Pranav Jeevan P
On 6th March, IIT Bombay administration released the interim report on the committee formed to “investigate the tragic incident that happened on February 12, 2023 involving Darshan Solanki.”. This report is the strongest testimony to the atmosphere of casteism that is prevalent in IIT Bombay as it reeks of the casteist attitude of administration in each sentence. The casteism is so intrinsically embedded within the institution that even when they try to create a document in which they are deliberately trying to hide and whitewash it, they fail miserably. The casual casteism is so normalized that they fail in hiding it as they do not even know what it means to be ‘not-casteist’.
When allegations of caste discrimination were made by the family, the first thing the institute did was to create this committee without a single faculty who did research on caste, despite having an entire humanities department where there were more than enough experts who have worked on it for years. What better way to hide caste discrimination in the report than not allowing people who can understand it be part of the committee. Instead, fill the committee with scholars from science and engineering who are literally incompetent in basic sociological understanding.
The kind of alienation Darshan faced from other students, his batchmates and wing mates were already shared by family members on media. It was surprising to see that the committee included the sister’s statement that Darshan faced caste related issues himself and that he was being laughed at by other students for his queries related to computers and subjects. The committee might have thought that since it is already in media and if they willfully remove it, there might be questions on legitimacy of the report. So, they added Darshan’s sister’s testimony, but could not stop themselves from trying to downplay it. Even the testimony of a family member who knows Darshan is not enough for the committee to even accept that he faced caste discrimination. But the testimonies of his wing-mates who might have been some of the culprits, sounded more genuine to the committee. Why did the committee give more weightage to the word of the wing-mates than to the word of his sister? Caste decide which testimonies are given more weightage, and which ones get sidelined.
APPSC, ASC and other students went to depose before the committee to convey the fact that the instances which were shared by Darshan’s sister as caste discrimination is actually valid and it fits the pattern of how everyday casteism and casual caste discrimination and harassment is practiced in campus. Specifically, the students demanded that the committee sit and read the two surveys conducted by the SC/ST Cell in 2022, one survey conducted by student newspaper Insight in 2021, and the minutes of the Open House on Caste in June 2022. In the testimonies given by students, it is clearly mentioned how the lack of knowledge of using computers and mobile apps are used to mark students as coming from reserved categories and used to repeatedly humiliate them. For instance, in a class WhatsApp group, when one student asked how to use an app, it was followed by a torrent of taunts by other students proclaiming that the person is surely a ‘quota’ student. This was followed by anti-reservation jokes and how people who avail reservation are unmeritorious. Interestingly, when it was known later that the person who posted the question was not from reserved categories, things became calm. But humiliation experienced by other students in the group belonging to SC/ST/OBC categoriesremained. In a campus, where JEE ranks, proficiency in speaking English and familiarity with computers are used to mark students as ‘undeserving’ and ‘quota students’, the statement of his sister undoubtedly points to caste harassment. In the report, the committee said that 3 SC/ST students had denied experiencing caste-based discrimination. What about the other students who deposed before the committee who have shared their experiences, what about the 100 testimonies given in surveys and open house. To be fair to the committee, they never took minutes of the depositions by the students, so they can easily ignore or forget what they do not want to add in report and only take the 3 depositions they need to whitewash all responsibility from the institute.
They also used Darshan not contacting SC/ST Cell or Student Wellness Centre as a reason to deny any caste discrimination. The SC/ST cell of IIT Bombay does not even have a mandate describing the powers and responsibilities or a proper grievance redressal mechanism. Everything functions arbitrarily and even when a complaint is registered, they will pressurize the students to withdraw it. Even after obtaining almost 100 testimonies in surveys, no action was taken in a single case. The confidence with which the committee made this point shows that they know how casteist the institution is, that no student will file a complaint or will reach out to them. It is this same SC/ST cell that did not even release a statement refuting the director’s claim that there is no caste discrimination in IIT Bombay.
For the past one year, there have been complaints against the counsellors being casteist and no action was taken by administration to even change them. Only after National Commission for Scheduled Tribes responded to APPSC’s complaint on the casteist nature of counsellors and lack of mental health support for SC/ST students, did the institute agree to hire new counsellors from SC/ST. The institute expects the students who are facing caste discrimination to go to casteist counsellors, that too, when they have data from the mental health survey showing that there are many students who need immediate support. The irony, where the committee confidently expects the student to reach out without the institute installing any sort of support systems and grievance redressal mechanisms.
The committee could not stop itself from making this about academic performance, because that is the guidebook they follow. On 4th March, Aniket Amobhore’s father while addressing a crowd at Azad Maidan said that he can easily tell the contents of the internal committee report. Every word he uttered came true when the report came 2 days later. Just as he had foretold, it put the entire blame on the individual for not being able to handle academic pressure, and declared there is no fault with the institute and there is no caste discrimination.
One of the most popular practices of everyday casteism is to associate poor academic performance to reserved category students and deem them underserving or unsuitable to IITs. The committee pushed it further by not just revealing his grades in exams, but even using his JEE rank to portray that he could not handle the pressure because he came through reservation. Why did they omit the fact that he prepared for JEE without going to any coaching, by studying on his own? becauseit does not help the narrative that they are trying to build that he was not ‘meritorious’, because merit in IIT is just JEE ranks and English proficiency and familiarity with computers, etc. He asked for support, evident from his request for Hindi help sessions, not because he was not intelligent, but because the classes here are designed for a different community of students who comes with certain privilege. The campus shows every day that it has no space for kids coming from the marginalized communities, who might have never used computers before coming here, who might not be as proficient in English. And the committee too, in this report is trying hard to prove that Darshan did not belong here in this campus. It is trying to proclaim to the world that students coming from marginalized communities should not come to this campus. It is openly declaring that no student avails reservation will survive here, the campus will not support them, the campus will kill them, so don’t even dream of coming here.
A Shudra is unfit to receive education. The upper varnas should not impart education or give advice to a Shudra. It is not necessary that the Shudra should know the laws and codes and hence need not be taught.” (Manu IV-78 to 81)
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.