The recent suicide of a student from the SC/ST community at IIT Delhi has sparked yet another discussion on caste discrimination in India’s premier educational institutes, and the lax attitude of the administration towards such issues.
On Friday, 1st September, Kishangarh Police Station received a call at around 6 pm and rushed to the spot, where they found that “the door was closed from inside and had to be broken open by the Fire Department,” according to DCP South West Delhi Manoj C.
The student was identified as Anil Kumar, 21, from the Mathematics and Computing Department. Anil was given an extension of six months to stay at the college’s Vindhyachal Hostel so that he could clear his pending subjects, and was supposed to vacate his accommodation in June 2023.
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By all accounts, Anil was a diligent student, who got All India Rank 16 in the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) in 2019, and yet that does not seem to be enough for the casteist Savarna crowd.
According to a survey of students at IIT-Bombay, which was published on March 11 by The Hindu, Savarna students admitted that they frequently inquire about JEE scores and last names to determine whether a student belongs to a reserved category. They even acknowledged using casteist slurs and memes.
Part of the problem remains that this is not the first incident of this kind. In fact, the student body was incensed at the suicide of Ayush Ashna, a fourth-year Dalit student of the Mathematics and Computing department, the same as Anil’s, earlier this year.
In light of the disturbing consecutive deaths, the students of IIT Delhi have issued a statement, “In recognition of the recent on-campus suicides of two Dalit B.Tech. students, both from the same department and batch, Ayush Ashna and Anil Kumar, we must understand that suicide is not a personal failure- it is an institutional failure. We must take immediate steps to ensure such traumatic incidents are prevented and no student loses their life.”
The students have called for the resignation of the head of the mathematics department and sought to know what structural changes had been made following Ayush Ashna’s suicide.
“The Department of Mathematics cannot shirk its responsibilities by labeling students who died as introverted, reserved, withdrawn and that the students did not take the initiative to seek counseling processes as they claimed during Ayush Ashna’s death,” the students stated in their statement.
A campus-wide survey on caste prejudice conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi’s Board of Student Publications (BSP) was abruptly put on hold within hours of its circulation.
The institute’s official Scheduled Caste (SC)/Scheduled Tribe (ST) Cell said that it had not been consulted on the survey, and complaints were made as soon as the survey was disseminated, claiming that its design was “biased, insensitive, and problematic.”
According to the cell, they were never consulted on this issue. The survey and the questions that were intended to be in it were never disclosed to the cell chairperson.
“Not taking the cell or its members into confidence for something like this is showing how social exclusion is operating in the institute,” said the student representative of the institute’s SC/ST Cell, Shainal Verma.
The BSP claimed that “proper channels were not followed,” and thus withdrew the survey. The BSP, which is headed by Chemistry Department Professor Gaurav Goel, is the institution’s officially recognized student publication. The survey in question was meant to be conducted for The Inquirer, one of the BSP’s publications.
The student body seems to be justifiably horrified by the suicide, and the questions raised by them resonate with DBA (Dalit Bahujan Adivasi) students across India.
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“How many more Aniket, Darshan, Ayush and Anil?? Why are IITs becoming graveyards for students from marginalized communities. Both IIT Bombay and IIT Delhi have SC ST cells, yet both fail to implement reservation or protect the students,” read a social media post by IIT Bombay’s APPSC.
Despite the questions asked and statements issued, the truth remains that caste discrimination is alive and ever present in India’s top educational institutes, and our purported meritocracy takes a hit every time an Anil or Ayush is forced to take such a step.
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