Pune University circular stating only 'vegetarian teetotaller' students eligible for gold medal sparks outrage

By FP Staff

Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) on Friday faced the ire of student groups and social media when a circular unearthed some absurd requirements for acquiring a college award.

File image of Savitribai Phule Pune University. YouTube screengrab

Among other requirements, students were asked to be "vegetarians and abstinent from alcohol" by SPPU as criteria for Maharishi Keertankar Shelar Mama Gold Medal.

According to The Hindu, the notification was issued on 31 October for students to apply until the deadline of 15 November. The report adds that the award is named after Ramchandra Gopal Shelar, a kirtan singer who promoted yoga and Hindu traditions. It is no surprise that the circular mentions that students practising yoga and pranayama will be given preference.

While the teetotaller clause may be understood as the legal age of drinking in Maharashtra is 25, the clause of being a vegetarian has lead to students asserting that the varsity is trying to push "a certain ideology". The award, which has a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh and is awarded to for postgraduate students in non-science streams, has clauses for excellence in sports and a strong emphasis on social work.

But what irked the masses was the requirement of "adherence to Hindu tradition." Vaibhav Nimgire, a student from Fergusson College, told The Hindu, “How is the varsity approving such rules for a gold medal? The rules imply that a Muslim or Christian student, who is meritorious and deserving, is not eligible.” National in-charge of the National Students' Union of India (NSUI), Ruchi Gupta shared a copy of the circular, saying that the student group would fight this mandate legally.

This is ridiculous. Pune University has mandated that only vegetarian and non alcohol-imbibing students will be eligible for one award. The @nsui will protest & also fight legally pic.twitter.com/bIwQFMPfjV

— Ruchi Gupta (@guptar) November 10, 2017

Arvind Shaligram, the registrar of SPPU, said that the circular in question is ten-years-old and the conditions for eligibility for the award have not been decided by the university, but by the trust which is sponsoring the medal. "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," he said. "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 added.

The varsity said on Friday evening that it will have discussions with the family members of Shelarmama over the criterion related to diet. In a statement, SPPU also said that it does not differentiate students "on the basis of the food habits." Reacting to this 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," Aaditya said.

With inputs from PTI