Caste Discrimination in IIT Delhi: A Report

[ From magazine Insight Young Voices (Feb-Mar, 2009) issue]

byAnoop Kumar

The dismal representation of SC/ST students in IITs demands some serious questioning from all who believe in equal opportunities and social justice. Even after 40 years of their existence, most of the IITs have also singularly failed to recruit faculties from these communities.

On the top of it, there are various instances that indicate towards the prevalence of caste-based harassment of Dalit students.

Recently IIT Delhi was in news due to the termination of 12 Dalit students together with allegations of prevalance of caste-based discrimination. In the wake of this incident, the author here has tried to map the experiences of Dalit students within IIT Delhi structure.

On May 2008, 12 Dalit students (11SC & 1ST) were terminated by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, citing their ‘low academic performance’. Eleven of these students were from the first two years of their undergraduate courses.

After receiving the termination letter, some of these students filed a petition in the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes (NCSC), alleging caste-based harassment in IIT Delhi and demanded annulment of their terminations.

According to the students, many IIT Delhi faculty members harbour deep prejudices against students admitted through reservations and they receive very poor grading despite performing well in the exams. The NCSC immediately summoned the Director of IIT Delhi, and asked him to investigate into these allegations and also to review the terminations.

Later, in July first week, the IIT administration submitted a one-page report to the NCSC stating that, it has decided to revoke the expulsion of 2 Dalit students by giving some relaxations in their grade requirements.

It also informed the NCSC, about the IIT review committee, constituted in response to the summon issued by the NCSC, to inquire about the prevalence of caste based discrimination.

The report further stated that ‘no case of caste discrimination was brought out by the students in their meeting with the Review Committee’.

The last paragraph of the report reiterated that, “IIT Delhi is very sensitive to the special needs of SC/ST students and faculty members spare no efforts in helping them, and indeed all weak students, to come up to our higher academic standards”.

However, the Dalit students countered this report by claiming that the members of IIT review committee did not entertain issue of caste discrimination at all. The members only inquired about their academic performances and refused to take up questions related to the caste discrimination.

Later, the Dalit students took out two rallies, demanding the re-admission of remaining 10 Dalit students and also sent their representations to the HRD ministry.

As a last resort, some of these students also filed a case against IIT Delhi in Supreme Court. In the first week of this year, after six months of their continuous struggle against one of the country’s most powerful institutions, finally there was some good news.

The Supreme Court agreed to the demands of students and passed an interim order for readmission of the six Dalit students and one more Dalit students was readmitted by IIT administration itself in the same week. As for now, nine Dalit students have been readmitted in IIT Delhi.

IITs and SC/ST Students

Every year, all the seven IITs jointly conduct an entrance exam, considered to be one of the toughest, to select candidates from all over the country and offer around 5500 seats for its various undergraduate (B. Tech and Integrated M. Tech) courses.

IITs are autonomous institutions under Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) and are completely funded by the Government of India. The IITs provide 22.5 % reservation for SC/ST students as per the constitutional norms.

However, many reports suggest that, close to half of the total seats reserved for SCs and STs remain vacant and that of those admitted, a significant proportion, perhaps up to 25 %, is obliged to drop out. (The IIT Story: Issues and Concerns’, Frontline, Vol. 20-Issue 03, Feb 01-14, 2003).

Now, if we do some simple calculations, we can very easily conclude that the SC/ST community, on average, looses about 773 undergraduate seats out of the total 1237 seats reserved for them every year, due to both, unfilled seats at the time of admission and subsequent drop outs. This amounts to a massive loss of 62 %, every year, of the total allotted seats for the SC/ST students.

Except IIT Guwahati (founded in 1994) and IIT Roorkee (included as IIT in 2001), all the other 5 IITs are at least 45 years old.

I would like my readers to just imagine the magnitude of the loss suffered by the SC/ ST community in all these years and also to critically analyze the impact of such losses for the communities, that has been suffering the inhuman exclusion in every sphere of their life and whose only life line has been the provision of reservations in education and in government jobs.

Therefore it becomes utmost important for us to ponder over why even today, about half of the seats for SC/ST students remain unfilled in the IITs at the entrance level and the reasons for such a high dropout rate.

To many, the obvious answers, for both the phenomenon, will be that the SC/ST students are ‘weak in studies’. It means that, on an average, the SC/ ST student cannot compete with general category students, both in the entrance exam as well as during his/her stay at IIT.

Before probing into the ‘weakness’ of SC/ST students, I would like to point out that:-

  • The cut-off marks at IIT entrance exam as well as passing marks in particular subjects in IITs are not fixed.
  • The cut-off marks for SC/ST students in IIT entrance exams, in any year, are normally 10 % less than the general category cut-off in that year.
  • The IITs follow relative grading in course work. There is no fixed minimum passing marks. Even if any IIT student has scored 60 % in any particular subject, there are chances that he/she might be declared failed, if the average score of other students is slightly higher. Or he/she might not be failed, as there are no fixed passing marks. To pass students, who have scored less than the average, becomes the prerogative of individual faculty members.

I came to know about the termination of 12 Dalit students from IIT Delhi in the second week of June. While interacting with these students and listening to their stories, I became aware of how the IIT administration deals with the Dalit students.

To have a better understanding, I decided to interact with more Dalit students from IIT Delhi as well as some of its ex-students.

While interacting with IIT Delhi’s terminated Dalit students, three questions came to my mind -

  • Were these students ‘weak’ in studies and were not able to cope up with the rigorous studies in IIT Delhi?
  • Or/ and did they just didn’t apply themselves and study hard?
  • Or were there other factors involved that might be beyond these students?

The truth that emerges out is shocking, to say the least. Dalit students who are admitted in IITs are marked as ‘weak’ and ‘non-meritorious’ from the very beginning and their stay in IITs are made as painful as possible. Such behaviour has been institutionalized and has been perfected into a fine art by many faculty members.

According to the IIT administration, all SC/ST students entering into the IITs are ‘weak’, as they come through reservations (just refer again to the last paragraph of IIT review committee report, mentioned at the beginning of the present article that correctly reflects the IIT administration’s assumption towards the SC/ST students).

Therefore many IIT faculties take it as their pristine duty, both in the class and outside, to constantly remind the students of the fact that ‘all general category students are meritorious whereas SC/ST students don’t deserve to be in IIT’.

However, the truth is that most of the Dalit students, entering into the IITs, are often toppers of their respective schools. They are, mostly, second generation literate and hail from lower-middle class, rural or semi urban backgrounds with non-English medium schooling.

In comparison, the general category students are invariably from upper-middle class, urban, upper-caste, and from English medium schools. Not only are there marked differences in the backgrounds of the students from these two categories but also their routes to IITs differ immensely.

And I would like to argue that this is where the ‘merit’ is constructed.

Construction of ‘Merit’ via coaching centres

A recent study conducted by ASSOCHAM reveals that private coaching centres, that train students to crack the entrance exams for the admission in IITs and other prestigious engineering colleges, mint Rs.100 billion ($2.30 billion) a year – an amount that can fund 30 to 40 new IITs (IIT coaching classes, a Rs 10K crore Industry? The Times of India, 3rd July 2008).

In fact, the city of Kota in Rajasthan, which boasts of the best coaching centres in India, is flocked by aspiring IIT candidates from all over the country. One particular coaching centre in Kota, in fact, claims publicly, through its advertisement, that 1 out of every 4 IITians is their ‘product’.

As we all know, these coaching centres are not cheap at all. On an average, a student spends more than Rs. 1 lakh for 8 month coaching during his/her preparation for IIT entrance exam.

As a response to the impact of the coaching industry and the undue advantage that it gives to their students, IIT has recently made changes in their admission procedure by fixing the number of attempts for IIT aspirants and has done some modification in the examination pattern as well.

However, these cosmetic changes have not been able to restrict the number of students flocking to the coaching centres.

Now, the question is, who are those students who flock to these coaching centres to crack the tough IIT entrance exams? The answer is not that difficult if one interacts with the IIT students.

The majority of the Dalit students have cleared the IIT JEE exam, through self-study or by taking private tuitions, as they were not in the position to pay huge fees for the coaching centres. In comparison, it is very rare to find a general category student, who had not studied in one or the other big coaching centres.

Due to which, the general category students are much better equipped for IIT JEE exams and this reflects in the merit list of the general category, which has higher cut-off marks than SC/ST list. Still, many SC/ST candidates are able to score higher and reach to the general category list.

However, the lower cut-off marks for SC/ST students, becomes the first indicator towards the assumption of ‘SC/ST students are weak’.

There is not even a single voice in our civil society or in the media, which opposes the coaching centres and the undue advantage they provide to the rich, urban, upper-caste students in comparison with those who, without money, are left to do self- preparation.

The IIT JEE exam is one of the toughest exams. Why?

‘To attract the best minds in India’ is the stock reply.

If this is so, then what are these coaching centres, with Rs.100 billion annual turnovers, doing?

They are, in fact, manufacturing ‘best minds’ from those who have deep pockets in this country and are aiding in the unequal competition between students from different backgrounds.

However, nobody wants to acknowledge this fact, as these coaching centres are boon for ‘upper’ caste families, for they help them in their claim of being ‘meritorious’.

Manufacturing ‘weak’ students as English language becomes another marker of ‘Merit’

Majority of the Dalit students, entering into the IITs, are from the non-English medium schools, whereas the medium of instruction in IITs is English. Once admitted, these students find it very difficult to follow the classes taught in English, which results in their low performance in initial years, as compared to other students.

Since all the SC/ST students, on being admitted in IITs, are already marked as ‘weak’, the initial low performance of non-English medium Dalit students feeds into this stereotyping and they easily become the poster boys of ‘quota students’ in the highly prejudiced IIT campus.

A few Dalit students, who are from relatively better backgrounds (read English medium) are able to escape such ignominy, getting an opportunity to pass off as a general category student, leaving behind these hapless students to suffer the punishment of being ‘quota’ students.

Instead of acknowledging the difference in background and the problem of medium of instruction, the IIT faculty members, due to their castiest prejudices, quickly brand these students as ‘undeserving’, ‘not up to the mark’ and ‘forced into the IITs through reservation’.

Rather than supporting students to cope up with English and gradually come at par with the other students, they are hostile or at best indifferent to their plight.

On the pretext of their low performance in IIT, many faculty members humiliate and demoralize these Dalit students, by making remarks on their academic capabilities implying, “since you don’t deserve to be here, now you suffer”.

It is their way of retaliating to the reservation provisions, and since they cannot stop these students from entering into the IITs, they try to punish these students for that ‘crime’.

To counter reservation provisions, there is a strong urge to prove that Dalit students are ‘weak’, and what better way to do it than targeting those who are already little handicapped in the IIT environment!

The rigorous IIT schedule from the day one does not make things easier for these Dalit students either. By the time they are in a position to cope up with the IIT culture and rigours, they are already under heavy backlog of many courses and find themselves on the verge of being terminated, due to their ‘low academic performances’.

Many of these students, drop out, by the end of their 1st or 2nd year, and those who some how pass, barely manage to get their degrees in stipulated 4 years. They take another 1-2 years to get their B. Tech degree, their stay being further marked by demoralization, stigma and huge alienation.

More than 90 % of the children in India, those who are fortunate enough to pass 10th std., do their schooling in Hindi or other regional languages as their medium of instruction. Yet IITs, that claim to be the institutes of ‘national’ importance and teach in English, have failed to develop a proper mechanism to counter the problems faced by these students, once admitted in IITs.

Is it due to the incompetence of the IITs or they are simply not bothered, as they might believe that the ‘best minds fit for IITs’ can only be found in urban, English-educated, ‘upper’ caste students?

I believe both reasons to be true besides it gives them a big stick to beat the reserve category students with.

Engineering colleges in India have copied their entire syllabi from the knowledge produced in the west. The faculty members teach from the western texts and techniques, which they had learnt from there in the 1960- 70s.

The academic research and development of syllabi is in such a sorry state in this country, that there is hardly any innovation in teaching, both in texts and techniques. Many IIT professors teach in the class, through their old notes (known as kharra in Hindi slang), promoting only rote learning and discouraging any discussions in the class.

Apart from their incompetence, IIT faculty members are also not interested in developing any mechanism to resolve the question of language, as it does not affect their caste and class interest.

The knowledge of English gives them the sense of superiority vis-a -vis the ‘lower’ caste, which they don’t want to lose at any cost. Like Sanskrit earlier, now English has become the marker of their ‘merit’ and ‘knowledge’.

If IITs remained true to their real objectives of promoting research and development in sciences and technology for the country, it could never have afforded to create an environment that promotes rote learning and found the ‘best brains’ in a very small segment of the country, branding others as ‘merit-less’ and ‘incompetent.

Institutional Mechanisms Available to Dalit Students at IIT Delhi

If the Dalit students admitted in IITs, through Joint Entrance Exam (JEE), are so ‘weak’ that it results in such a high dropout rate, has the IIT Delhi administration devised any mechanism to support these students to come at par with others? Let us examine.

English Remedial Classes

In the first semester, IIT Delhi offers one course in English language for students coming from non-English medium schools. It is of 3 credits and 10+2 level English grammar is taught in this course.

It usually has 1-2 classes per week, totaling about 18- 20 classes in that semester. IIT Delhi, with all its innocence, expects these students to become proficient in English, and come at par with other students having at least 10-14 years of English medium schooling, by attending those 18-20 classes, spread in less than 6 months.

The interviews with students revealed the non-seriousness of such ambitious efforts. Students consider this course as absolutely ineffective, as the teacher concentrates only on the English grammar, which anyways they have studied in the schools.

The students allege, that, even this is not taught seriously. The students just try to secure passing marks in this course so as to get the credits.

According to the students, major problems that engulf the first year undergraduate non-English medium students are their inability to comprehend the textbooks in English, unfamiliarity with the science-terms in English, together with the accent of the faculty members.

From the point of view of the students, it is clear that, what is important for them, here, is the ‘language’ of science and not English grammar per se and its remedy is not, just one course of XII std English grammar.

The remedy lies in individual faculty members identifying students and supporting them, by giving some extra time and promoting an atmosphere, where the students feel confident to interact about their language problems.

But the most important is, not to treat such students as ‘weak’ and victimize them. However, given the level of student faculty interaction in IIT Delhi (it is one sided), insincerity and incompetence of IIT faculty members, asking for this is really a very tall order.

SC/ST Cell

Under UGC guidelines, most of the Indian universities and colleges in the country have a special SC/ST cell to monitor the implementation of reservation as well as to redress the grievances of the SC/ST students.

But IIT Delhi has probably never heard of it or they have given themselves the clean chit of being a caste discrimination-free campus!

Hence, it has no such mechanism and the SC/ST students have no space, where they can share and interact with the administration on their specific problems. Given the tendencies of IIT faculty, to hurl castiest abuses and indulge in discriminatory grading, such mechanisms are absolutely necessary.

Course Adviser

According to the IIT prospectus (page 17), ‘A number of measures exist for helping students belonging to SC and ST categories. A senior faculty member is appointed as adviser to SC/ST students for advising them on academic and non-academic matters’.

However, the truth is that not even a single Dalit student was able to tell the name of the Professor, who was supposed to look after the problems of SC/ST students. The students were aware of this provision but never came across any information or notice regarding it, ever. In the academic complex, there is no trace of any SC/ST students’ advisor office or even a notice board.

Standing Review Committee

This committee consists of some faculty members, including the Dean for Under-Graduate students, and is supposed to identify students with weak performances so as to guide/ support them for their improvement.

However, one would hear horrifying stories of how, in SRC, instead of patiently dealing with the student’s problems, the faculties literally rag them and create an atmosphere where the student feels, in the words of one Dalit student, ‘like a criminal in front of the police officials’.

Getting one’s name in the SRC becomes another marker of being a ‘weak’ student. The list is sent to the faculty members and that information is used by many of them to humiliate the Dalit students, as now it is ‘officially’ proved that these students are ‘undeserving’ and ‘not fit for the IITs’.

Counseling Service

IIT Delhi runs a Student Counseling Service under the aegis of Board for Student Welfare. This was created for, according to its prospectus, ‘assisting students in sorting out their difficulties and dilemmas in an environment where they can talk freely and in confidence about any matter which is troubling them’.

The staff includes psychologists, a psychiatric, and is also drawn from faculty and student volunteers. Many IIT faculties believe this student counseling service to be the panacea for all ills. So, if a student is facing some difficulty in the course, the professor would suggest, visiting the counselor and getting ‘mind checked’.

During the interaction, the Dalit students gave mixed reactions on the efficacy of the counseling services. Many of them were of the opinion, that, they visited the counselor for the problems that were purely academic in nature and hoped that these were conveyed to the concerned faculty members.

However, all the students were unanimous in its ineffectiveness in dealing with the caste problem. More over, the counselor also treated them as ‘weak’ students, as one incident narrated by an ex-student would reveal.

In 2002, when this student went to the counselor with his problems, he was categorically told, that, he was having such problems due to his reserved category background and would never able to cope up with the IIT atmosphere!

SC/ST faculty

Since IITs are ‘institutes of national importance’ (as defined by the Indian Parliament), they have been exempted from the provisions of SC/ST reservations in faculty recruitments. None of the IIT Delhi Dalit students were able to name even a single faculty member from these two communities, which together constitutes one fourth of the Indian population.

However, later, we were able to identify one SC professor, who had retired 6 years back. It is indeed shocking that, in more than 45 years of its existence, the IIT Delhi has failed to recruit more than one faculty member from the marginalized background. This itself is a testimony of the type of exclusion practiced by the IITs.

Orientation Programs

It is a common practice in most of world renowned educational institutions to organize specially designed orientation programs for students coming from non-mainstream background (like ethnic or racial minorities) to ease the transition of such students from schools to college/university.

This is done in order to acclimatize these students with the campus environment and to deal with the problems that might occur due to their ‘lack of cultural capital’. Since early 60s, most US universities and top institutions run special orientation programs for both blacks and women.

Some of these efforts are intense and extensive, lasting up to six weeks. The goal of all of these programmes is to ease these students’ transition to college life, to familiarize the student with his or her new surroundings, and to introduce them to other students who will have similar adjustment experiences.

However, it is to be noted that these programs are not organized to make these students to ‘come at par’ with others. Their background is no indicator of their ‘weakness’ but might point towards little lack of exposure.

Coming from a different background, Dalit students could benefit immensely from such programs. It would help Dalit students to understand the IIT structure and provide them the confidence in IIT administration.

There are hundreds of studies available that had proven the efficacy of such programmes for students from marginalized communities. However, there is no such program in IIT Delhi for SC/ST students at any point of their stay, not even at the time of their admission.

Support Systems

The MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), USA, on which IITs are said to have been modeled, have plethora of recognized student bodies for different minorities (for example, a very strong Black Students. Union) and run various programmes that provide the much needed space for these students to interact with each other, to articulate their problems and to negotiate with the MIT administration.

However, IITs believe that there are only two types of students ‘general’ category and ‘weak’ and thus ‘undeserving’ students.

Hence, they copied everything from MIT but forgot to replicate the democratic institutional spaces provided by MIT to the students from different backgrounds.

IIT Delhi does not allow the formation of any students’ groups in the campus, other than those that are run by the administration itself for ‘extra-curricular’ activities. In the past, some of the Dalit students tried to organize themselves informally, but were unsuccessful.

Studies on the problems faced by SC/ ST students

It is interesting to note that, despite the heavy dropout rate of 25 % for the Dalit students, IITs have never bothered to carry out even a single systematic study of the problems faced by the Dalit students. One look at the website of MIT will tell you, about the number of studies, by the institute, on the problems faced by the women and the African-Americans students and the measures taken by them to increase their representation, especially in sciences.

Experiences of Dalit Students in IIT Delhi

I interviewed about 20 Dalit students from IIT Delhi to document their campus experiences and to understand the nature and extant of prevalence of caste discrimination in the campus. Interacting with them had been a great learning experience for me as I had to spent lot of time with each of them to break the ice.

Initially, most of these Dalit students stated their ignorance about prevalence of caste discrimination in the campus and were reluctant to talk on caste, but after some rapport building between us, they were very forthcoming about their experiences.

I have compiled some of their experiences below without revealing their identity. There are many narratives, which I could not include as the nature of the incidents might clearly betray the student’s identity, even if I do not reveal their names. Needless to say, these incidents were much more overt in nature.

Student No. 1 (Final Year B. Tech)

Professors in IITs are undoubtedly better than the rest in the country, but there are some who need to be corrected, who believe that all SC/ ST students are weak in studies and all weak students have to be SC/ STs.

In my first semester, the Physics professor was taking my viva and I was not able to answer, on which she became very annoyed and asked me, “Are you from quota?” I said, “No.” Then she explained, “Quota means SC/ST.” I again answered, “No.” She was asking the same question to the general category students, if they were not able to answer in the viva.

Throughout her classes, I had the fear that she would do something wrong in my grading. So, I was quite nervous and never went to her for any help or to clarify my doubts.

Student No. 2 (IInd Year, B. Tech)

I was doing a course in Biotech department. Due to my illness, I didn’t appear for one of the exams in that course. There is a rule that if the student has not appeared due to medical reason, he/she is allowed to sit for the re-exam, after submitting the medical certificate.

When I asked for my re-examination, the professor immediately replied, ‘you come through reservations in IIT and then don’t even sit for exams’.

I could not say anything because here students don’t speak anything before the professors as our fate lies ultimately in their hands. They may fail us if they wish. However, I kept on requesting for re-examination. Later, he agreed but I was failed in that exam.

Student No. 3 (IInd Year, B. Tech)

Last year, I was attending a course and by then, I was already in the Students Review Committee list. When one of my professors got the list, she told me, “SC/ST students are very poor and if I ask something from you, I don’t think you will be able to answer that”.

When I protested on her statement, she said, “Oh! So you want to fight with me!”

After that she became very hostile to me. Whenever I went for some clarification, she used to get angry and rebuke me for not being able to understand ’simple’ English and always made very discouraging comments like, “Are you always sleeping in the class? Why did you join IIT if you don’t know English?”

However, unlike other students, I persisted in meeting her, as I needed continued support. One day, she got very angry and told me, “I think you are mad. You should get medical check-up.”

Then I realized that it was getting tough to cope up with her.

I called my father and then both of us went and met the professor. She was very rude to both of us and told my father that there was something wrong with me and I must consult a doctor. My father tried to talk to her but in vain. The professor did not budge from her point that I am mad. At the end, I failed in the subject. I paid the price of asserting myself and asking guidance from the professor.

Student No. 4 (IIIrd Year, B. Tech)

Standing Review Committee (SRC) is supposed to monitor the student’s performance and help them to improve. But, in practice, it does nothing. In its meetings, the members are least interested in listening to student’s problems.

Normally, only your past examination marks are asked and then you are grilled / ragged for that therefore not many students willingly attend the meetings.

Before the SRC meeting, we are supposed to fill a form stating our problems. In the meeting, one of the professors sits with all the records, and briefs other faculty members about the concerned student.

In one such meeting, I filled up the form where I mentioned all my problems. When I went inside, one professor showed my records to the two neighboring professors and said in a hushed tone, “SC student”. Then one of the professors said, “Ok, let him go”.

Student No. 5 (IIIrd Year, B. Tech)

Here in IIT, we cannot form any group. One of my Dalit seniors tried to contact IIT administration to organize an orientation programme for SC/ST freshers. Immediately, a letter was sent to his parents stating that, “your son is involved in politics”.

Pravin Togadia and Ashok Singhal can come and speak in the IIT hostel (they came in the tenure of the previous IIT Director) but the students cannot organize Dr. Ambedkar Jayanti in the campus.

Since the last few years, the SC/ST Employees Association is organizing Dr. Ambedkar Jayanti, but when Dalit students tried to organize, they faced stiff resistance from the IIT administration and were categorically asked the rationale for celebrating Dr. Ambedkar’s birthday in IIT campus!

One funny incident that reflects the prejudices and ignorance of IIT faculties happened few years back. On Dr. Ambedkar Jayanti, the SC/ST Employees Association invited IIT Director as the chief guest. When asked to speak, he just said one sentence, “In IIT, there is no caste discrimination” and went back to his seat!

‘I knew I was stigmatized’

Rakesh Bawani did his B. Tech in Chemical Engineering from IIT Delhi, MA in International Relations, M.Phil in Sociology from JNU, New Delhi and currently pursuing his PhD in Anthropology at Brown University, Rhode Island, USA. Here, he narrates his experience of IIT Delhi.

“During my first year, I was attending one Chemistry class in which some students tried to bunk through the back door. However, one of them (with surname Srivastava) got caught. The professor got very angry and started scolding him and asked the names of other students who had run away. There were 5-6 students. One of them had surname ‘Meena’, which is a Tribal surname.

As soon as the professor heard his name, he became angry all the more and started making comments like, ‘I know how they come here’, ‘these SC/ST students don’t deserve to come to IIT’ and ‘they are ruining the IIT atmosphere’. He spoke for more than 15 minutes giving a discourse on ‘how unteachable SC/ST students were’.

I was sitting in the class listening to him. Now when I look back and reflect about my four years of stay in IIT, I can understand how that one particular incident had marked my student life there. How could I trust the IIT professors when they had already passed the judgment on me?

I could never draw courage to reveal my caste identity to my friends in IIT. I knew I was stigmatized. Since I knew English, I tried to pass off as non-Dalit. But that was not a happy solution. I had to hear many derogatory remarks about Dr. Ambedkar, Mayawati and about other Dalit students within my friend circle but I could never reply.

After graduating from IIT in 2003, I worked for six months and then joined Jawaharlal Nehru University for my post-graduation. Here, things were far better. I came in touch with the Dalit students’ group working there and slowly became assertive about my identity.

I started appreciating my background. I belong to khatik caste. My forefathers used to take out the skin of dead animals. My family had migrated to Delhi long back and both my parents have raised me by working in tanneries, skinning dead animals.

Why should I be ashamed of my parents, my identity? Now, I am very much comfortable about my identity and in fact feel proud about my parents.

Brand IIT: The Myth and the Reality

The ‘upper’ caste IITians – both faculties and students – bemoan a lot about the reservation policy for SC/ ST students, claiming that it downgrades the quality of ‘Brand IIT’.

However, the truth is that these IITs, themselves, are products of the largesse of the developed countries. These countries, in the name of ‘aid in development for a Third World Country’, not only, provided them technical and financial support to start with, but are still helping them to upgrade and to remain at par, through liberal scholarships and various other assistance, so that the Indians could run such ‘institutes of excellence’.

IIT Bombay, founded in 1958, was set up by UNESCO and the erstwhile Soviet Union. IIT Madras was established in 1959, with the assistance from the Government of the erstwhile West Germany. IIT Kanpur was also established, in 1959, by the US government and a consortium of nine US universities helped to set up the research laboratories and academic programmes there. Similarly, IIT Delhi was established in 1961, by the benevolence shown by the former colonial masters United Kingdom.

Till now, not even a single IIT has been able to stand on its own in terms of research, cutting edge technology, training, even after guzzling huge amount of money from the Indian exchequer and huge financial aids from various other sources including foreign countries.

A large number of today’s merit mongers (the IIT faculty members) benefited from these foreign scholarships together with an opportunity to study in liberal foreign campuses. It would have been interesting if the citizens of these countries had opposed these opportunities provided to Indians, arguing that such efforts were diluting the ‘quality’ of their campuses and taking away opportunities from their own deserving candidates!

In the Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s academic Ranking of World Universities (2006), IIT Kharagpur was the only engineering college from India listed among the top 500 universities worldwide and that too among the lowest bracket (below 400).

The purpose of this ranking by the Chinese university was, to find out the gap between Chinese universities and world-class universities, particularly in terms of academic or research performances. This ranking is an honest attempt by the Chinese to improve their universities and technical institutes.

In contrast, nobody has ever heard of such an attempt from India. Except one, no other IITs figured in the list of top 500 institutes worldwide.

It is intriguing that the IITs, monopolized by much ‘meritorious’ upper caste community, are not able to compete with foreign institutions, even after years of continued support and assistance from many reputed institutions and at the expense of huge public money, the budgetary allocations for IITs for the year 2005, being a whopping 650 crores!

Many efforts are being made to cleverly create a façade of IITs as great, ‘quality’ institutions, producing ‘brilliant’ researchers, engineers, etc. Why this façade is being created?

It is to hide a very important fact.

The Indian Parliament envisioned that the IIT system would ‘provide scientists and technologists of the highest caliber, who would engage in research, design and development, to help building the nation towards self-reliance in her technological needs’.

A Central statute, the Indian Institute of Technology Act, 1956, & 1961, declared the IITs to be ‘of national importance’, thus paving the way for huge financial support from the government as well as for the conferring of a higher degree of autonomy.

However, instead of providing scientists and technologists for the country, IITs have turned themselves into institutions for providing lucrative jobs, both in India and abroad, for the kith and kin of urban English speaking upper caste/middle class, and in the process, completely sidelining their basic objectives.

That is why, the ‘quality’ of IITs is being marked in direct proportion to the pay packages offered to the students by the multinationals and not by any technological innovations.

This is the precise reason behind so much hostility against SC/ ST students in these campuses, as their entry into these institutions would shrink the lucrative job opportunities for the ruling class.

Hence, all the chest thumping of ‘merit’ and IIT being the ‘Centre of excellence and quality’ becomes necessary in order to hide the fact that the IITs, rather than preparing students for research and development (the reason for their creation), have completely metamorphosed themselves into institutions that cater only to the interests of the parasitic upper caste/ middle class and the multinationals companies.

If the IITs remained honest towards their basic objective of facilitating the development of the country through research, they would have gladly accepted the entry of students from the communities that have been directly involved in the production processes like Dalits and Tribals, instead of stigmatizing these students as inherently ‘weak’, based on their performance in entrance exams.


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