For over 50 days now, Dr J Padmaja has been engaged in a lone fight for employment, justice, and fair treatment.
She has been protesting in front of the entrance to the Osmania University (OU), Hyderabad, Telangana, campus since as early as November 2023, alleging caste and gender discrimination at the hands of OU Vice-Chancellor Prof D Ravinder Rao, as well as the OU Teachers’ Association.
Dr Padmaja, who obtained a PhD in chemistry in 2013, belongs to the Mala caste – which is classified as a Scheduled Caste (SC). She alleges that she faced discrimination at OU even before her admission into the varsity for her PhD.
“Back then, there was no entrance test for PhD admissions. Essentially, students who completed their MSc and MPhil from OU were directly admitted into PhD. This resulted in a lot of favouritism,” she alleges, saying that this process opened doors to practices of nepotism and corruption in PhD admissions. “I was refused admission to PhD, and told that it was because I belonged to an inferior caste,” she alleged and added that “third-class MSc graduates from OU” were preferred over her.
However, her woes did not end once she was finally admitted into the PhD programme.
Discrimination by the admin
“From day one, the administration and teaching staff alike harassed me based on my caste and gender,” Dr Padmaja recounts. She claims experiencing casteist barbs as well as sexual harassment from her PhD supervisor, retired professor Ch Anjaneyalu, and the then VC of Osmania University, S Satyanarayana.
When she tried to file a police complaint against the duo for continued harassment in 2013, her complaint was not accepted by the police. However, the harassment she faced only intensified ever since.
“I was singled out, isolated from my batch, and targetted by the VC,” she claims, adding that she was even barred from entering the common laboratory by her guide, and was made to work in a separate laboratory – a practice she deems to be “a form of untouchability and ostracisation”. Even when she was pursuing her research work in another laboratory, she alleges being harassed and attacked by goons on the orders of the VC.
Despite all this, Dr Padmaja managed to submit her thesis and obtain her PhD in Electrochemistry in October 2013.
Continued and systematic harassment
However, days after she received her PhD, Dr Padmaja was booked by the police based on a complaint filed by the VC. “I was kept in police custody for several days. In the meanwhile, I was attacked by men close to the VC,” she alleges.
After this ordeal, Dr Padmaja went on to teach at various private universities, including those affiliated with the Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University (JNTU). In the meanwhile, she tried applying to teaching posts in OU and OU-affiliated colleges.
Despite her qualifications and teaching experience, however, she alleges that she was rejected in each attempt she made.
“No matter where I applied, be it Koti Womens College, Nizam College, or even Satavahana University – I was unsuccessful in securing a job as a professor,” she says.
She adds that she attended every recruitment interview by OU in the last ten years. Despite making it to the merit list of the written test, she says that she would always be rejected in the interview round.
“The interview panel would tell me to my face that they would not be able to hire me because of my caste. In fact, I found out that the HoD of Chemistry at Koti Women’s College even threw my resume in the dustbin, and never informed me about the interview,” she claims.
Moreover, the university’s teaching staff and administration have formed a nexus to prevent Dr Padmaja from securing any form of employment, even abroad, she alleges.
“I even wanted to pursue research in Chemistry abroad and applied to many post-doctoral programmes. However, none of the professors would give me a recommendation letter, thus hindering my chances,” she says.
“Right after I got rejected, the university used to notify the vacancy of posts – and this used to happen over and over. I could see that candidates less qualified than I was were given appointments, and it was quite clear that I was being rejected for being an SC candidate,” she alleges.
She also questions how she would not be appointed, while OU has professors teaching at multiple colleges all by themselves and professor posts lying vacant.
Moreover, she also alleges this nexus of assassinating her character and alleging that she had an “affair” with former OU VC S Satyanarayana.
“All these actions are a conspiracy to harass and punish me; to stop me from getting what is rightfully mine. Just because I am an SC woman, they are brazenly attacking me,” Dr Padmaja laments.
She further adds that this discrimination and harassment have not only hindered her chances and prospects of employment but also ruined her marriage and personal life.
Dr B Manohar, President of the OUTA, called Dr Padmaja’s allegations “baseless”, and said that she was wrong to blame the OU professors and administration because she was “unsuccessful in securing a job”, according to multiple news reports.
To this, Dr Padmaja says, “As a non-NET PhD holder and an independent researcher, I have 17 publications under my belt. I also have sufficient teaching experience. My allegations are not baseless, as it was made very clear to me that I was being discriminated against because of my caste.”
She adds that she will continue her protest until she gets justice, and is even planning to contest as an Independent candidate in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections to continue her fight.
Rampant corruption, and casteism
Rubbishing the OUTA’s claims that Padmaja’s accusations are “baseless”, Dr Gali Vinod Kumar, former Director of the SC/ST Cell at OU, says, “This is not a baseless accusation, as I personally sent her profile to the Department of Chemistry and recommended that she be hired as a professor five years ago.”
Dr Vinod, who has been the only OU faculty member to extend his solidarity with Dr Padmaja, is also the former Dean of the Faculty of Law at the varsity. He says that he underwent similar discrimination from OU.
“Just because I belong to a Scheduled Caste, I was not made the Convenor of the TS LAWCET (Telangana State Law Common Entrance Test), and an upper caste professor who was less qualified was,” he added.
Dr Vinod alleges that there was a culture of casteism and corruption running rampant in OU, and this has only increased under the current VC.
“The current VC has increased the cut-off marks for SC/ST students and hiked the fees for SC/ST and OBC students by 100 per cent. Appointments are being made based on bribes, while backlog posts for reserved candidates remain vacant,” he alleges.
He further says that what Dr Padmaja is fighting for is rightfully mandated to her, as enshrined in the Constitution.
“If the university deems these allegations baseless, why wouldn’t it set up a panel to investigate them? We are prepared to come forward with instances of caste discrimination against us,” Dr Vinod challenges.
Echoing these sentiments, Nelli Satya, General Secretary of the All India Students’ Federation, OU, says that the university must take these allegations seriously, and look into them. “It should not only be ensured that Dr Padmaja gets justice but also that faculty found guilty of caste discrimination against her must be punished,” he adds.
(EdexLive tried to reach out to the former VC of OU. The copy will be updated when a response is received)