Kolkata: Professor Maroona Murmu has filed an FIR (first information report) against Bethune College student Paromita Ghosh after the latter ridiculed the professor’s identity and belittled her education and merit.
The complaint was under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
In the formal complaint, she said, “Ms Paromita Ghosh attempted to tarnish my academic reputation, prove me to be an incompetent and undeserving professional and malign me on the basis of my ethnic identity.”
She also mentioned charges that fall under sections of the IPC, including promoting enmity in different groups on grounds of religion, race, creed, place of birth.
According to the SC/ST Act, “Whoever, being a public servant but not being a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe, wilfully neglects his duties required to be performed by him under this Act, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to one year.”
The FIR filed on Thursday stated, “The comments by Ms Ghosh humiliated and insulted me on a public forum. As a member of the depressed communities in the country, I feel harassed, intimidated by the dehumanising, derogatory, dismissive and hateful remarks of Ms Paromita Ghosh.”
Murmu said, “I am being hounded by over 1,900 hateful comments on my Facebook page. My academic videos online are being disliked and that is growing leaps and bounds on a daily basis which will damage social dignity and respect in the professional world.”
Following the incident, Ghosh circulated a video recording her statement on September 7. However, she refused to apologise and stood by her remarks against the professor. Hashtags such as #stopreservation and #shameeonmurmu started trending on Twitter and Facebook.
In the video posted, Murmu said, “Ms Ghosh heckled me once again and finally ended the video recording with an ostensible threat to commit suicide. This threat to commit suicide is also an instrument that’s being used to further humiliate me, intimidate me and coerce me to refrain from filing this FIR.”
A police officer from Jadavpur police station, who didn’t want to be named, said, “An FIR has been filed and an assistant commissioner (AC) rank police officer will start the investigation.”
After the FIR was lodged, Ghosh wrote a post, saying,
“There has been a lot of controversy on social media for the last few days …. One of my respected elders has explained to me that I may have unknowingly hurt an entire community, which was never my intention. The real issue which I wanted to highlight has now been obscured by the controversy which had started due to the misreading of my comment. Many strangers have told me that they are shocked by my comments. Needless to say, they misunderstood. This is because, as an independent citizen, if I don’t like something, I can speak about it … but that does not mean my intention was to hurt or insult any community… However, whoever misunderstood my comments and was hurt and have told me personally, I am sincerely apologising to them, but I have no obligation or wish to change the minds of known people who built their opinions about me based on the post… stay safe everyone, stay healthy, thank you.”
The issue began on September 2, when people across the country were debating the government’s decision to conduct exams despite the COVID-19 emergency. Murmu stumbled upon a Facebook post by her friend Neelkonto Naskar. Thereafter, she expressed her opinion on the issue, saying students’ lives are being put at risk by the government’s decision.
Ghosh, who is not even a friend of the professor’s on Facebook, replied to her comment saying, “Maroona Murmu, what surprised me was the fact that Jadavpur University has professors with such mentality. I am astonished. Let me brief you a bit on the difference between ‘quota’ and ‘unquota’ (non-quota). To know that life is more important than an academic year, one doesn’t require to be a professor. It’s not about lagging one year but about how some unqualified and incompetent people take undue advantage of the reservation system and their caste is now helping them be successful, while the deserving lag behind for ever. Our parents are stepping out, taking a risk every day to get us food, while some are sitting at home and getting paid for doing nothing.”
The next morning, Ghosh wrote 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 paychecks.”
Professor Murmu said she was appalled but not shocked, as she has been at the receiving end of casteist and racist slurs almost on a daily basis. “I don’t even know her; I had expressed my opinion on something that is being debated across the country. She did not comment anything on that matter but went on commenting on my identity and how reservation gets us [Adivasis] jobs and how we do not deserve those or have the ability to teach,” she told The Wire.
“Do I not have the right to express my opinion on any issue without someone ‘rebuking’ me for being an Adivasi?” Murmu added.
Right after the incident, the Bethune College students’ committee issued a statement condemning the incident and calling it extremely shameful, saying it has brought the institution into disrepute. “The Bethune College students’ committee unequivocally condemns Ms Paromita Ghosh and resolves to stand by Dr. Maroona Murmu and the struggles of all the Dalits in our campus, state and the country,” the statement reads.
In a video message posted by Ghosh on September 7, she said, “If voicing against caste-based reservation is wrong then be it, I am not ashamed of it.” In a nine-minute video she stood by her remarks and said, “I cannot concentrate on my studies and am getting depressed because of the controversy.”
Read the full text of Murmu’s complaint below.