish to inform that more than 50 PhD defence was held in SACON so far and all was held in the SACON campus. This incident confirmed my doubt that I am being discriminated, targeted and excluded by the Director. Later, I heard that the director also told that the class room where the viva was supposed to happen is under maintenance, which was in fact false.

Even after all these issues, coping with all tensions and mental pain (my health condition also got effected during these days and I had to seek the help of a doctor), I focused on my preparation for the exam. Only because I didn’t want to spoil that day on which my five years of hard work is being defended in public. Also, I considered it as an opportunity to present my work in front of my peers and get suggestions for further pursuance of my research career.
Ph.D Viva voce exam, an open defence as per the university norms being an institutional program, most of the staff, scientists and researchers and others will attend it. But again to my surprise the Director called for two alternate meetings for the scientists, one at 10.00 and the other at 11.00 am. My viva was scheduled at 11.00 am and I understand that it was formally brought to the notice of the Director well in advance. Even though there is no such precedence, I agree the need for a meeting if it is a very urgent issue, but the meetings were on Annual report and website improvements I understand. At the height of his hatred towards me, the meeting kept at 11 was to discuss about the website design. It was this day that I realized sheer discrimination and violation of my basic human rights; not only he tried to sabotage my viva so that most of the faculty could not participate in that, but set a demonstration of the power of the chair.

I want to conclude by repeating that I have been selectively targeted, discriminated and mentally tortured during the past one month. I want justice, your support, and seek an enquiry about the issue I raised here. But I strongly feel for my home town, my depression makes me think will the residents of J&K never become a part of the mainstream India because of a few people holding some position. I wish such things should not happen with any of the students in my institute or in any other institute. Moreover, I am a citizen of India and feel I should get equal rights in any part of the country


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