Pune: Demanding that Phule pagadi (turban) be replaced with Puneri pagadi, students from Savitribai Phule Pune University protested during the convocation ceremony held on Friday in Pune. Police detained students for about four hours, but released them after asking them not to repeat the protest.
Phule pagadi refers to the style of the turban worn by Mahatma Jyotiba Phule – the 19th century reformist who had taken education to the lower castes and women. The pagadi is a symbol of Bahujans – Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and OBC, while Puneri pagadi is a symbol of Peshwas, prime ministers of Maratha Empire. Peshwas, belonging to the upper caste, were known for their brutally oppressive attitude towards the Dalits.
The university administration decided this year to do away with the colonial dress code of black gown and black graduation cap for the convocation ceremony. New dress code that was finalised comprises cream-coloured kurta, white pants, purple-coloured uparana (sash), and it was made compulsory.
Kuldip Ambekar, student leader of the Loktantrik Janata Dal, Sharmila Yeole, student leader of the Swabhimani Vidyarthi Parishad and Dayanand Shinde, leader of the Nationalist Congress Party’s students’ wing were detained while protesting, and were taken to the Chaturshringi Police Station. Police, after reportedly taking in writing from them that they would not repeat the act, released the students.
Meanwhile, five other students put Puneri pagadi on a donkey, and took out a rally around the university, expressing the protest.
Shinde, condemning the students’ detention, said, “University’s name has been changed to Savitribai Phule Pune University, acknowledging the contribution of Savitri Phule [reformist and first female teacher of India, who was married to Jyotiba Phule] in taking education to the women and also to the lower castes. Brahmanical system had made sure that the lower castes stay away from education. And Puneri pagadi is a symbol of this very Brahminism that has been oppressing lower castes for centuries.”
He added, “On the other hand, Phule pagadi represents Phule’s teachings empowering all, including lower castes. It should have come naturally to pick Phule pagadi over Puneri pagadi. But university decided to stick with the Brahmins’ Puneri pagadi. Hence, we had to protest. But instead of listening to us, efforts were made to muzzle our voices.”
Ambekar, who is also a law student, told Newsclick that they were mishandled by the police. He said, “We were protesting democratically by raising slogans – hailing Phule and against the Puneri pagadi. But police put their hands on our mouths and took us to the police van.”
Yeole pointed out that this was not the first time they have protested. “We had tried to meet vice chancellor after university announced that the dress code would be changed two weeks ago. But VC did not meet us. Besides, whenever we raise issues regarding lack of basic facilities like washrooms, or not getting scholarships on time, VC never hears our problems. That is why we had to protest.”
Reacting to the demand for the Phule pagadi, one of the officers from the university administration, on the condition of anonymity, said, “We have changed the dress code, replacing black gowns with Maharashtrian attire of kurta, pyjama and uparane, as this has been the demand for many years. But dignitaries on the stage have always been wearing Puneri pagadi. That is not changed. Still students have taken up this issue, and are taking a few media platforms along.”
This year, Pune University hosted its 114th convocation, and conferred degrees and diplomas to over 1.3 lakh students.
In 2017, the university had sparked another controversy by announcing a bizarre condition that only non-drinkers and vegetarians will be eligible for the Maharishi Keertankar Shelar Mama Gold Medal awarded to the meritorious students.