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Denied table, given Chair

Varanasi, Oct. 31: Eighty years ago, a Dalit student named Jagjivan Ram would not be served meals in his hostel at Banaras Hindu University because he was from the Scheduled Castes.

As if in penance, the university today set up a Babu Jagjivan Ram Chair in its faculty of social sciences to study caste discrimination and economic backwardness.

Jagjivan Ram’s daughter Meira Kumar, the Union minister for social justice and empowerment, was invited yesterday to speak about her father’s university days.

She said her father was even denied haircuts by local barbers. A Dalit barber would arrive from Ghazipur from time to time to trim his hair.

Jagjivan Ram left the university in disgust. “My father went to Calcutta to complete his studies and later joined the freedom struggle,” Meira Kumar said. “I am glad that the university has set up a chair to study the caste structure in India.”

Born in Ara district of Bihar in 1908, Jagjivan Ram had taken admission to the university’s intermediate section in 1927. He later joined the Congress and remained an MP at a stretch since India’s first elections till his death in 1986. He was Union minister for almost 30 years, working as No. 2 in the Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai cabinets.

Vice-chancellor Panjab Singh said that by instituting the chair, the university was honouring the legacy of Jagjivan Ram’s efforts at Dalit empowerment.

The holders of the chair and their students will form a study circle that “will help analyse the causes of caste rigidity, economic backwardness and social immobility and the factors that sustain the time-old practice of social discrimination, prejudicial to human dignity”, Singh said.

They will compare the condition of the Dalits with those of the Aborigines of Australia and the Blacks and indigenous people of America, said P.N. Pandey, dean of the faculty of social sciences.

One of the subjects the study circle will focus on is the Brahmin-Dalit political alliance forged recently by Mayavati, a move that propelled her to power. Lucknow University has already begun researching the novel alliance — which has come to be tagged “social engineering” —and its possible effects.

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