Indian Institutes of Savarnas: Graveyards for Marginalised Students

Data collected by the APPSC IIT Bombay shows that in 2023 IIT Bombay has denied 80 seats, rightfully for the SC/ST/OBC communities and, despite claims by government, in fact, admitted more savarna[1] students.
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Anil Kumar is the latest name to be added to the list of Institutional Murders of students from marginalised communities this year by the premier IITs along with Darshan Solanki, Ayush Ashna and Mamita Naik. Both Anil and Ayush belong to the same batch and same department in IIT Delhi (Department of Mathematics), and both were staying in hostel due to degree extension. After the loss of Ayush barely 2 months ago, the institute neither reached out the students who were going through similar problems nor did they create any support systems to help them. This criminal neglect of marginalised students by the administration points to the structural discrimination that is embedded within these institutes.

A deeper look into the departments these students belonged shows that there was no faculty who belonged to these communities present there. RTI data collected by the APPSC (Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle) IIT Bombay clearly shows that there was no faculty in the mathematics department of IIT Delhi who belonged to SC/ST community. The same is true for department of chemical engineering of IIT Bombay which Darshan Solanki belonged to. RTI Data collected by APPSC also shows that reservation is violated in faculty composition of all IITs. In IIT Delhi, only 2% of faculty are SC, 1% ST, and 7% OBC. The remaining 90% positions are filled by savarnas. Same is the case for IIT Bombay where 94% are savarnas, with just 2% OBC, 3% SC, and 1% ST. With these institutions blatantly violating constitutional provisions and neither the government nor the courts are holding them accountable, how can we ensure safe, diverse, and inclusive spaces for our students?

On July 10, 2023, the honourable President of India, Droupadi Murmu stated that students’ suicides are a matter of concern and educational institutions should make it their priority to protect and support students against stress, humiliation, or neglect in their campuses. On February 25, the honourable Chief Justice of India, D Y Chandrachud also lamented the lack of recognition of discrimination and harassment present in these institutions by the administration and pointed to their lack of empathy.

We cannot expect “empathy” for marginalised students in these institutions where even faculty from these communities are not allowed to work without hindrance, in peace. Professor Vipin Veetil who belongs to OBC community was humiliated and had to resign because he raised his voice against the administration of IIT Madras dominated by savarnas for their discriminatory attitudes and continuing elevation of only savarnas to administrative positions such as deans and heads of department. Despite calls by the government to fill the backlog vacancies for SC/ST/OBC faculties in all IITs, in “mission mode recruitment”, none of these institutes have filled these vacancies despite getting more than 100 applicants for each post.

Most IITs demand post-doctoral (Post-Doc) research experience as a necessary qualification for faculty recruitment. But none of the IITs implement reservation in Post-Doc appointments. In an RTI response to APPSC, IIT Bombay admitted that they do not implement reservation in Post-Doc admissions, and also accepted that there was no rule that exempted Post-Doc appointments from reservation. Post-Doc admissions happen mostly through academic networks dominated by faculty from among the savarna caste, where they recommend that their students to other faculty in different institutes. Students coming from Dalit Bahujan Adivasi (DBA) communities without any cultural and social capital find themselves outside these networks and lose the chance to avail of these positions entirely.

In such institutions dominated by savarnas, the entire culture is designed to ensure that students coming from marginalised communities find it difficult to grow, to survive. The discrimination starts from the process of admission where the savarna faculty ensure that seats reserved for SC ST OBC students remain unfilled, after which they bring more savarna students in their place.

PhD Admission data collected by APPSC IIT Bombay from 2016-2023 shows that despite having thousands of applicants from among the SC/ST/OBC categories, none of the IITs have taken the required number of students mandated by reservation norms. Even after raising these issues for the past three years, in 2023, IIT Bombay denied 80 seats that rightfully belonged to SC/ST/OBC students despite having 3079 applicants and admitted 95 more savarna students, more than the allowed limit for PhD. One department in IIT Bombay, Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas (CTARA) has not admitted a single ST student in last 9 years. If we comb through the PhD data from among all the IITs, we will find same pattern everywhere.

Even when students from DBA (Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi (communities somehow get admission inside these campuses, the dominant savarna culture and anti-reservation sentiment that is prevalent will work in tandem to ostracise and alienate them. The savarna students, staff and faculty openly taunt the DBA students and harass them on a day-to-day basis makes their lives a living hell throughout their course.

In a survey conducted by the SC/ST Cell at IIT Bombay, in February 2022 — a year before the death of Darshan Solanki, students had shared accounts of the constant harassment and discrimination they face daily. Students are marked by asking their ranks when they step into the campus which discloses their category. The survey revealed that one in three students was asked his/her rank by fellow students in a bid to know their caste identity. The savarna students exclude SC/ST students from their groups and even when clubbed together, deliberately avoid, or discards their ideas and opinions in group discussions. Casteist slurs are often hurled at students, and even cases of untouchability, where students avoid touching water bottles belonging to them were reported. Even after having this data on the ways and practices of how students are facing casteism, the administration of IIT Bombay did nothing to protect the students and sensitize the savarnas. They did not just ignore the issues, the Director of IIT Bombay shamelessly claimed that there is no caste discrimination on campus, just the day after Darshan’s death.

When an anti-reservation Facebook post by the head counsellor of IIT Bombay was reported to the administration in June 2022, they ignored it and took no action. Further enquiry by APPSC showed that there were no SC ST Counsellors. The counsellors were not caste aware and discarded the casteist harassment faced by SC ST students as “just inside their head” further worsening students’ mental health and denied the presence of caste discrimination in campus.

APPSC filed a case against the administration’s inaction to the National SC/ ST commission who called out the director, IIT Bombay and ordered them to remove the counsellor and appoint new counsellors from SC ST communities. Even now, the administration of IIT Bombay has not complied with these orders and they have not removed the counsellor who harbours anti-reservation sentiments. These actions by the administration shows their disregard to the mental health of DBA students in campus.

None of the IITs have a proper functioning SC/ST cell. According to the RTI filed by APPSC IIT Bombay, only two IITs out of 23 allocate funds for these cells, only three have allotted rooms and only five have conducted any events. The existence of these cells has only been mentioned by 12 IITs on their websites. These cells exist as just namesakes and does not address the issues of SC/ST students, does not oversee the proper implementation of reservation, not does it conduct any sensitization process for their students.

Unless we hold these institutes accountable and force them to take in more faculty and students from within the DBA communities, enforce democratic decision-making and break the dominance of savarnas, these spaces will never be either safe, peaceful or productive for marginalised students.

Views and opinions expressed in this article is solely that of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views or position of SabrangIndia and this site.

[1] Privileged castes


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