Press Release: Ambedkar-Periyar study circle IIT Madras; Statement from Radical Socialist

May 30, 2015

[Editorial note: A discussion forum called Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC) was formed in IIT Madras (IITM) in April 2014. The purpose of the forum was to initiate discussions on “socio-political-cultural” issues on campus. The forum was recognized by the IITM administration as an independent student body and has been organizing talks, movie screenings, lectures for the past one year. The APSC has also been raising critical consciousness about the Brahminical bent of the institute as reflected in its celebration of Sanskrit Week, the MHRD’s attempt at creation of segregated vegetarian messes, the usage of Sanskritized name boards of buildings, and its alleged patronage of right-wing groups like the Vivekananda Study Circle, Dhruva, and Santulan.

In March 2015, the APSC organized a talk by Prof. Chaman Lal of Jawaharlal Nehru University, who is a noted scholar of Bhagat Singh, Paash and has been recently working on Indian Dalit literature. On Ambedkar Jayanti (April 14), the APSC organized a talk by Dr. R. Vivekananda Gopal of Kuppam University, Andhra Pradesh. Close on the heels of the Ambedkar Jayanti meeting, some anonymous students of IITM sent a letter to the Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD) objecting to the activities of APSC. In particular, the letter claimed that the APSC is “trying to de-align the ST, SC students and trying to make them to protest the MHRD and the Central Government”, “creating hatred among student in the name of caste”, and “trying to create hatred against the Honorable Prime Minister and Hindus”. The letter specifically referred to the Ambedkar Jayanti meeting and the posters used for the same.

The letter seems to have been received by the MHRD on 24th April. On 15th May, Prisca Mathew sent a notice to the Director of IITM referring to the anonymous letter and the poster used by APSC. The subject of the MHRD letter was the “distribution of controversial posters and pamphlets in the campus of IIT-Madras and creating hatred atmosphere among the students by one of the student group namely Ambedkar Periyar”. On 22nd May (7 days after the letter from the MHRD was sent), the Dean of Student Affairs at IIT-M shot off an email to APSC de-recognizing it as an independent student body. The reason given by the Dean for de-recognizing the APSC was that it had “misuse[d] … the privileges” given to it. The email was short and curt. There was no explanation of what this “misuse of privileges” referred to.

The IIT-M administration came out with a “media statement” on May 29, where the “misuse of privilege” by the APSC was explained. “As per the guidelines in force”, explained the media statement, “the student bodies can’t use the name of IIT Madras or its official entities in any capacity, to publicise their activities, or garner support, without official permission. The Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle has violated the guidelines while conducting their meeting.”

The poster by the APSC announcing the Ambedkar Jayanti meeting by Dr. Vivekananda Gopal does not use the IIT-M logo anywhere. At the very top of the poster is the name of the forum “Ambedkar-Periyar study circle” with a locational identifier “IIT-Madras”. To us, this just tells that the Ambedkar-Periyar study circle is located in IIT-M and not IIT-Bombay or at the University of Madras. It is really a stretch to interpret this as a violation of the code of conduct of student bodies. For instance, the website of the Vivekananda Study Circle features “IIT Madras” quite prominently at the very top. If this is not a violation of the code in one case then why is it in another? The reason surely is political. The APSC represents progressive, rationalist, left ideas. It opposed the Brahminical domination of the institute, of the growth of right-wing ideologies in the country, of the propagation of obscurantist ideas on campus. This makes the powers that be unhappy.

In support of the APSC, we reproduce their response to their de-recognition by IIT Madras in full below. ]

Press release from the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle – An initiative by IITM students

Ambedkar – Periyar Study Circle was created as an independent student body on 14th April 2014, by a group of students from IITM to promote Ambedkar – Periyar thoughts and to initiate debates on socio-economic-political and cultural impacts which affects common mass within academic fraternity. The student of IITM has a dictum of using APSC as a platform for the above mentioned issues. As IITM has a long history of being a platform for right wing groups alone to propagate their own ideology and train young minds for their intellectual wings through Vivekananda Study Circle, RSS Shakha, Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Vande Matram, Dhurva etc… With this motto, in the past one year, we organized Hall meets, Movie Screening and pamphlet distribution among students and ignited debates on issues like: Agriculture under threat – Coal bed Methane project, GM Crops – Impact on Agriculture, Factory disputes Act 1947 (Amendment) and creating devastating effect on the labor conditions, Language Politics in India: past and present based on Sanskrit week celebrations, MHRD’s overt attempt to have separate vegetarian mess halls in IITs and IIMs and IITM administration’s move in replacing the name board of the faculties and laboratories with Sanskritized Hindi. We celebrated the birthdays of Bhagat Singh and Ambedkar and organized talks on ‘Understanding Bhagat Singh’ and Contemporary relevance of Dr. Ambedkar’. (For more information check our facebook page -Ambedkar periyar study circle IITmadras) Though the platform created a space for the students of IITM to discuss and debate on issues directly affecting the peasants, labours and the common mass, APSC continuously faced threats from rightwing groups inside IITM. Even the administration tried to curtail the activities of APSC, in June 2014, the DoS Dr.M.S.Sivakumar directed us to change name stating that the names ‘Ambedkar and Periyar’ are politically motivated and thus the study circle should be renamed with some apolitical titles without any personolity’s name.

APSC took stubborn decision to stick with the same title. We also indicated, the activities of right wing groups under the banner of Vivekananda Study Circle, but the Dean of Students said they have been using the name (Vivekananda) for many years and he denied to change the name of “Vivekananda study circle”. For a second time in September 2014, he sent a mail for the same reason, through MITR (the general counseling unit for students run by IITM admin) rather than from Dean’s office stating that the name is polarizing the students. We clearly explained the Dean, the motto of the study circle and relevance of Ambedkar and Periyar’s name. In this scenario, APSC celebrated Ambedkar’s birth anniversary and its first anniversary in April 2015 by organizing a talk on “contemporary relevance of Dr. Ambedkar”. Pamphlets were issued, on the basis of how communalism and corporatism are being the two sides of a single coin which is tossed by the present government against the common mass. The pamphlet contents were referred from leading magazines, newspapers and writings of Ambedkar (the copy of posters and pamphlets are attached) After this event, the above mentioned mail from Dean came on 22nd may 2015. (The copy of mail from dean is attached), it particularly states that “because of the misuse of the privileges” given to your study circle (Ambedkar-Periyar study circle) as an independent student body, your student body is de-recognized by the institute. However it does not contain any details regarding the privileges misused by the APSC. Based on the email, when we met Dean Students he gave a letter from MHRD with a subject matter “Distribution of controversial posters and pamphlets in the campus and creating hatred atmosphere among the students by one of the student group namely Ambedkar Periyar” and forwarded a copy of the complaint sent by the RSS students in IIT.

The anonymous complaint letter – as mentioned by the Under Secretary himself states that “APSC is trying to de-align the ST, SC students and trying to make them to protest against MHRD and Central government and trying to create hatred against honorable prime minister and Hindus”. Based on this complaint and MHRD letter, the Dean of students charge APSC that it misuses the privileges given by them and derecognize APSC. (For the reference the MHRD letter and complaint letter are attached.

The anonymous letter was sent on 29th April 2015, despite of its busy schedule? MHRD has taken this issue seriously and replied by 15th may 2015 itself. Previously IITM students have raised many important issues like Fee hike in IITs, Increase of fellowship to research scholars etc to MHRD. But it never responded to any of the above mentioned grievances. The fast track response to this particular issue shows its vested interest in protecting hindutva ideology and curbing democratic voices. We resent the fact that the Dean has de-recognized our study circle unilaterally without giving us a fair hearing and an opportunity to represent ourselves. In our face to face interaction with the Dean of Students, we have been told that our study circle engages in “controversial activities” and violated the code of conduct of independent student bodies. We are clear on the stand that we have not misuse any privileges given by the institute. So far our activities are engaged with the healthy discussion on socio-economic issues on scientific basis to promote the scientific temper among the student which is allowed by the Indian constitution. We have not been given a satisfactory definition of what entails “controversial”. Further, we were asked to give assurances that we shall desist from such activities in the future before the Dean (Students) can allow us to restart our activities. We have also been asked to route all our activities through the Dean’s office rather than the usual practice of routing all our discussions, plan of activities and pamphlets through our faculty adviser. This excessive scrutiny is unprecedented and does not apply to any other students’ organization. Vis-à-vis this move of DoS clearly shows, only opinions put forth by the right wing group will get the consent to see the light of the day, while the voices and opinion of the democratic students like us will be curtailed hereafter. Our discussions, meetings and pamphlets are meant to kick start a discussion within the campus among the academic fraternity. The issues that we discuss are very important and define the way we live our lives. IITM is a public funded higher education institute, whose vision and mission should abide for the upliftment of the common mass, who is the taxpayers. Rather, the move from DoS, IITM says there is no space for such opinions and discussions. We strongly believe that what we stated in our pamphlets and content of our discussion is correct as per the Constitution. Therefore, action against the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle by the DoS, IITM is undemocratic and unilateral against the interest of common mass for whom the Institute itself is indebted; hence we are not accepting this decision taken by the Institute.

G. Ramesh, The Co-coordinator Ambedkar Peryiar Study Circle, IIT Madras, Chennai – 600 036.
E Mail: Mobile : +917299361319


MAY 30, 2015

We condemn the decision taken by the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras), on May 22, to ‘derecognise’ the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle (APSC), an independent student body of the institution.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) in New Delhi claims to have received an anonymous complaint about ‘the distribution of controversial posters and pamphlets’ by APSC in the IIT Madras campus. The nature of this allegedly controversial material was simply anti-Modi views. This got the government’s hackles up, as it is determined to silence all critical voices, especially voices from outside the spectrum of parliamentary parties, Following this, the HRD ministry wrote to IIT Madras and asked the institution to respond about the above matter. The Dean of Students (DoS) of IIT Madras decided to derecognise the student group even before APSC got a chance to explain their end of the story.

The APSC was created in April 2014 to foster conversation and raise awareness about Ambedkar-Periyar and rampant caste violence in the country. In June 2014, the Dean of Students, Dr. M.S. Sivakumar, directed APSC to change the name of the group; because according to him ‘Ambedkar Periyar’ are politically motivated names, and student organisations should be apolitical and should not have names of individuals. No such decree for right-wing organisations operating under the name of ‘Vivekananda Study Circle.’ Consider this one gem of an example from the Vivekananda Study Circle website: The title of the page is ‘Is Kali Black?’ and has the following quote claimed by them to be from The Gospel of Ramakrishna—“Is Kali, my Divine Mother, of a black complexion? She appears black because She is viewed from a distance; but when intimately known She is no longer so. The sky appears blue at a distance; but look at it close by and you will find that it has no colour. The water of the ocean looks blue at a distance, but when you go near and take it in your hand, you find that it is colourless.” (From

India is a society replete with caste violence. Some estimates claim that each week: 13 Dalits are murdered; 5 Dalit homes are burned down; 6 Dalit people are kidnapped or abducted; 21 Dalit women are raped. It is not a coincidence that majority of manual scavengers are from the downtrodden classes. There are systemic and structural issues in Indian society why such violence happens on a regular basis and are under-reported in the mainstream media. It is important that such issues are talked about more, and we stand in solidarity with every initiative that raises awareness about caste violence, Ambedkar and Periyar. The egregious politics of skin colour, as the example cited above suggests, and violence towards the downtrodden caste is prevalent in Indian society. We cannot eradicate caste distinction by not talking about it, by avoiding to name organisations after Ambedkar-Periyar—it is exactly the opposite—we need to confront caste politics head on as a nation, admit the historical injustices meted out to dalits, adivasis and other lower castes, and admit that a lot of it are ongoing.

We understand that this current action by the HRD ministry to pressurise IIT Madras, and the subsequent actions taken by the Dean of Students to be a continuation of the brahminisation project of the hindutva forces in the Indian polity, whose most recent manifestations have been in the spate of ghar-wapsi, church violence and increase in incidents of communal violence across the country. We decry all such efforts by the hindutva forces, the direct involvement of the government in arm twisting anti-brahminical endeavours and condemn IIT Madras, the premiere institution that it is, for the shameful decision to intimidate and muzzle conversation on caste.

We also condemn the failure of the so called liberal oppositions. It is significant that only after two days of hue and cry in the Social Media did the liberal mainstream media report on the issue. For mainstream politics, there are certain shared premises. While the alleged upholders of political liberalism and secularism condemn actions of the Sanghis, they do not desire to challenge the upper caste dominations. We call upon all Marxist and socialist forces to recognise that without a serious attack on the oppression of the lower castes, the unity of the toilers cannot be achieved, and therefore, fighting for the rights of dalits is a vital part of any genuine Marxist politics in India.

Finally, we stress that the ban on the APSC is part of the increasing violation of democratic rights. It is therefore necessary for the APSC and their supporters, as well as for any organisation fighting for democratic rights, to link up this specific struggle (the restoration of the rights of the APSC) with the general struggle for democratic rights.