Pranav Jeevan P
The story of Ekalavya repeats every day in Indian society, in our academia and professions where Dronacharyas of today use various tools to deny those coming from marginalized sections their rightful opportunities. The recent events, the declaration of results of JNU PhD entrance exams which shed light onto the ways in which Dalit Bahujan Adivasi students were given single digit marks in Viva thereby denying them admission to the institute (#VivaScam), and the publishing of results of faculty recruitment in J B Pant Social Science Institute which declared every applicant from OBC category as unsuitable (#NFSScam) show us the ways in which the casteist professors in our academic institutions exclude DBA students and scholars from attaining higher positions.
The use of viva or interview as a tool to deny selection is an age-old tactic effectively used by savarnas in positions of power. Since the awarding of marks in viva is completely arbitrary and given according to the whims and fancies of the evaluators, they have complete discretion in giving more marks to candidates from similar savarna backgrounds and mannerisms, and can give less marks to candidates from DBA backgrounds which will ultimately cause them to be rejected from the selection process. These people who conduct the interview have the full information of the social background of the candidates and their agenda is clearly to make sure that their caste supremacy in these institutions remain unquestioned and unopposed.
A clear case of this is visible in the UPSC interview marks where candidates from reserved category are consistently awarded less marks even though they might have higher marks in the written examination. They also give higher marks to savarna candidates to ensure that these candidates get higher rank in the final rank list.
It has been consistently observed that most students from reserved categories are rejected in the final interview round for academic admissions. The only reason we have better implementation of reservation in undergraduate courses is due to the fact that these admissions are free from this interview process and these savarna professors do not get an opportunity to deny them their rightful seat.
The whole idea of judging the ability of a candidate from a 3-5 minute interview is ludicrous. It is even more scandalous to award a single digit mark (out of 30 or 100) for that candidate, essentially denying their chance, when you know that the candidate had scored well in the written part. Also, the use of viva is not to merely reject a candidate, if they find the candidate cannot be rejected just using the viva marks, they will still give them less marks to ensure that the candidate does not get admitted in the general category, ensuring that general category is only filled by savarna candidates.
We have been hearing reports of how candidates from marginalized backgrounds are harassed, ridiculed and shamed by the interview panels by intimidation and humiliation. They are deliberately asked questions unrelated to their field of study, sometimes rebuked for their dress or accent and their answers are completely discarded or ignored. Similarly, we hear reports of how the same panels make a jolly and comfortable experience for the savarna candidates who they take as their own, asking them about their family and personal details rather than trying to judge their academic vigor.
This shows their casteist idea of merit where savarnas are born ‘meritorious’, but the DBA candidates have to prove that they are deserving. If a DBA student shows assertiveness in the interview, they see it as a threat and gives them less marks. This demonstrates the widespread unethical bias in conducting vivas. It is this viva which ensures that their numbers in these institutions are always higher than the Bahujans and their supremacy and rule continues unopposed.
The absolute lack of transparency and accountability from the academic institutions regarding their evaluation processes has perpetuated this casteist gate-keeping. The Brahminical patriarchal attitude is also visible in STEM institutes where women are deliberately kept away from positions of research. The entire process of admissions is kept opaque so that no one can question the process and these Dronacharyas can hide behind the curtain of ‘meritocracy’. When they are sometimes forced to follow reservation under political pressure, they often try to select weaker candidates from the categories ignoring the best, to reinforce the idea that people from DBA background are unmeritorious.
When they cannot find weaker candidates, they keep parroting the “not enough candidates applied” argument saying these seats will remain vacant if they keep waiting for DBA candidates. The IITs for instance, never publish the vacancies in PhD admissions, the marks obtained in the written and interviews are never disclosed nor the weightage of viva, even the final list of selected candidates are never made public. It was only through repeated RTIs that the category wise data of PhD admission and faculty recruitment was obtained which showed a clear bias against candidates from reserved categories. The RTIs filed by APPSC IIT Bombay, APSC IIT Madras and Chinta Bar IIT Madras has found that the number of applicants from DBA categories far outnumbered the number of seats in PhD admissions and faculty recruitment in IITs for years (The data is available on the website https://casteoncampus.wordpress.com/).
Even after this data is available on the public domain, the directors of various IITs had the audacity to claim that positions will remain vacant if reservation is implemented properly due to lack of applicants. It is not due to lack of suitable applicants that the positions are vacant, but the casteist Brahminical attitude of these professors who will neither let students from DBA backgrounds in their classes nor will they let DBA scholars from becoming their equals as fellow instructors. IITs also convert these reserved vacant posts to unreserved category so that they can fill it up with their savarna peers, which further incentivizes them to not select DBA candidates and let it remain vacant.
The struggle of DBA students and faculties after securing entry into these Brahminical bubbles is far from over. We can see how they are tortured and pushed to drop out or end their lives due to the discrimination they have to undergo on a day-to-day basis from the cases of Payal Tadvi, Rohit Vemula and recently, the decade long struggle of Deepa Mohanan.We also saw how DBA faculty are discriminated and forced out of campuses in cases of Vipin Veetil in IIT Madrasand Ritu Singh in DU among others.
Thousands of Dalit,Bahujan and Adivasi students are forced to end their education and careers due to the rampant Brahmanism in these institutes.
The only way to overcome this issue is to agitate for elimination of viva as an evaluation mechanism or ensuring adequate representation of reserved category faculty in the panels. Viva marks cannot be arbitrary and needs to be broken down into marks allotted separately for each attribute that is checked.
The option to record the viva for any future contestations or unfairness needs to be explored. The whole issue can only be solved if the hegemony of savarnas in these academic spaces is destroyed. The only way to democratize the admission and recruitment process is through increasing the representation of Dalit Bahujan Adivasis in positions of power in these academic institutions. Also, the power and impunity hoarded by these Brahminical Dronacharyas needs to be dismantled and students should have more participation in the functioning and decision making in these institutes.
We can find hope in the recent victories of anti-caste voices in bringing justice to Deepa Mohanan, forcing the government to direct IITs for mission mode recruitment of reserved posts, and even the G B Pant Social Science Institute to ensure recruitment of OBCs. Brahminism and patriarchy are antithetical to the idea of democracy and unless we unroot these hierarchies from our academic institutions, we can never have safe spaces of learning for our Dalit Bahujan Adivasi brethren.
 L. Yadav, “NFS स्कैम : बद्रीनारायणतिवारीके GB पंतसंस्थानमें OBC पदोंपर NFS हीनहीं, शॉर्टलिस्टसूचीभीफ्रॉडहैऔरफाइनलसेलेक्शनभी,” 8 December 2021. [Online]. Available: https://theshudra.com/india/understand-nfs-scam-in-g-b-pant-institute-of-social-science-badrinarayan-tiwari/.
 A. Kumar, “Your UPSC interview score also depends on your category. See this correlation,” The Print, 2 October 2021. [Online]. Available: https://theprint.in/opinion/your-upsc-interview-score-also-depends-on-your-category-see-this-co-relation/743891/?amp.
 “Higher studies and the marginalised | Ph.D. entry in IITs tougher for students from marginalised communities,” The Hindu, 12 February 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/phd-entry-in-iits-tougher-for-students-from-marginalised-communities/article33824475.ece.
 P. Sahoo, “IIT students seek implementation of quota in PhD admission, faculty recruitments,” Hindustan Times, 24 March 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.hindustantimes.com/education/admissions/iit-students-seek-implementation-of-quota-in-phd-admission-faculty-recruitments-101616558643262.html.
 “No PhD scholar from ST category in 11 of 26 departments at IIT-Bombay between 2015 and 2019: RTI data,” Hindustan Times, 24 November 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/no-phd-scholar-from-st-category-in-11-of-26-departments-at-iit-bombay-between-2015-and-2019-rti-data/story-Fg2qRn6uyQtNDBdKoZp43K.html.
 S. Banchariya, “https://indianexpress.com/article/education/iit-professors-affirmative-that-reserved-category-quota-may-increase-unfilled-senior-faculty-positions-at-technical-institutes-7657137/,” The Indian Express, 7 December 2021. [Online]. Available: https://indianexpress.com/article/education/iit-professors-affirmative-that-reserved-category-quota-may-increase-unfilled-senior-faculty-positions-at-technical-institutes-7657137/.
 R. Naraharisetty, “Why Deepa Mohanan Represents a Landmark Victory Against Institutional Casteism,” The Swaddle, 9 November 2021. [Online]. Available: https://theswaddle.com/why-deepa-mohanan-represents-a-landmark-victory-against-institutional-casteism/.
 “IIT Madras Professor Who Resigned Over Casteism Writes to Education Min for Fair Probe,” The Wire, 27 August 2021. [Online]. Available: https://thewire.in/caste/iit-madras-casteism-vipin-veetil-jyotirmaya-tripati.
 M. Ibrar, “Delhi University ad hoc teacher alleges caste bias,” Times of India, 3 September 2020. [Online]. Available: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/du-ad-hoc-teacher-alleges-caste-bias/articleshow/77899813.cms.
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.