'Veg only' criterion for Pune varsity award draws flak

11 November 2017

A circular issued by the Savitribai Phule Pune University - better known simply as Pune university - on a prize for which only students who are strictly vegetarian and without ''addictions'' or ''bad habits'' are eligible has kicked up a storm among students and social activists, who have termed the prize as ''discriminatory'' and ''deeply regressive''.

Only students who are vegetarian and teetotallers will be eligible for gold medals to be given by a trust run by a yoga guru, says the institution, drawing flak from some quarters even though the varsity said it does not differentiate on the basis of food habits.

The university in a circular informed affiliated colleges and departments about a gold medal award constituted in the name of Yog Maharshi Ramchandra Gopal Shelar or Shelar Mama for non-science stream postgraduate students for the academic year 2016-17.

The medal is sponsored by the trust and family members of Shelar Mama.

The varsity claims that the circular is old and re-issued every year with no change in the content. But this year it has kicked up a storm.

According to the circular, one of the criteria is that the student should be "vegetarian and teetotaller". Further conditions emphasise that the deserving candidate must have an affinity with Indian culture, tradition and its thought and practice.

A cash prize of Rs1 lakh is presented to the winning candidate along with a medal. The prize is given alternately each year to a student from the science and humanities field.

The circular said that besides the "vegan and teetotaller" criterion, the student should believe in Indian culture, tradition and practise all these values in his daily life and should be versatile in activities like dance, singing, eloquence and theatre.

"Student who practises yoga and pranayama and meditation will be given preference," reads the circular.

Protests were witnessed on the university premises, with a number of students burning copies of the controversial notification. And one might well wonder what the study of science, in particular, has to do with culture or dietary habits.

''The conditions stipulated are not merely bizarre or laughable, but downright offensive and discriminatory. They have nothing to do with a student's merit or academic excellence,'' said Kuldeep Ambekar, a student from the Ranade Institute.

The circular said the gold medal is given to a student who has completed post graduation in science or and non-science stream with merit on alternate years. This year, the gold medal is for a non-science stream.

Arvind Shaligram, registrar of SPPU, said the content in the circular is old, as the gold medal was constituted in the name of Shelar Mama in 2006.

"Since the gold medal is given every year, the circular is re-issued every year and the content of the circular remains same and only date changes.

"As far as setting up the terms and conditions in the circular, the varsity has nothing to do with this as the terms and conditions in the circular were not drafted by the university. All these terms and conditions were drafted and given to varsity by the trust of Yog Maharshi Shelarmama then, who then wanted to constitute the gold medal in the name of the Yog Maharshi," he clarified.

Meanwhile, the varsity late on Friday evening said it will have discussions with the family members of Shelarmama over the criterion related to diet.

Reacting to the development, Yuva Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray wondered if it was a varsity or a restaurant.

"This diktat should be withdrawn. Focus on studies instead. Rather than bothering about who eats what, pay attention to how students will get jobs," Thackeray said.

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