In early September, Maroona Murmu, an associate professor at the Jadavpur University’s history department from the Santhal community, faced casteist trolling on Facebook. The trolls accused her of being incompetent because she is a member of a Scheduled Tribe. The casteist hostilities were in response to a post by Murmu expressing her disagreement with the Supreme Court’s decision to allow in-person examinations for final-year students amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an interview with Arunima Kar, an alumna of the Kolkata-based Jadavpur University and a former social-media fellow at The Caravan, Murmu recounted the anti-Adivasi discrimination she has faced in academia. She also discussed how savarnas—caste Hindus—have propagated a myth that West Bengal is a “casteless state.”
Arunima Kar: Can you tell me how the trolling began?
Maroona Murmu: On 1 September, a sculptor and painter put up a suggestion [on Facebook] regarding in-person examinations during the pandemic. I just said [in a comment] that a year in the life of a student cannot be more important than the lives of the students. The lives are in danger if they are asked for sitting examinations. Paromita Ghosh—she is not in my friend list, I didn’t even know who she is—tagged me and she wrote: “How would you realise what a year is to a life of a general candidate? You are a quota professor. A meritless, worthless person.”
Ghosh shared another post, saying, “Today morning, just reminded one ‘Murmu’ a Santhal about her Adivasi lineage. That too in a polite manner. But some people like her, just made me realise that so-called professors are getting fat simply drawing pay cheques.”
I put up a post saying that just because I have a surname called “Murmu,” I am thought to be worthless and meritless because of my ethnic identity. Is it that I cannot express my opinion on anything? The moment I say something, the content is not taken into consideration and I am reduced to my surname.
The next morning, I got a call. A lady said, “Dr Murmu, I am from Bethune college. This girl happens to be my student. I am extremely sorry for what has happened. I am putting up a statement.” Then, around 2 o’clock, she called me up and said, “I am being trolled. There has been a personal tragedy in my family, I cannot take these trolls. I have taken the post down. I am sorry.”
Then, the troll army apparently shifted from her page to my page. There were about one thousand eight hundred [comments or posts]. All asking my credibility to be a teacher in the first place, my academic worth, my ethnic identity. I had put up a [photo in] Panchi Parhan, a traditional dress, standing in front of a Santhal hut—they are making fun of that as well.