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Monday, May 27, 2024

Expelled from South Asian University, Dalit PhD student now heads to Oxford, with a scholarship

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Over six months after action was taken against him and four others by the South Asian University (SAU) for “persistently being involved in acts of indiscipline”, Dalit PhD student Bhimraj M has bagged a scholarship to pursue an MPhil in Law at Oxford University.

While the Ratanshaw Bomanji Zaiwalla scholarship awarded by Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development will help him with his tuition fee, Bhimraj is crowdfunding his living expenses and has managed to raise Rs 16 lakh so far. “When I decided to opt for crowdfunding, I was trolled on social media… they asked me why I was begging for money,” said the 28-year-old from Chennai.
It was in 2017 that Bhimraj moved to Delhi to pursue his Masters in International Law from SAU. “I was the first from my family to move to North India… I struggled with Hindi initially,” he said.

He cleared UGC’s Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) Examination in 2018. In 2020, he joined SAU’s doctoral programme by securing the first rank in the entrance exam in his second attempt.

“Classes began online in October 2020… Physical classes started in 2021, which is when the problems started.”

He said he faced an inordinate delay in getting the JRF scholarship fund of Rs 31,000 due to the varsity. “I chose SAU as it had a reputation as an international university. The semester fee was Rs 45,000; my family had to borrow money, sell gold and take loans to pay for it… It took eight months for the university to upload my details for the UGC to provide my JRF scholarship fund,” he added.

In the interim, an email Bhim wrote to the administration on April 23, 2021 stated: “It’s been 191 days since I submitted my JRF application to the South Asian University… How long and in what manner should I beg SAU authorities to get my JRF activated?… My mental health is being severely affected.”

Then, protests broke out at the varsity last September over reduction of monthly stipends for Master’s students. Bhimraj, along with another expelled student Umesh, conducted a survey among 70-80 people about their living costs and how the reduction in stipend would affect them. The protest lasted till December.

In December, Bhimraj filed a complaint before the National Commission for Scheduled Castes against the “institutional harassment” at SAU. He and Umesh also moved the Delhi High Court challenging the proctorial order issued by the university which declared them out of bounds.

Umesh, meanwhile, is awaiting the HC hearing. “Bhim and I filed a case in court in February when I was asked to vacate the hostel, challenging the proctorial order. I am hoping to get my PhD from the university… if that is not possible, I would like to self-publish my papers,” said the 33-year-old from Uttarakhand.

Asked about the status of the court case and students who have been expelled and suspended, the varsity said: “The matter is sub-judice. Some of the students have apologised and some of them are undergoing the period of rustication.”

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