Hell of Hiss! Communal discrimination in premier institutes is at unthinkable levels. Contempt for scheduled caste and scheduled tribe students pervade the elite community. there are growing instances of students being thrown out on an outrageously flimsy ground: �not fit to study in IIT�! TSI's Vikas Kumar tells a truly startling story
�Ah! So you dare to ask why you have failed in Sociology. But do you know that you are going to fail in another paper also?� asked the professor� Going to fail? How does he know? He is only the lecturer in Sociology. So how does he know the student is going to fail in an examination under a different teacher, a result that had not even been declared till then? Something out of Jean Paul Sartre, you would say? No, this is right out of our highest �temple of learning�.
The Institute: Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi
The lecturer: That of Sociology
The Student: Ravindra Kumar, Scheduled Caste� does that ring a bell, the last �hated� ascription of the student�s origin in this birth? Yes, that is the �deep conspiracy� that has allegedly seen some 26 students from various scheduled caste communities being shown the door at IIT Delhi. But then, 32 is this year�s figure� there has been a silent procession of students who came with starry-eyed plans of a brilliant future, only to walk out of the gates if the haloed institute, possibly never to return.
This has been happening in other premier institutes, but unlike the cases in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, which have hogged media attention, the IIT cases were barely reported. It is only the preposterous number this year that has caught the attention of some, though the Nithari and Jessica Lal cases have meant that it stayed out of the electronic media� who cries for �failed� students anyway?
There are many prejudices in the media itself, stemming, it could be, out of the same hatred against members of these communities: �I am sure these students failed, they come from back of the beyond and are not equipped to handle the stress of IITs," some argue. But there is no reason to accept blindfolded the stereotypes of either the glorified IITs or the disreputethat backward caste youths are backward students. Well, there was someone called Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar!
But such is the deeply imbedded prejudice that life for many scheduled caste students are hell. After getting entrance into IIT Delhi, Akhilesh Kumar, an SC student from a distant Bihar village was walking on the clouds. He shuddered at the sights that often came streaming in his dreams, of SC women being beaten in public by higher caste neighbours in his village. Now, seeing the shirt-trouser clad boys his age, he thought this is where civilisation had taken roots. He thought he had left behind that cursed world. He could not be far from wrong.
In these temples of learning, institutes of excellence, the same �beating� confronts these students� only, it is so subtle that it barely meets the eye. In fact, it is in the eyes of the professors, the dismissive attitude of lab instructors, in unspoken gestures that these communal statements are read day in and day out. The final outcome was that one day he was declared �unfit� to study in an IIT.
And the prejudice sticks: they are backward in studies. So, are they? Take Akhilesh Kumar from Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh. High School aggregate: 74.6 per cent � and 88 per cent in maths and science. Intermediate Examination: 65 per cent � and 78 per cent in science. Akhilesh stood 63 in UP Engineering Entrance Examination and 176 among SC students from among all those who took the 2002 Joint Entrance Examination to enter the IITs.
By the year 2004, harassment, slights, unspoken hate in lecturers� eyes, curriculum pressure, all put together saw him contract a constant and severe headache. Sometimes it was so harsh that he missed classes. And yet, he went on taking his tests and passed in most, though he failed in some as well.
Later, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but after treatment, and got rid of his malaise 95 per cent. There is a system in IITs where such students can approach the campus hospital for a certificate for not taking certain examinations on health grounds, but despite doing that, he was not allowed to sit for the re-examinations. One of his key lecturers told him that as it is, SC students enter on quota basis and then start creating trouble, and that Akhilesh was not fit for getting an engineer�s degree. Akhilesh�s case is hanging in a limbo in the IIT Senate, a divided house in which some think he deserves a second try, but others insist this will set up a bad precedence and open the floodgates to others making such demands.
To go back to Ravindra�s case, he had scored well in the Minors, which are intermediate examinations. In the IIT�s semester system, there are held two Minor tests and then the Major. The question papers for the Minors are set directly by the concerned lecturers in the subjects.
�In the pre-Major total display, I was given 36 per cent in sociology, and had passed. In the Major, I answered all the questions successfully, but was just given 5 marks!" he told TSI. �I was still in the �pass� category, as my total was 41 per cent. But then they did something nasty. In �Projects�, I had scored 10 out of 10, but later, they reduced my marks to eight and failed me,� he added. No wonder there is a simmering volcano of anger against Dean Prof SR Kale amongst the students who have been ousted using foul means.
It is not as if all the SC students are perfect. They come from a certain background where entering the campus creates a culture shock. Free mixing of boys and girls, drugs, sexual freedom, in fact, the dresses of girl students often become the strongest cultural stress factors. These, added to their lack of street-smartness in dealing with ragging, becomes distressing. And all around them they hear a poisonous communal hiss: Shadda! In hostels, these students are purposefully isolated, and for addressal, other students use the derogatory word Shadda. There is an office of an �Advisor� to help just such SC students in IIT, but the Delhi campus has seen a rusted lock on its office door for the past three years.
And put together, these set them back by some distance from the outset. The issue is that the IITs not only neglect social responsibility on counselling such students, the administration takes advantage of this to discriminate against such students, rather than help them overcome their social trauma and get along with their studies.
For the namesake, there is something called the Students� Review Council, which is supposed to monitor the progress of students. But God forbid, if the name of a student makes it to the SRC: he or she is automatically counted as an SC, even though he may not be so. Says one student on condition of anonymity: �This is humiliating. Even in classes if a general, non-SC student fails to answer a simple question, the lecturer openly asks, �Are you scheduled caste or something?�
Dean SR Kale, however, denies all such allegations. He told TSI, �Every year, we review the progress made by each student. If some are found to be weak, we give them special help. If they flounder despite that, we have no option but to dismiss them. We take great care in all this, and till date, none of the parents of expelled students have alleged communal discrimination.� But the students give this a lie. Says Anup Kumar, editor, Dalit Insight magazine: �These prestigious institutions are totally set against Dalits. Once a student is identified as a Dalit, she or he has had it.�
In fact, IIT Chennai is openly called a Brahmin Bastion, and caste discrimination allegations have been cast on it for a long time now. Globally acclaimed IIT Chennai mathematician Vasanta Kandaswami, PhD, told TSI: �IIT Chennai is 98 per cent packed with Brahmins. Dalit students are openly told in classrooms that they are unfit to study here.� She says PhD applicants from scheduled caste students are not asked questions related to their dissertation, but instead, asked where they come from and why do they want to get a PhD degree at all?
Kandaswami had applied for a grant for an exciting mathematics project on the basic principles of satellite communication and coding systems, and asked for a research grant of Rs 777,000. The IIT administration kept the project in the backburner for months on end and finally cleared a grant of Rs 100,000 only. Kandaswami�s second proposal on a project on expanding coding system was said to be of the level of NASA researches, but it has been shelved too.
Merit is of no merit in IIT Chennai, in all aspects, and that has been a tradition, allege victims. In 1995, under the directorship of NV Swami, PhD, applications were invited for the posts of 80 faculty members. The entire procedure was completed in three months, and needless to say, the recruits were all from the upper castes. As it is with traditions, they continue. When R Natarajan was the director, in 1998, 98 professors were recruited, all from upper castes, and not a single one of them had any experience in post-graduate project or PhD guidance, sources say.
Professor Mutthuvirappan, working in the Mechanical Department of IIT Chennai has filed a writ petition on the issue in Madras High Court, which is still being heard. Similarly, there have been allegations of communal discrimination over the recruitment of associate professor post in the mathematics department. Meanwhile, applications were invited for the positions of assistant and associate professors, interviews conducted almost overnight, selections announced the night of the last interview itself and incumbents took their offices the next day. Requesting not to be named, one OBC professor asked TSI, �What was the need for such a terrible hurry, can you tell me?�
In fact, the origins of this communal hiss lies in IIT Kanpur, as former registrar of the Institute and fabled Hindi litterateur Prof Giriraj Kishore told TSI: �The IITs have an aristocratic mentality because originally, only sons and daughters of top bureaucrats and industrialists got entr�e there. But once the grandson of industrialist Padampat Singhania failed to get entrance, the norms had to be relaxed hugely to get him in, and so in the surge, a lot of Dalit students also got in that year. But the high caste students would not even speak with them and would call them �Jangiya Party� (Undergarments Party)." Pausing to take a deep breath, Prof Kishore continues: �The attitude of the Senate is the same. And faculty members also tend to think that the SC-ST students are arrogating upon themselves �caste equality� (how dare they!)."
Arguably, there could be cases where the SC students could not cope with IIT�s academic pressure, but clearly, there is contempt that is hissed out under the breaths of fellow students, which makes it easier for a discriminatory administration to get others with the same birth stigma thrown out. For many, therefore, it is the opposite of the fabled couplet on heaven of bliss on this earth. For these students, �If on earth there is a hell of hiss, it is this, it is this, IIT is this!�