Round Table India
You Are Reading
IITs’ Conception of Diversity Ignores Caste
9
Assertion

IITs’ Conception of Diversity Ignores Caste

pranav jeevan p

Pranav Jeevan P

IITs have a severe underrepresentation of women. The Brahminical mindset that women are somehow lower and are incapable of doing mathematics and engineering compared to men is being used as a reason to explain this low representation. Recently, a new scheme was implemented to increase the number of women in IITs by creating extra seats in under-graduate courses called Supernumerary Seats for women at IITs. The main aim of this program is to increase the representation of women in IITs, which is a really good initiative and much needed.

IIT Delhi even created a document to justify these supernumerary seats for women in IITs in which they elaborated on the need for the scheme and the potential positive impacts on inclusion of more women in IITs[1]. They showed data on how less represented women are in STEM fields and IITs in particular. They cited the social and cultural reasons which restrict freedom of women from attending basic education, good coaching classes, distance from home, family pressures etc. They portrayed Supernumerary seats as a way to compensate for these factors specifically disadvantaging girls and acting as barriers for them to enter IITs. These new seats will enable more girls to get a preferred branch and/or campus, and hence be able to take up an IIT seat.

They even went on to provide data from IIT Delhi which shows that the much-overhyped JEE (Advanced) exam underestimates the capability of girls and that if a girl and a boy have similar JEE ranks, the girl on average does significantly better after joining IIT. So even girls with lower JEE ranks, once at IIT, are very likely to perform at least as well as male classmates, if not better. They destroyed the idea of merit linked to the JEE ranks with data to show that a mere rank in the exam is not the marker for intelligence and capability of a candidate.

They even wrote:

IITs mandated to use technology to solve social problems and improve people’s lives.

50% of society is women. To understand and address society’s problems, we need proper

representation from every section; each brings its specific experiences and perspectives.

Diversity of views and ideas strengthens us academically and intellectually.”[1]

They proclaimed that better gender balance is beneficial to non-female students by fostering more frequent and healthier cross-gender interaction. They also explained the need for more female role models in science and engineering for young girls to look up to.

“Idea of ‘merit’ can’t be captured by one exam. Many social factors affect exam outcomes.

And our goal isn’t just to admit students good at a particular kind of exam problem.

Equally important to have diversity of ideas, and healthy and welcoming environment

where students from all backgrounds flourish. So, one exam can’t be sacrosanct. Need to

consider multiple factors, as universities globally do. This is a step in that direction.” [1]

Now, the biggest contradiction is that these are the exact points we raise for inclusion of marginalized castes in IITs and implementation of reservation in student admissions and faculty recruitment[2]. When people from Dalit Bahujan Adivasi communities who are severely underrepresented in IITs raise the issue of representation and inclusion into these academic spaces, suddenly the exam ranks become sacrosanct and dilution of merit becomes blasphemous. Why is it that IITs suddenly understood the need for gender diversity but cannot translate that same logic for diversity and inclusion of castes? What is even more hilarious is that it is the director of the same IIT Delhi who chaired a committee in 2020 which recommended the exemption of reservation norms in IIT faculty recruitment[3]. Apparently, diversity is only applicable when it is an issue of gender and social factors that restrict other castes who constitutes more than 80% of the population is not an issue worth considering for these meritorious savarnas.

The raising of questions of inclusion from the international institutions and implementation of affirmative action policies for inclusion of people from different gender/race/linguistic backgrounds in world-renowned educational institutions might have forced them to create these seats for women. If the IITs fail to take a progressive stance in the changing times, they fear losing their standing in international circles. Also, there are women from their own castes who can gain advantage from these new seats. So, it is essential to remove the ‘merit’ debate from these seats. Since caste is not a global issue that can cause IITs to lose their reputation for not enough inclusion of the marginalized, the Brahminical monopoly in IITs will never be questioned by the international institutions.

This differential treatment of gender and caste is very visible in IITs. Most IITs do not have an SC/ST students’ cell for taking care of the needs of SC/ST students and addressing their concerns. Even in IITs which have some sort of functioning SC/ST cell, they are not provided with any space (rooms) for functioning while gender cell and other mental health initiatives in IITs are given space and resources. Even the mental health initiatives are forbidden from addressing issues arising from caste by the administration. Only identity issues and discrimination arising from gender and sexual orientation are addressed by these student support systems.

The representation of SC/ST/OBC women are the lowest in IITs. If we want to ensure more representation of DBA members in spaces like IITs, we have to raise the issue of lack of representation not just within India, but in international institutions too. The CISCO Caste harassment case[4] in California where the perpetrator is an alumnus of IIT Bombay has opened up floodgates of caste discrimination stories that is prevalent in Silicon Valley, which is filled by IIT alumni. More conversations on the issue of caste and recognition of caste discrimination by many US universities[5] have led to some pressure on IITs to seem more inclusive. Such actions from an international stage needs to be stepped up for more inclusion of DBA in IITs.

~

References

[1] I. Delhi. [Online]. Available: https://iges.iitd.ac.in/jeew/supernumerary-seats-women.pdf.
[2] J. Deeksha, “Not a single ST student was admitted in 11 depts at IIT Bombay the last five years, RTI reveals,” Indian Express, [Online]. Available: https://www.edexlive.com/news/2020/dec/08/not-a-single-st-student-was-admitted-in-11-depts-at-iit-bombay-the-last-five-years-rti-reveals-16465.html.
[3] “IITs Should Be Exempt from Reservation in Faculty Appointments, Centre’s Panel Suggests,” Wire, [Online]. Available: https://thewire.in/education/iit-exempt-reservation-faculty-appointments-centre-panel.
[4] P. Dave, “California accuses Cisco of job discrimination based on Indian employee’s caste,” Reuters, [Online]. Available: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cisco-lawsuit-idUSKBN2423YE.
[5] S. Baruah, “Explained: Caste on US campuses,” [Online]. Available: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-caste-on-us-campuses-7761539/.

~~~

Pranav Jeevan P is currently a PhD candidate in Artificial Intelligence at IIT Bombay. He has earlier studied quantum computing in IIT Madras and Robotics at IIT Kanpur.