“I’ve become a victim of institutional exclusion”: KS Madhavan of Calicut University

02 June 2021

On 21 April, Madhyamam, a Malayalam newspaper published an opinion piece titled “The Anti-Reservation Mafia Flourishing in Universities.” The authors—PK Pokker, a visiting professor at Calicut University, and KS Madhavan, an associate professor in the history department at Calicut University—wrote that the implementation of reservation in Kerala’s universities was dismal. They referred specifically to recruitment for teaching posts. On 29 April, the Calicut University issued a memo to Madhavan demanding a written explanation “on the matter of discrediting the image of the University” and accused the senior academic of violating various sections of the Kerala Government Servants’ Conduct Rules which state that an employee cannot publicly criticise any government policy or make any communication to the press which could result in “embarrassing” the “relation between the Government and the people.”

In the Madhyamam article, Calicut University is mentioned only once to state that the National Scheduled Castes Commission sought a report from the university on “irregularities on the reservation.” According to a report in the New Indian Express, in April, the commission issued a notice to the university to submit details related to the recruitment of assistant professors to the nanoscience and technology, and physics departments. The notice was based on complaint filed by Pramod K, a post-doctoral fellow at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and a member of a Scheduled Caste community. He had interviewed for a post at Calicut University and wrote that the selection process was not transparent.

Though the Madhyamam article was co-authored, Calicut University issued the notice only to Madhavan, who believes he is facing administrative action because he is Dalit. In an interview with Aathira Konikkara, a reporting fellow at The Caravan, the historian reiterated his commitment to speak for inclusive policies in higher education. “There should be academicians, administrators, vice chancellors and other authorities who have a larger vision of inclusive education, who understand the relevance of social justice,” he said. “They should be leading the universities.”

Aathira Konikkara: Your article mentioned Calicut University only in passing, saying that the Scheduled Caste Commission issued a notice to the university.
KS Madhavan: Yes. How does that defame the reputation of the university? Let me give you the larger perspective. I am an institutional academic and public intellectual at the same time. For the last 10–20 years, I have been speaking on the process of social and institutional exclusion. This is my academic concern. Structural hierarchies is my academic specialisation—how social exclusion takes place through systemic institutional structures. My PhD thesis was focused on caste and the social-exclusion process in Kerala from first century AD to the 14th century AD. The modern state should initiate a process to resolve the problem of social exclusion in the higher education system. Within our constitutionally guided state system, we decided our priorities through an inclusive developmental process. State universities, central universities, regional public universities, IITs, IIMs were established to produce knowledge as a part of this development model. This model has to address India’s diversity, its structural hierarchy and gender inequality. If even development has to take place, there has to be a higher education system which addresses these issues. Inclusiveness is the basic pillar of a modern democratic education process. Affirmative policies are introduced worldwide to address this. For example, reservation for women, backward castes, minorities, people from regions like Kashmir and the North East is a route to ensure distributive justice. The aim of the constitutional morality is to resolve the question of structural inequality. This was [one of the contexts] in which Dr Pokker and I wrote this article.

The second [context] was the new [National] Education Policy which caters to a highly centralised authoritarian state and rejects the secular, inclusive education system that India had raised so far. They are slowly removing the supporting mechanisms that backs education inclusiveness. All of this was the context of the article. We are not bothered about the petty politics in the universities here. But we publicly explained the need for the implementation of reservation policy in the case of appointment of teachers in various universities in Kerala. The appointment of Kerala University professors was recently quashed. Why? Because of the improper implementation of reservations. The [Kerala High] Court said that the process of implementation of reservation was faulty. It has to be implemented properly. The roster system should be published. [The roster refers to the list of vacant staff posts in each department, under various categories, including reserved posts.] The UGC mandates that universities should publish the rotation charts for community-wise appointments for transparency.

Aathira Konikkara is a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: Dalit rights National Education Policy higher education reservation