Vilification Campaign Against Dr Sanal Mohan of Mahatma Gandhi University

Born in a Dalit family in Parakkappara, one of the remotest migrant-settler villages in the northern district of Kannur Kerala, Sanal Mohan has his early schooling, undergraduate education and research studies in various institutions in the state of Kerala. Mohan joined Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam in 1993 as a Lecturer in Ethnography, and has completed 25 years of service to the University in 2018. Mohan was Charles Wallace Visiting Fellow in History @ Centre for South Asian Studies, SOAS (2002); Fellow in History @ Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (2002-05); Honorary Research Associate in Social Anthropology Programme of Massey University, New Zealand (2004); Graduate School Postdoctoral Fellow, Emory University, Atlanta (2008); Faculty Associate, CASI, UPenn (2011); Fellow, SSRC, New York in the Programme of New Directions in the Study of Prayers (2012-14); Postdoctoral Visiting Fellow, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Gottingen, Germany (2013), and Smuts Visiting Fellow @ Centre of South Asian Studies, Cambridge (2017-18). Along with several peer-reviewed article length research publications, he has authored a monograph, Modernity of Slavery…(OUP, 2015).

Despite these achievements, the home university—named after father of Indian nation—was a crown of thorns for Mohan. The troubles intensified after Mohan received SSRC, New York Fellowship to study the religious practices of Dalits & Dalit Christians in Kerala. For the upper caste lords in the Kottayam based university, a Dalit academic winning a prestigious fellowship, to work on Dalit life and their social and religious practices was ‘embarrassingly’ incomprehensible. Among them included upper caste Hindus, upper caste Syrian Christians, and elite Muslims in the echelons of the university administration and its Executive Committee (Syndicate). Soon, the most ingenious persons among them found themselves to be in the garb of Sherlock Holmes and suspected foreign hand (foreign funding) in research funding. No amount of prudent interventions made by the former vice chancellor, Prof.Rajan Gurukkal, in whose tenure Mohan won the SSRC fellowship, could bring an amicable solution. Given below are excerpts from the vitriolic observations entered in the file note of the SSRC project by MGU administration.

Para 142: “Since concurrence is related with the Internal Security and Safety of the nation, those who apply for foreign financial assistance should prepare his plan of action well in advance and the same must be forwarded to the Union government with detailed project in a clear and un ambiguous manner.”; (b)Para 143: “No submission of the Concurrence of the Union govt would invite disciplinary actions from the state and Union governments…it is high time to remind Dr.Sanal Mohan that he alone will be responsible for the damages/developments and liable to the entire loss (if any) of the University or government for his utter negligence and blatant dereliction of duty”; (c) Para 155: “Since the PI has to request the govt. concurrences along with the project proposal, sent to the US funding agency for fat amount as financial assistance, the GoI, must know and see how the money is channelized, received and spent by not hurting the integrity and security of the nation, the PI was not keen to get the govt. clearances not because of his ignorance but it may be presumed deliberately not to act upon.”; (d) Para 162: “It is better that we may inform Ministry of Home, Government of India that Shri Sanal Mohan, Associate Professor, SSS MGU has got this project from US and the amount received and other details. VC may agree.”

The Note File entries and the Syndicate Resolutions misled everyone including the Local Fund Audit. A misled Local Fund Audit [now Kerala Audit Department] then issued a usual Audit Query which was spontaneously responded to by Mohan. However, the administration did not forward it to Local Fund Audit and quoting the initial Audit Query issued a press release.

By issuing a press release, the categorical aim of the University administration led by Dr. Babu Sebastian as Vice Chancellor; Dr. Sheena Shukkur as Pro Vice Chancellor; Dr. Medayil Ramachandran Nair Unni as Registrar, and Mr. Govindapillai Sreekumar as PRO was to insult Sanal Mohan in public and in the campus as a lawbreaker and a manipulator. And they further advanced it with unique resources available to any khaki shorts wallas in this country.

Major newspapers published the University press release dated 03/02/2015 on 04/02/2015 except Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) mouth piece Janmabhumi. In an exhibition of mutual understanding and bonhomie between administrators of Mahatma Gandhi University and the RSS, (സജീവമായ അന്തർധാര?), Janmabhumi published a typical report in their own style on 04/02/2015, particularly because the question of ‘Christianity’ and Dalit were involved in the academic project. Apparently, PRO Pillai had the arduous task of preparing a press release and a press-report on the same day, without conflicting each other! (After retirement PRO Pillai is back in MGU as the Coordinator of the Jaivam project of the University.)

Accepting the replies filed by Mohan the Local Fund Audit cleared all queries raised earlier and specifically stated that the whole issue of foreign funding & Concurrence from Govt. of India was raised by the Syndicate of the University vide Item 267/13.06/6815.

Later, in early 2017 Mohan submitted application as per Rules seeking sabbatical leave to join as Smuts Fellow in Cambridge University. Although the application was filed sufficiently early, the sabbatical leave was denied under flimsy grounds and Mohan had to avail of Leave without Pay from September 2017 to June 2018 (10 months) to be a Smuts Fellow in Cambridge.

After Mohan’s return from Cambridge, the game plan of MGU administration has taken a different note. Again the rumor mills started over-working alleging that Mohan is involved in financial misappropriation in IUCSSRE. To these rumors the reply is that the Auditing of IUCSSRE is over and it would likely to be released in public. However, this time around the game plan has widened with more actors entering the scene. It is not foreign hand but certain individuals of suspicious integrity and authenticity are being used as a tool against Sanal Mohan. Vandalizing the room of Sanal Mohan who had served the University for quarter of a century is the sign of what is in store for the Administration. And it is likely to go at least for one more year. AND, WE ARE PREPARED to FACE IT.

Our aim here is to address all those authentic Dalit-Bahujans, and others with integrity and ethics, students, and members of the teaching and non-teaching community in MGU, and to request them that if they come across any rumours against Sanal Mohan, before believing it, kindly enquire the same with Dr Sanal Mohan, if their time energy, and ethics permits them.