Tuesday, April 23, 2024

I don’t want to die, so I decided to fight: Dr Ritu Singh 

Dr. Ritu Singh, a former assistant professor at Delhi’s Daulat Ram College, who hails from Taran Taran district of Punjab, has been protesting in front of the gate number 4 of the Art Faculty of Delhi University for more than 186 days. Photo: Bhumika Saraswati

Dr. Ritu Singh, a former assistant professor at Delhi’s Daulat Ram College, who hails from Taran Taran district of Punjab, has been protesting in front of the gate number 4 of the Art Faculty of Delhi University for more than 186 days.  After completing her PhD from Daulat Ram College, Delhi University, Ritu Singh joined the same college as an assistant professor on ad-hoc basis in the Department of Psychology in August 2019. Dr. Ritu Singh, who is from the Dalit community,  was treated as a threat by the college principal Savita Roy for her strong response to the issue of farmers’ strike, anti-caste politics, and talking about Ambedkar and the Constitution.  When she went back to join the college on 20th August 2020 after COVID-19 controlled lockdown, the principal refused to give her joining letter. Ritu Singh protested in front of the college for 10 days against the illegal dismissal. Delhi Police registered  two FIRs under the Epidemic Disease Act for protesting during COVID times. 

However, she continued the legal battle. As a result, a case was registered against Savita Roy under the SC/ST Atrocities Act. As no action was taken against Savita Roy for almost three years , Dr Ritu Singh started an indefenite strike outside Gate No. 4 of the Art Faculty of Delhi University in August 2023. Decorated with blue and tricolor flags at the corner of the  protest venue, a book stall with Dalit literature on one side and a large banner with Dr. Ambedkar’s picture, the venue became a symbol of resistance. However, on January 9, the Delhi Police forcibly demolished the protest venue and seized the belongings of the protestors and put a banner at the site stating that 144 has been announced from December 26 to February 23. Almost a week after the incident, the authorities ‘purified the protest site using Ganga Jal and a Gaumutra ,   installed a banner featuring picture of Shri Ram and locked the university gates. People are coming from different parts of the country every day in support of Dr. Ritu Singh who continued to protest even after such repression. The protests they staged on February 6 and 26 with massive public support were met with heavy police actions. Nevertheless, Dr. Ritu Singh has declared that she will not cease the protest until justice is delivered.

Here are the excerpts of an interview with Dr Ritu Singh:

  1. Almost 180 days have passed since the strike that you started in front of Delhi University.  What is the situation that led you to start the indefenite strike?

Daulat Ram college principal Savita Roy is an extremely racist person. During our PhD convocation in November 2019, it came to the attention of a friend that Savita Roy had made a casteist remark against me. I was about to publicly respond to it but pulled off as it might affect my PhD.

Savita Roy treated me in a casteist manner when I joined college as ad- hoc assistant professor in Psychology in August 2019. As a Dalit teacher, the acceptance I got among the students and me being vocal on caste issues and protecting constitutional values ​​might have triggered Savita Roy. She made judgements on my dressing style, spoke negatively about me to my colleagues and threatened to undermine their future if they supported me. I worked there for almost 6 months tolerating all their kind activities. The college got closed following the COVID-19 lockdown. When the college got re opened, I went to rejoin in August 2020. But she refused to handover me the rejoin letter. It’s a direct violation of MHRD guidelines which clearly states that ad- hoc  professors should not be fired.

I protested in front of Daulat Ram College for almost 10 days in August 2020 against my unfair dismissal. Delhi Police registered two FIRs against me under the Epidemic Disease Act for protesting during COVID times. At this time when I came to know that they started conducting interviews to hire people for my post, I approached the court seeking a stay order against it.

Soon the case came before the Delhi High Court. She argued in the court that many students have complained against me regarding my academic excellence and I spent most of the time in class blabbering around Dalit – non Dalit discourse. When the court asked for proof, she submitted a one-page letter arguing that it was written by BA psychology students Which students?  It was not clear whether it was first year, second year or final year. It was very clear that it was a forged letter. 

I challenged that letter and complained to Delhi High Court and SC Commission. Due to coronavirus, the hearing was happening on a slow pace. When the case reached the SC commission, there were two new pages along with the one page letter submitted earlier!!  Names and signatures of 35 students were also attached to it. But I did not teach even one of those 35 students who signed. During the investigation, none of those students study in Daulat Ram college. After being convinced that the evidence submitted was fake, the commission ordered to register suo moto case against Savita Roy. Despite facing non-bailable charges, she has continued to serve as principal for over two years and even embarked on a foreign trip, mocking the country’s legal system.  Witnesses and those who support me are being threatened and attacked by the Hindutva goons. 

Since August 28th, 2023, I have been protesting on the streets demanding her removal. However, all the authorities here are uniting to shield Savita Roy, an RSS agent. 

  1. Is it true that Savita Roy has done caste discrimination against many people in the past?

Yes. Savita Roy is a habitual offender. At Kalindi College, where she previously worked as an Associate Professor in the Physics Department, several junior staff were similarly discriminated against. The 2 Muslim teachers there and the teachers belonging to the Dalit category have filed complaints against her in 2012 and 2013. Savita is a person who behaves extremely casteist.

She tried to discredit many teachers belonging to the marginalised community and attempted to plot students against them. Anula Maurya, who belonged to the SC category, was the principal of Kalindi at that time and she had faced similar casteist discrimination by Roy. She had complained to the Delhi university authorities and registrar in 2012, 2013 and 2014 against Savita Roy for mentally harrasing her and making her professional life miserable. Unfortunately, no action was taken. 

  1. Can you tell more about Savita Roy’s connection with Sangh Parivar ?

Savita Roy is a Sangh Parivar agent. An audio clip has surfaced in which Savita Roy admits that she sent Rajkumar Phulwaria, General Secretary of BJP’s SC Morcha in Delhi and a Professor of Political Science at Shyama Prasad Mukherjee College, to Kirit Premjibhai Solanki, Chairman of SC/ ST Welfare of the Parliamentary Committee, to close the case filed by me against Roy and to take steps to derail our protest. Savita Roy was a member of Ranavir Sena and acted like a casteist behaved  hooligan. We have hundreds of evidences to prove on whose tunes she is dancing to beat  and for whom she work. If she didn’t have Sangh Parivar support, she should already be in jail behind the bars. 

Samar Veer Singh, an assistant professor on ad-hoc basis at the Hindu college, who faced caste discrimination was forced to kill himself, and Professor Chandrasekhar, who was directly suspended from his job on sexual harassment charges allegedly for reacting against casteism at Jammu University, died by suicide. I decided to fight when it came to the point that I would die if I didn’t respond.

I have decided to fight because I am fully aware of their evil plans. I decided not to surrender to them and fight till justice is served.  I don’t want to die, I want to fight for survival. I can only fight for my generation and the next generation.  There must be an end to the casteist social system that force Dalit and minority people to end their life. I felt I was dying from within every day. I was not even able to breathe in peace.  We have no choice but to fight. We all have to fight together. This fight is not mine alone. This is a fight for all the oppressed and marginalised people.

  1. I have noticed the video you posted on social media asking for support for your struggle.  In it, you ask not only students and activists but also the entire Bahujan community to support your struggle.  Why you opted for such a broad political strategy ?

Not only Bahujan community but I ask support from the entire community including the Brahmin, Kshatriya and Rajputs. Anyone who understands the basic principles of free and fair justice can be my ally. Any person who is ready to fight for humanity can be a part of this struggle.

Most of the revolution that taken place in the society kickstart from universities and educational institutes. They know very well that if the education system itself is dismantled, there will be no resistance. They clearly know that if the education system is destroyed, people can be hypnotised in the name of religion and caste.  They can easily replace the idea of Ambedkar with religious books if they destroy the education sector. The generation that grows up reading such books will believe that a majority of the people in the society are born from the feet of the gods and will behave in an extremely racist manner. I wish that the people of this country should have high scientific temper and rational thinking. For that, we must collectively oppose all efforts that are trying to destroy the education system. Universities are for everyone. So it is everyone’s responsibility to protect it.

  1. There is a criticism that media be it mainstream or alternative would be so keen to cover stories of atrocities against Dalits and minorities. However, movements of resistance by the marginalised communities do not get enough coverage by the media. Whats your take on this?

Exactly!. There was one thing I mentioned during a conversation with Bhumika Saraswati, a journalist who came to cover our protest. If I or any other friend dies during this protest, the protest site will be filled with cameras. Because they benefit from that sympathy wave more than us. Our corpses and cremation stories will help them grow their news viewership, build their careers, apply for fellowships, and satisfy their moral compass. 

Our struggle for justice and equality while we are actually alive needs their support. We need their support for our ongoing struggle for justice and equality while we are still alive. Most journalists’ cameras and pens fail to document the widespread resistance on the streets against racial atrocities. They are obliged to show the general public how people resist injustices on the streets and how they fight against them. The mainstream media here seems to have completely ignored our struggle. What is described as parallel media is also in a ‘pick and choose’ position. It is sad that even in the non-Godi media, such protests do not get the news they deserve.

  1. There have been institutional murders of many people across the country including Rohit Vemula, Payal Tadvi and Fatima Latheef.  Atleast two years ago, Deepa Mohanan, a researcher at MG University in Kerala, had organised a similar protest against the casteist attitude of her research guide. What’s your opinion on the caste discrimination in educational institutions of the country?

There’s an interesting thing that I noticed about the nature of caste discrimination against students. There has been a change in the pattern of blatant misrepresentation and harassment as seen in the past.  They are highly strategical on where to put it. Due to the existing laws including the Atrocity Act and the country’s Constitution, to some extent they cant not practice it openly. My PhD thesis was on the topic ‘Exploring the emerging complexities of caste identities; caste identities following the study of the teachers of Delhi university’. While working on it, I spoke to many teachers in the university. In my thesis I have mentioned in detail about the caste discrimination that takes place within the university. Character assassination of teachers belonging to the Dalit-minority community, denigrating their dress sense, denying them academic opportunities, illegally recruiting and retaining people who cheer casteist Hindutva politics and their cronies, pitting students against teachers who exhibit anti-caste politics, and dissuading Dalit-minority teachers. Casteism on campuses has been used in many ways, such as policing college campuses in a way that threatens their very existence, or forcing teachers to commit suicide or resign from their jobs. According to a recent report, many students belonging to the Dalit-OBC community drop out mid-way due to caste-based discrimination.

Many students resort to suicide here due to many such schemes. It’s not suicide, it’s systematic murder. Many people end their lives because of the mental crisis created by the casteist social system here. In recent years, hundreds of ad-hoc professors and teachers with atleast 15 to 20 years of experience have been unfairly transferred and dismissed.  Instead of all of them, Sangh Parivar cronies have been appointed in many colleges today.

“Delhi University is almost completely saffronized by them.  Ambedkar’s flux that we had placed on the protest venue was taken away and replaced by the image of Ram,” says Ritu Singh. Photo: Bhumika Saraswati
  1. What do you have to say about the saffronisation attempts in Delhi University?

Delhi University is almost completely saffronized by them.  Ambedkar’s flux that we had placed on the protest venue was taken away and replaced by the image of Ram. With the help of the police, they ended our protest by using force, and they sprinkled holy water ( Ganga jal), Gau mutra( cow urine) and ‘purified the place’. Their attempt is to come up with a Jaibheem vs Jai Shriram narrative.  But the constitution proposed by Bhimrao Ambedkar is inclusive of all sections of people. It ensures equal rights for all. When we sloganeered Jai Bheem on February 6, they retailiated with Jai Sri Ram. They are trying to scare us by using gods. But we will strongly oppose this saffronisation. We believe in inclusive blue politics. Blue is the color of the vast sky. The sky accomodates all beings. It treats all of them equally. Whether it is hot or cold, it is distributed equally to all. So blue is the color of equality. Dalit, minority, downtrodden, Brahmin and Kshatriya are all equal in front of blue color. We will not allow attempts to intimidate people using saffron color, lynch them in the streets, oppressing Muslims and silencing campuses.

  1. Can you talk about the police action against ypur protest on February 6?

A large number of people from within Delhi and other states came to participate in the protest march called by us on February 6. On that day, Delhi Metro does not stop at Vishwavidyalaya Metro station. Instead, it stopped at the nearby locations of GTB Nagar and Vidhan Sabha. Most of the people who came to participate in the protest were stopped by the police in front of the metro station and dispersed by force.  Hundreds of people, including journalists, were detained by the police. Many people were forcibly dragged on the ground by the police and taken to the bus.  Apart from Delhi police, Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) personnel who are part of CRPF were also present.

  1. You had shared on social media that on February 5, your friend and leader of the Bhim Army Students Federation, Ashutosh Bodh, an active participant of the protest, was attacked by RSS-affiliated goons. Can you tell us about that incident?

The Incident took place in front of Gate No. 4 of Delhi University at around 6 pm on February 5.  They could not attack me because I was two minutes late to reach the scene. The RSS goons surrounded Ashutosh and attacked him with knives and sticks shouting that you don’t know anything about Savita Roy and you can’t do anything about them. They poured boiling tea on his body. He had knife wounds and burns on several parts of his body. We took him to a hospital. They chose to attack Ashutosh on the 5th to crush the large-scale agitation we had called for on February 6. However, Ashutosh foiled their plans. He returned to the protest site  night after dressing his injuries  at around 10 o’clock that night. Ashutosh did it to convey the message that even if we are physically crushed, they cannot break our determination and the idea we stand for.

  1. You have been fighting on the streets for atleast 180 days.  You have also talked about the concept of ‘University on Streets’. What is the relevance of streets in a democracy?

After they kicked me out of the college unfairly, when I sat on the street and thought about it, I got the conviction that ‘ Naukri nahi, Nyaay chaahiye’ ( Not job but Justice). However, I also want to teach people. It depends on me whether it should be inside or outside the college. So I decided to hold a classroom on the street by calling people together. The streets are a great place to learn and fight. At a time when parliaments are silent, voices should be raised from the streets.  In a democracy, the people are king. How can we tolerate our chosen servants, the ruling classes here, attacking us with lathis, tear gas and pellet guns if we dissent on the streets. 

  1. Why did you raise the slogan ‘Naukri nahi, nyaay chaahiye’?

Many people have promised me that if I end my struggle, I can get a job whereever I want. But this struggle is never for job and money but for justice. This fight is for the justice for Rohit Vemula, Payal Thadvi, Professor Chandrasekhar and many others. If I accept the job offer and stay silent, what is the guarantee that what happened to me today will not happen to someone else tomorrow? How can we ensure that this casteist system will not force another Rohith or Payal to take their life. If I agreed for settlement, It will destroy people’s enthusiasm to fight. People do not get justice in this land. It is easier for them to shut up by offering jobs than to give justice. A teacher who supported me in 2019 has become a slave of the Sangh Parivar in DU teachers election gang this time. So it is very necessary to prove that we cannot be bought with money and promises and that justice is the only solution.

  1. On the day of Ayodhya Pran Pratishtha, you read the preamble and conducted a constitution class. Can you tell me about it?

On the day of Pran Pratishtha, The Delhi university was completely filled with saffron flags and Lord Ram posters. They put a saffron flag with ‘Jai Shri Ram’ on the gate of the university.  The Delhi Police who announced 144 at the campus premises were silently watching the saffron gang’s Ram Pratishtha celebrations. Sangh Parivar brigade held a rally on Prana Pratishta Day. As a response to them, we organised ‘university on streets’ that day. There we read the Preamble of the Constitution and then lectured our protestors about the constitutional values ​​and discussed it. Our constitution clearly states that India is a secular state. The Sangh supporters reacted to our class by sloganeering Jai Shri Ram. 

  1. On February 20, you went to Shambhu border and announced your support to the farmers. You have also actively participated in the ‘EVM hatao campaign.’ Why do you think there is a need for intersectionality of the peoples’ movement?

If we want to get rid of fascism, it is very necessary for all the oppressed groups to unite. Farmers provide us food. So It is the duty of each and every one of us to declare solidarity with the struggle of the farmer. So we went there and declared our support for them. ‘We are with you because you are oppressed and they are also oppressing us. So we must unite,’ I told them at the farmers’ protest site. Many of them have assured me of their support. The struggle to remove EVM is the struggle of every person in the country. If this government is not ready to withdraw EVMs then we can reasonably doubt that it might be tampered. We need to stand together and resist the encroachment on the right to vote that the Constitution has promised to all adults in the country. All of us struggles are primarily against a single force. So we all must unite and fight against that fascist force.

  1. On the 26th, you protested with extreme preparation because of the police violence against your march on the 6th of February.  Even then they detain you all as they did on February 6th.  What do you have to say?

We planned this protest rally with extreme preparation.

On February 25, on the advice of my lawyer, I called the Morris Nagar Police Station SHO and asked for permission to protest peacefully. Our decision was to march peacefully in three lines as is done during COVID. I also told them that there will be a maximum of 400 people. He accepted it. As mentioned, we did not block the road and moved peacefully on the footpath. But similar to the 6th there was a lot of police presence including the SSB. When we were about to march peacefully, they brutally beat us and dragged many of us on the ground and took us to the bus. My friend Ashutosh, who was injured in the violence of the RSS goons, was dragged by the neck. They told reporters that the mainstream media Will not cover this strike anyway, so they even detained media workers with identity cards saying that YouTube media workers who are covering this strike are also one of the protestors.

This time also they took pictures of many people and used  drones. The people were detained and taken to Burari, Narela and Bawana police stations.  Many people had difficulty getting a vehicle to come back from the outskirts of Delhi. 

It Is mainly our caste that has led us to receive such insults from the police. The Delhi Police is acting under the direct orders of Amit Shah. They are not abide to law and justice. Dalits fighting for their rights with self-respect is too much for them to bear.

Note: The interview was originally published in Keraleeyam 

Ashfaque EJ
Ashfaque EJ
Ashfaque EJ is an independent journalist from Kerala.
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