IIT Mumbai report on Darshan Solanki death, crucial evidence overlooked Three witnesses contradict Internal Committee's report on discrimination against Solanki; Internal Survey confirms discrimination as lived reality
15, Mar 2023 | CJP Team
The month-long outrage over the suicide (read institutional murder) of Dalit student on the IIT campus, a “leaked” survey report has recently surfaced and is circulating. This 12 member committee set up by the IIT Director concludes that the death had more to do with the student’s marks rather than systemic discrimination as has been otherwise noticed and evidenced. Hence, following the suicide of Darshan Solanki, a Dalit student, an internal committee was formed, which ruled out any caste-based discrimination and instead cited “academic stress” as the reason for the pressure.
This report was deplored by academics, students, and civil library organisations. Before the controversy over the committee’s findings could die down, some survey reports conducted on campus prior to Solanki’s death have surfaced, demonstrating the existence of caste-based discrimination on the campus. These reports give weight to the theory of “caste discrimination in the campus.”
Caste Discrimination attributed to adverse mental health conditions
Details of the internal survey conducted by the SC/ST cell of IIT-Bombay in February and June of 2022 have been accessed by sections of the media but have not yet been made public. The survey has identified “caste discrimination” as the primary reason for the mental health issues faced by SC/ST students. The survey, in which 388 SC/ST students participated, also revealed other shocking findings:
- One-third of the 388 SC/ST students did not feel comfortable openly discussing their caste identity on campus
- Another 131 students (33.8%) said they could talk about their caste only among “Very close “friends
- 83 (21.6.%) students responded in affirmative when asked about the fear of backlash from faculty and students should they talk about caste discrimination.
- 134 respondents, almost half (48.1%) said that either the SC/ST student cell or the Students Wellness Centre (SWC) could approach them. However, 22.2% had skepticism with both, indicating a distrust with the institute’s bodies. In fact, some students who did not fill the comment box said that the survey mentioned the name of SWC (Students Wellness Centre) and they felt SWC was biased against them.
- More than one-fourth i.e., 26 % of the people felt that people on campus asked them their surnames with the intention of knowing their castes.
- 1 percent of the surveyed students revealed that they were asked about their entrance exam scores after knowing their caste identities.
(The MookNayak accessed these reports)
Internal Committee report whitewashing the caste discrimination
Following this, in an interview with The MookNayak, a PhD scholar, who wished to remain anonymous, stated that “the IIT internal committee report is attempting to downplay caste discrimination under the guise of academic stress. Discrimination cases similar to that of Darshan Solanki exist. There have been three surveys and one open house meeting, and based on this data set, we can conclude that at least 100 students have reported facing discrimination. The administration is ignoring this evidence by citing academic stress.”
In the meantime, the APPSC, a student body on the IIT Bombay campus, has used the survey findings to criticise the administration through a series of tweets. “They have been aware of the survey results for more than a year. Despite this knowledge, they had the nerve to claim that there is no caste discrimination on campus. No measures were taken to assist the students. No mandate was issued for the SC/ST cell.”
Why is the testimony by his sister and senior which tells about the caste discrimination Darshan faced sidelined in the committee report? Why is the committee trying to deliberately hide the caste issues on campus? Why didn’t they take the testimonies from surveys? https://t.co/wKb0ppgpXz
— APPSC IIT Bombay (@AppscIITb) March 13, 2023
The findings of the survey conducted by the SC/ST cell at IIT Mumbai cannot be easily dismissed, as the cell falls under the jurisdiction of the administration. Furthermore, the “caste discrimination” narrative of anti-caste activists and students has been reinforced by the findings of this survey. If the administration were to, in all fairness, will consider the SC/ST cell survey’s results, the issue of caste stigma attached to one of the country’s premier institutes would indeed come out of the closet.
Internal depositions accessed by the media
Meanwhile, The Wire has accessed some depositions made before the Internal Committee that are shocking.
“By the age of 18, don’t you think Darshan Solanki would have known the realities of caste?” was one of the first questions that a PhD scholar at IIT Bombay was made to confront when he deposed before the 12-member committee set up to inquire into the ghastly death of the 18-year-old BTech student at the premiere institute. Taken aback, yet clear that the response needed to be comprehensive, the scholar responded by saying to the committee that there is a difference between knowing one’s caste and knowing how to deal with the toxic nature of casteist discrimination. The humanities student had deposed in the capacity of a scholar and an anti-caste activist studying caste from close quarters.
One more PhD scholar, again a student of humanities and also working as a mentor to many students from Dalit and Adivasi communities, was abruptly interrupted and prevented from finishing his deposition before the controversial Committee. This scholar did not want to miss the chance of putting his views before the committee, however, and finally submitted an elaborate written deposition.
“My intent to share narratives and experiences of SC and ST students was to make the committee aware of the extreme hostility that students face on campus. But after a 40-minute deposition, the committee told me they will call me another day for deposition. That never happened,” he said. The PhD scholar, in his written submission, mentions that several students he mentored had approached him from time to time, hoping to raise complaints of caste discrimination they were subjected to on campus. But the campus failed to provide any redressal mechanism.(The Wire)
The 12-member committee, headed by professor Nand Kishore, submitted its interim report last week and has actually that Solanki’s “poor academic performance” and “aloofness” could have led him taking his own life, controversially concluding that there was no evidence of caste discrimination. It now appears clear that the committee chose to overlook crucial depositions in which individuals and student organisations tried hard to bring the committee’s attention to caste-based discrimination, a sense of alienation among students from marginalised communities and the toxic state of affairs that exists in the Mumbai campus.
The report of the Committee may be read here.
CJP’s review of ant-discriminatory statutory guidelines
The obduracy of Indian institutes of higher learning to put into practice thorough statutory guidelines that need to be implemented on campus have been analysed and flagged in the organisation’s ongoing campaign against discrimination to the most marginalized.
In this legal and community resource, CJP has flagged the All-India Survey of Higher Education in 2019-2020, that reveals that students from among the Scheduled Castes (SCs) constitute only 14.7% and those from Scheduled Tribes (STs) 5.6% of all enrolments in higher education. The gross enrolment ratio in higher education  for SC students is 23.4% and that for ST students is 18.0%; where the national average in India is 27.1%. This resource also demonstrated how educational institutions, especially institutions of higher learning, have been consistently identified as sites of caste-based discrimination and violence
History of Caste Discrimination in Higher Institutions: 2007 Thorat Committee Report
In 2007, the then prime-minister Manmohan Singh had set up the Thorat Committee following grave and widespread allegations of differential treatment and discrimination against students belonging to Dalit and Adivasi communities. This decision had come after the Dalit and Adivasi students complained of direct and subtle forms of discrimination that were painstakingly documented by the Committee.
The committee was headed by professor SK Thorat (chairperson), and consisted of Dr. K.M. Shyamprasadand Dr. R.K. Srivastava as members. It was set up with the objective of “enquiring into allegations of differential treatment of SC/ST students in the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMMS).”
In the 77 pages report, it was revealed that 76% of the students were asked about their caste directly or indirectly during evaluations, while 84% of the students claimed that their grades were affected owing to their caste. The report had further provided that students belonging to the marginalised communities were forced to live in isolation in hostel rooms, faced discrimination in the mess (where students ate their food), faced abuse and violence by dominant castes and external examiners that were invited for the viva (oral interviews) of SC/ST students. The report had also provided that SC/ST students experienced discrimination in various forms, from avoidance, contempt, non- cooperation, and discouragement and differential treatment by teachers towards these students.
A deeper analysis of the report can be read here.
Sixteen years have since this report was passed but the situation is only gotten worse. In 2019, while speaking the New India Express, Professor Sukhdeo Thorat had said that “Nearly 25-30 students in top educational institutes have died in the last decade or so but the subsequent governments have failed to take any concrete policy decision to end caste discrimination in educational institutes.”
While the University Grants Commission (UGC) has attempted to implement a slew of members to tackle, up front this malaise, our analysis shows that –with the refusal of such institutions to even acknowledge that such discrimination exists, these measures remain, tragically on paper.
Image Courtesy: thewire.in
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