New Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) professor Sonajharia Minz was Thursday appointed vice-chancellor of Sido Kanhu Murmu University (SKMU) in Jharkhand’s Dumka, becoming one of the rare Adivasi women to head a university.
Minz, a tribal scholar from Jharkhand’s Gumla district, is a professor at JNU’s School of Computer and System Sciences. She has also been president of the JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA), and a vocal supporter of social justice and Dalit and Adivasi rights.
Her appointment has both surprised and pleased the academia, considering the numerical odds — the latest All India Higher Education Survey in 2018-19 had shown that there are 33,403 Scheduled Tribe teachers all over India, of which only 13,574 are women. This fact is not lost on Minz.
“I am extremely happy to be appointed as a V-C, but I also know how rare it is for a tribal woman to be elevated to such a post. First of all, there is no parity when it comes to women in academia, then it narrows down even further to tribal women,” she told ThePrint.
“It all depends upon the kind of access that a child gets in his/her early days that shapes their future,” she added.
Speaking about her vision as the V-C of SKMU, Minz said she wants to start a Centre for Tribal Studies, as well as centres for multi-disciplinary studies.
“I want to use my experience of whatever I learnt at JNU,” she said.
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Discrimination in school
Minz’s journey has been no bed of roses. In her school in Ranchi, she said, she faced discrimination from upper-caste teachers.
“My Sanskrit teacher once asked me how could I be good at Sanskrit. ‘It’s the language of the Aryans’, she said, hinting that I am not one,” Minz recalled.
“My maths teacher would tell me, ‘you won’t be able to continue with maths later on, switch to biology’,” she continued.
“I would hear all these remarks that my other classmates would not. When I was young, I did not realise why I was being targeted, but later on, it all started to make sense.”
Minz said her family left Ranchi to settle down in southern India because her father thought they will not be discriminated against. “Because of the way we looked, our appearance could have resonated more with people in south India, and my father thought we will not be discriminated against. Hence, before I started college, we moved to south India,” she said.
Minz studied at the Madras Christian College before joining JNU in 1986 for an M.Phil. Apart from her teaching stint in JNU, she has taught at Bhopal’s Barkatullah University and the Madurai Kamaraj University.
Activists and academics overjoyed
Minz’s appointment as vice-chancellor of SKMU has brought joy to rights activists and academicians.
JNU professor Vivek Kumar, well known for his work on Dalit rights, said the appointment should be celebrated.
“Prof. Minz is the second tribal woman to have become V-C of a university. Her appointment will be a big shot in the arm to all Dalit and tribal academicians and students, especially women,” Kumar said. ThePrint could not independently verify his claim of Minz being only the second tribal woman to head a university.
N. Paul Divakar, a Dalit activist, also expressed delight. “Sona (Minz) is somebody who has social justice and Adivasi rights at heart. She is a great choice to head a university meant to encourage tribal students,” he said.
“SKMU was started with the idea of getting more tribal students to college, and Sona will make sure that happens.”
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