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SJF demands reservations based on constitutional morality; SG and SJF to submit proposals for Ambedkar Memorial Lecture and fee-policy revisions

By Mohan Rajagopal (UG’24) and Keerthana Panchanathan (UG’25)

On March 28 2024, members of Ashoka University’s administrative bodies met with representatives of the Social Justice Forum, the Student Government, and the Democracy Collective to discuss the three demands put forward by the SJF as part of their dharna for a caste census. The SJF has also added caste-based reservations to its list of demands. 

The SJF and the SG are currently drafting proposals regarding the Ambedkar Memorial Lecture and a revision of the fee payment policy. The census remains unfulfilled for now. 

Administrative representatives included Somak Raychaudhury, the Vice Chancellor, Rama Malik, the Pro Vice Chancellor, Bhaskar Mishra, the Vice President of Operations, and Pooja Manaktala, the Director of Administration and Service Excellence. Faculty members including Anuradha Saha of the Department of Economics, Bittu of the Department of Psychology, and Krittika Bhattacharjee and Sidharth Singh of the Undergraduate Writing Programme were also present. 

Demand for Caste Census

While the other two demands are in phases of negotiation, the primary demand for a caste census remains unfulfilled. 

Aditi Warrier (UG’24), Speaker of the House of Representatives, said bureaucratic processes and red-tapism are the primary reasons. The VC and Pro-VC are unable to promise such a process without consultation with higher bodies that only meet at specified and infrequent intervals. 

The Social Justice Forum told The Edict they are meeting with Pramath Raj Sinha, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Ali Imran, Vice President of External Engagement on Monday, April 1, at 4:30 PM, along with the VC and Pro VC. 

Additional Demand for Reservation

In an email to the VC on 26 March following the March 22 Townhall, the SJF emphasised that they would be adding reservations for constitutional categories to their list of demands for the current protest. 

“The peremptory rejection of the SJF’s demands by the Vice Chancellor at the open meeting leaves us with no faith in the administration to adequately account for caste marginalisation in the admissions or financial aid process. This compels us, on the basis of constitutional morality, to demand reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs within Ashoka’s admissions process,” reads the e-mail. 

While caste-based reservations have always been the end goal for the SJF, the communication to the VC marks its formal addition to the protest. 

The SJF writes in its email: “The demand for the caste census remains as is due to the lack of sufficient data from previous years and that of members of the university campus that extend beyond the scope of the admission process.”

Regarding the meeting scheduled for April 1, Anil Kumar Bahariya, Founder of the SJF, said: “What we hope to achieve with this meeting is to secure reservations, in terms of caste for SC/ST/OBC communities in this University. That will be our starting point.”

Demand for the ‘Ambedkar Memorial Lecture’

Aditi told The Edict the name of the SJF’s demanded lecture series, the ‘Ambedkar Memorial Lecture’ and the composition of its speaker panel were primary points of discussion at the meeting. 

Following a conversation, all present parties reached an interim consensus. “A proposal [for the ‘Ambedkar Memorial Lecture’] is being worked on by both the Student Government and the Social Justice Forum. It’s being sent over [to the administration] on Monday and I think it will be approved. I don’t see an issue,” said Aditi. 

Members of the administration said the Equal Opportunity Cell would be responsible for deciding the Lecture’s name and composition. This remains a point of discussion for those working on the proposal.

According to Bittu, a member of the committee to form the EOC, the Cell is currently technically operational but is still in the process of setting up policy and sourcing student opinions for more informed decisions.  

Demand for Fee-Payment Policy Revision

The administration identified 5 students whose access to e-mails was restricted due to late fee payments. According to Aditi, the administration committed to unblocking these e-mail IDs by the night of the meeting itself. 

This comes after the VC’s claim in the Townhall that no student’s e-mail IDs had been blocked for failure to pay the fees. 

One of these 5 students, who wished to remain anonymous, confirmed their e-mail ID was reinstated the day after the meeting, on Friday. 

However, full access has still not been restored: “I’m able to access my e-mail ID now, but VOW Spice or TKS meals are still not available,” the student said.

According to Anil Kumar Bahariya, founder of the SJF, there are more “humane” options available as alternative solutions for late fee payments. 

Regarding the inability of several students to pay their fees on time, the administration mentioned a temporary solution that requires students to communicate their financial difficulties with the fees desk. Some students have resorted to this option in the past. 

Aditi said: “There exists an informal process where if you go and tell the administration, specifically the fees office, your difficulties, they will figure out a way to accommodate it. But of course, there are situations when the student is unable to communicate with the administration, or the case is different, and that’s when the e-mail ID gets blocked.” 

The Student Government is attempting to formalise this process and make more students aware of it. Anil confirmed the SJF wants the University to make this recourse public as well. 

The Student Government and the Social Justice Forum are drafting another proposal to address the revision of the fee-payment policy. 

This process, however, is “more difficult,” Aditi tells The Edict. 

“We don’t want the proposal to be rejected, but we also didn’t have anyone from the financial office there in the [meeting] room with us.”

The SG is attempting to set up a meeting with relevant members of the administration’s financial office for their input and feedback. 

“We have a draft ready, and [the administration is] going to help. We hope to get that out as well, as soon as possible,” Aditi said.

The proposal contains alternate methods to deal with late payments apart from blocking email IDs and restricting access to one’s ID card.

The SG and SJF are looking at the rules and regulations of public universities in India as a model for their recommendations in the proposals. These universities largely withhold transcripts and degrees or do not allow students to appear for examinations when fee payments are late.

According to Anil, potential solutions in the proposal could provide different mechanisms for those on and off financial aid.

Aditi said, of the proposal’s recommendations: “These mechanisms followed in public universities don’t hamper the ability of the students to live a life on campus, to eat food, or to attend classes.” 

As of 31 March, the SJF’s protest continues outside the University’s gates. It is expected to continue until administrative entities and founders agree to meet the demand for caste-based reservations. 

“If they are willing to at least engage with us, then we may not escalate, but if our proposal or demand meets outright resistance, then we will intensify our protests,” Anil said of the upcoming meeting with Sinha and Imran. “But, it will remain peaceful; the protest will always remain peaceful.”


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