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Caste Discrimination in IIT Delhi: A Report

May 1, 2011

[ From our magazine Insight Young Voices (Feb-Mar, 2009) issue]

byAnoop Kumar

The dismal representation of SC/ST students in IITs demands some serious questioning from all who believe in equal opportunities and social justice. Even after 40 years of their existence, most of the IITs have also singularly failed to recruit faculties from these communities.

On the top of it, there are various instances that indicate towards the prevalence of caste-based harassment of Dalit students.

Recently IIT Delhi was in news due to the termination of 12 Dalit students together with allegations of prevalance of caste-based discrimination. In the wake of this incident, the author here has tried to map the experiences of Dalit students within IIT Delhi structure. 

 

On May 2008, 12 Dalit students (11SC & 1ST) were terminated by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, citing their ‘low academic performance’. Eleven of these students were from the first two years of their undergraduate courses.

After receiving the termination letter, some of these students filed a petition in the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes (NCSC), alleging caste-based harassment in IIT Delhi and demanded annulment of their terminations.

According to the students, many IIT Delhi faculty members harbour deep prejudices against students admitted through reservations and they receive very poor grading despite performing well in the exams. The NCSC immediately summoned the Director of IIT Delhi, and asked him to investigate into these allegations and also to review the terminations.

Later, in July first week, the IIT administration submitted a one-page report to the NCSC stating that, it has decided to revoke the expulsion of 2 Dalit students by giving some relaxations in their grade requirements.

It also informed the NCSC, about the IIT review committee, constituted in response to the summon issued by the NCSC, to inquire about the prevalence of caste based discrimination.

The report further stated that ‘no case of caste discrimination was brought out by the students in their meeting with the Review Committee’.

The last paragraph of the report reiterated that, “IIT Delhi is very sensitive to the special needs of SC/ST students and faculty members spare no efforts in helping them, and indeed all weak students, to come up to our higher academic standards”.

However, the Dalit students countered this report by claiming that the members of IIT review committee did not entertain issue of caste discrimination at all. The members only inquired about their academic performances and refused to take up questions related to the caste discrimination.

Later, the Dalit students took out two rallies, demanding the re-admission of remaining 10 Dalit students and also sent their representations to the HRD ministry.

As a last resort, some of these students also filed a case against IIT Delhi in Supreme Court. In the first week of this year, after six months of their continuous struggle against one of the country’s most powerful institutions, finally there was some good news.

The Supreme Court agreed to the demands of students and passed an interim order for readmission of the six Dalit students and one more Dalit students was readmitted by IIT administration itself in the same week. As for now, nine Dalit students have been readmitted in IIT Delhi.

IITs and SC/ST Students

Every year, all the seven IITs jointly conduct an entrance exam, considered to be one of the toughest, to select candidates from all over the country and offer around 5500 seats for its various undergraduate (B. Tech and Integrated M. Tech) courses.

IITs are autonomous institutions under Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) and are completely funded by the Government of India. The IITs provide 22.5 % reservation for SC/ST students as per the constitutional norms.

However, many reports suggest that, close to half of the total seats reserved for SCs and STs remain vacant and that of those admitted, a significant proportion, perhaps up to 25 %, is obliged to drop out. (The IIT Story: Issues and Concerns’, Frontline, Vol. 20-Issue 03, Feb 01-14, 2003).

Now, if we do some simple calculations, we can very easily conclude that the SC/ST community, on average, looses about 773 undergraduate seats out of the total 1237 seats reserved for them every year, due to both, unfilled seats at the time of admission and subsequent drop outs. This amounts to a massive loss of 62 %, every year, of the total allotted seats for the SC/ST students.

Except IIT Guwahati (founded in 1994) and IIT Roorkee (included as IIT in 2001), all the other 5 IITs are at least 45 years old.

I would like my readers to just imagine the magnitude of the loss suffered by the SC/ ST community in all these years and also to critically analyze the impact of such losses for the communities, that has been suffering the inhuman exclusion in every sphere of their life and whose only life line has been the provision of reservations in education and in government jobs.

Therefore it becomes utmost important for us to ponder over why even today, about half of the seats for SC/ST students remain unfilled in the IITs at the entrance level and the reasons for such a high dropout rate.

To many, the obvious answers, for both the phenomenon, will be that the SC/ST students are ‘weak in studies’. It means that, on an average, the SC/ ST student cannot compete with general category students, both in the entrance exam as well as during his/her stay at IIT.

Before probing into the ‘weakness’ of SC/ST students, I would like to point out that:-

  • The cut-off marks at IIT entrance exam as well as passing marks in particular subjects in IITs are not fixed.
  • The cut-off marks for SC/ST students in IIT entrance exams, in any year, are normally 10 % less than the general category cut-off in that year.
  • The IITs follow relative grading in course work. There is no fixed minimum passing marks. Even if any IIT student has scored 60 % in any particular subject, there are chances that he/she might be declared failed, if the average score of other students is slightly higher. Or he/she might not be failed, as there are no fixed passing marks. To pass students, who have scored less than the average, becomes the prerogative of individual faculty members.

I came to know about the termination of 12 Dalit students from IIT Delhi in the second week of June. While interacting with these students and listening to their stories, I became aware of how the IIT administration deals with the Dalit students.

To have a better understanding, I decided to interact with more Dalit students from IIT Delhi as well as some of its ex-students.

While interacting with IIT Delhi’s terminated Dalit students, three questions came to my mind –

  • Were these students ‘weak’ in studies and were not able to cope up with the rigorous studies in IIT Delhi?
  • Or/ and did they just didn’t apply themselves and study hard?
  • Or were there other factors involved that might be beyond these students?

The truth that emerges out is shocking, to say the least. Dalit students who are admitted in IITs are marked as ‘weak’ and ‘non-meritorious’ from the very beginning and their stay in IITs are made as painful as possible. Such behaviour has been institutionalized and has been perfected into a fine art by many faculty members.

According to the IIT administration, all SC/ST students entering into the IITs are ‘weak’, as they come through reservations (just refer again to the last paragraph of IIT review committee report, mentioned at the beginning of the present article that correctly reflects the IIT administration’s assumption towards the SC/ST students).

Therefore many IIT faculties take it as their pristine duty, both in the class and outside, to constantly remind the students of the fact that ‘all general category students are meritorious whereas SC/ST students don’t deserve to be in IIT’.

However, the truth is that most of the Dalit students, entering into the IITs, are often toppers of their respective schools. They are, mostly, second generation literate and hail from lower-middle class, rural or semi urban backgrounds with non-English medium schooling.

In comparison, the general category students are invariably from upper-middle class, urban, upper-caste, and from English medium schools. Not only are there marked differences in the backgrounds of the students from these two categories but also their routes to IITs differ immensely.

And I would like to argue that this is where the ‘merit’ is constructed.

Construction of ‘Merit’ via coaching centres

A recent study conducted by ASSOCHAM reveals that private coaching centres, that train students to crack the entrance exams for the admission in IITs and other prestigious engineering colleges, mint Rs.100 billion ($2.30 billion) a year – an amount that can fund 30 to 40 new IITs (IIT coaching classes, a Rs 10K crore Industry? The Times of India, 3rd July 2008).

In fact, the city of Kota in Rajasthan, which boasts of the best coaching centres in India, is flocked by aspiring IIT candidates from all over the country. One particular coaching centre in Kota, in fact, claims publicly, through its advertisement, that 1 out of every 4 IITians is their ‘product’.

As we all know, these coaching centres are not cheap at all. On an average, a student spends more than Rs. 1 lakh for 8 month coaching during his/her preparation for IIT entrance exam.

As a response to the impact of the coaching industry and the undue advantage that it gives to their students, IIT has recently made changes in their admission procedure by fixing the number of attempts for IIT aspirants and has done some modification in the examination pattern as well.

However, these cosmetic changes have not been able to restrict the number of students flocking to the coaching centres.

Now, the question is, who are those students who flock to these coaching centres to crack the tough IIT entrance exams? The answer is not that difficult if one interacts with the IIT students.

The majority of the Dalit students have cleared the IIT JEE exam, through self-study or by taking private tuitions, as they were not in the position to pay huge fees for the coaching centres. In comparison, it is very rare to find a general category student, who had not studied in one or the other big coaching centres.

Due to which, the general category students are much better equipped for IIT JEE exams and this reflects in the merit list of the general category, which has higher cut-off marks than SC/ST list. Still, many SC/ST candidates are able to score higher and reach to the general category list.

However, the lower cut-off marks for SC/ST students, becomes the first indicator towards the assumption of ‘SC/ST students are weak’.

There is not even a single voice in our civil society or in the media, which opposes the coaching centres and the undue advantage they provide to the rich, urban, upper-caste students in comparison with those who, without money, are left to do self- preparation.

The IIT JEE exam is one of the toughest exams. Why?

‘To attract the best minds in India’ is the stock reply.

If this is so, then what are these coaching centres, with Rs.100 billion annual turnovers, doing?

They are, in fact, manufacturing ‘best minds’ from those who have deep pockets in this country and are aiding in the unequal competition between students from different backgrounds.

However, nobody wants to acknowledge this fact, as these coaching centres are boon for ‘upper’ caste families, for they help them in their claim of being ‘meritorious’.

Manufacturing ‘weak’ students as English language becomes another marker of ‘Merit’

Majority of the Dalit students, entering into the IITs, are from the non-English medium schools, whereas the medium of instruction in IITs is English. Once admitted, these students find it very difficult to follow the classes taught in English, which results in their low performance in initial years, as compared to other students.

Since all the SC/ST students, on being admitted in IITs, are already marked as ‘weak’, the initial low performance of non-English medium Dalit students feeds into this stereotyping and they easily become the poster boys of ‘quota students’ in the highly prejudiced IIT campus.

A few Dalit students, who are from relatively better backgrounds (read English medium) are able to escape such ignominy, getting an opportunity to pass off as a general category student, leaving behind these hapless students to suffer the punishment of being ‘quota’ students.

Instead of acknowledging the difference in background and the problem of medium of instruction, the IIT faculty members, due to their castiest prejudices, quickly brand these students as ‘undeserving’, ‘not up to the mark’ and ‘forced into the IITs through reservation’.

Rather than supporting students to cope up with English and gradually come at par with the other students, they are hostile or at best indifferent to their plight.

On the pretext of their low performance in IIT, many faculty members humiliate and demoralize these Dalit students, by making remarks on their academic capabilities implying, “since you don’t deserve to be here, now you suffer”.

It is their way of retaliating to the reservation provisions, and since they cannot stop these students from entering into the IITs, they try to punish these students for that ‘crime’.

To counter reservation provisions, there is a strong urge to prove that Dalit students are ‘weak’, and what better way to do it than targeting those who are already little handicapped in the IIT environment!

The rigorous IIT schedule from the day one does not make things easier for these Dalit students either. By the time they are in a position to cope up with the IIT culture and rigours, they are already under heavy backlog of many courses and find themselves on the verge of being terminated, due to their ‘low academic performances’.

Many of these students, drop out, by the end of their 1st or 2nd year, and those who some how pass, barely manage to get their degrees in stipulated 4 years. They take another 1-2 years to get their B. Tech degree, their stay being further marked by demoralization, stigma and huge alienation.

More than 90 % of the children in India, those who are fortunate enough to pass 10th std., do their schooling in Hindi or other regional languages as their medium of instruction. Yet IITs, that claim to be the institutes of ‘national’ importance and teach in English, have failed to develop a proper mechanism to counter the problems faced by these students, once admitted in IITs.

Is it due to the incompetence of the IITs or they are simply not bothered, as they might believe that the ‘best minds fit for IITs’ can only be found in urban, English-educated, ‘upper’ caste students?

I believe both reasons to be true besides it gives them a big stick to beat the reserve category students with.

Engineering colleges in India have copied their entire syllabi from the knowledge produced in the west. The faculty members teach from the western texts and techniques, which they had learnt from there in the 1960- 70s.

The academic research and development of syllabi is in such a sorry state in this country, that there is hardly any innovation in teaching, both in texts and techniques. Many IIT professors teach in the class, through their old notes (known as kharra in Hindi slang), promoting only rote learning and discouraging any discussions in the class.

Apart from their incompetence, IIT faculty members are also not interested in developing any mechanism to resolve the question of language, as it does not affect their caste and class interest.

The knowledge of English gives them the sense of superiority vis-a -vis the ‘lower’ caste, which they don’t want to lose at any cost. Like Sanskrit earlier, now English has become the marker of their ‘merit’ and ‘knowledge’.

If IITs remained true to their real objectives of promoting research and development in sciences and technology for the country, it could never have afforded to create an environment that promotes rote learning and found the ‘best brains’ in a very small segment of the country, branding others as ‘merit-less’ and ‘incompetent.

Institutional Mechanisms Available to Dalit Students at IIT Delhi

If the Dalit students admitted in IITs, through Joint Entrance Exam (JEE), are so ‘weak’ that it results in such a high dropout rate, has the IIT Delhi administration devised any mechanism to support these students to come at par with others?  Let us examine.

English Remedial Classes

In the first semester, IIT Delhi offers one course in English language for students coming from non-English medium schools. It is of 3 credits and 10+2 level English grammar is taught in this course.

It usually has 1-2 classes per week, totaling about 18- 20 classes in that semester. IIT Delhi, with all its innocence, expects these students to become proficient in English, and come at par with other students having at least 10-14 years of English medium schooling, by attending those 18-20 classes, spread in less than 6 months.

The interviews with students revealed the non-seriousness of such ambitious efforts. Students consider this course as absolutely ineffective, as the teacher concentrates only on the English grammar, which anyways they have studied in the schools.

The students allege, that, even this is not taught seriously. The students just try to secure passing marks in this course so as to get the credits.

According to the students, major problems that engulf the first year undergraduate non-English medium students are their inability to comprehend the textbooks in English, unfamiliarity with the science-terms in English, together with the accent of the faculty members.

From the point of view of the students, it is clear that, what is important for them, here, is the ‘language’ of science and not English grammar per se and its remedy is not, just one course of XII std English grammar.

The remedy lies in individual faculty members identifying students and supporting them, by giving some extra time and promoting an atmosphere, where the students feel confident to interact about their language problems.

But the most important is, not to treat such students as ‘weak’ and victimize them. However, given the level of student faculty interaction in IIT Delhi (it is one sided), insincerity and incompetence of IIT faculty members, asking for this is really a very tall order.

SC/ST Cell

Under UGC guidelines, most of the Indian universities and colleges in the country have a special SC/ST cell to monitor the implementation of reservation as well as to redress the grievances of the SC/ST students.

But IIT Delhi has probably never heard of it or they have given themselves the clean chit of being a caste discrimination-free campus!

Hence, it has no such mechanism and the SC/ST students have no space, where they can share and interact with the administration on their specific problems. Given the tendencies of IIT faculty, to hurl castiest abuses and indulge in discriminatory grading, such mechanisms are absolutely necessary.

Course Adviser

According to the IIT prospectus (page 17), ‘A number of measures exist for helping students belonging to SC and ST categories. A senior faculty member is appointed as adviser to SC/ST students for advising them on academic and non-academic matters’.

However, the truth is that not even a single Dalit student was able to tell the name of the Professor, who was supposed to look after the problems of SC/ST students. The students were aware of this provision but never came across any information or notice regarding it, ever. In the academic complex, there is no trace of any SC/ST students’ advisor office or even a notice board.

Standing Review Committee

This committee consists of some faculty members, including the Dean for Under-Graduate students, and is supposed to identify students with weak performances so as to guide/ support them for their improvement.

However, one would hear horrifying stories of how, in SRC, instead of patiently dealing with the student’s problems, the faculties literally rag them and create an atmosphere where the student feels, in the words of one Dalit student, ‘like a criminal in front of the police officials’.

Getting one’s name in the SRC becomes another marker of being a ‘weak’ student. The list is sent to the faculty members and that information is used by many of them to humiliate the Dalit students, as now it is ‘officially’ proved that these students are ‘undeserving’ and ‘not fit for the IITs’.

Counseling Service

IIT Delhi runs a Student Counseling Service under the aegis of Board for Student Welfare. This was created for, according to its prospectus, ‘assisting students in sorting out their difficulties and dilemmas in an environment where they can talk freely and in confidence about any matter which is troubling them’.

The staff includes psychologists, a psychiatric, and is also drawn from faculty and student volunteers. Many IIT faculties believe this student counseling service to be the panacea for all ills. So, if a student is facing some difficulty in the course, the professor would suggest, visiting the counselor and getting ‘mind checked’.

During the interaction, the Dalit students gave mixed reactions on the efficacy of the counseling services. Many of them were of the opinion, that, they visited the counselor for the problems that were purely academic in nature and hoped that these were conveyed to the concerned faculty members.

However, all the students were unanimous in its ineffectiveness in dealing with the caste problem. More over, the counselor also treated them as ‘weak’ students, as one incident narrated by an ex-student would reveal.

In 2002, when this student went to the counselor with his problems, he was categorically told, that, he was having such problems due to his reserved category background and would never able to cope up with the IIT atmosphere!

SC/ST faculty

Since IITs are ‘institutes of national importance’ (as defined by the Indian Parliament), they have been exempted from the provisions of SC/ST reservations in faculty recruitments. None of the IIT Delhi Dalit students were able to name even a single faculty member from these two communities, which together constitutes one fourth of the Indian population.

However, later, we were able to identify one SC professor, who had retired 6 years back. It is indeed shocking that, in more than 45 years of its existence, the IIT Delhi has failed to recruit more than one faculty member from the marginalized background. This itself is a testimony of the type of exclusion practiced by the IITs.

Orientation Programs

It is a common practice in most of world renowned educational institutions to organize specially designed orientation programs for students coming from non-mainstream background (like ethnic or racial minorities) to ease the transition of such students from schools to college/university.

This is done in order to acclimatize these students with the campus environment and to deal with the problems that might occur due to their ‘lack of cultural capital’. Since early 60s, most US universities and top institutions run special orientation programs for both blacks and women.

Some of these efforts are intense and extensive, lasting up to six weeks. The goal of all of these programmes is to ease these students’ transition to college life, to familiarize the student with his or her new surroundings, and to introduce them to other students who will have similar adjustment experiences.

However, it is to be noted that these programs are not organized to make these students to ‘come at par’ with others. Their background is no indicator of their ‘weakness’ but might point towards little lack of exposure.

Coming from a different background, Dalit students could benefit immensely from such programs. It would help Dalit students to understand the IIT structure and provide them the confidence in IIT administration.

There are hundreds of studies available that had proven the efficacy of such programmes for students from marginalized communities. However, there is no such program in IIT Delhi for SC/ST students at any point of their stay, not even at the time of their admission.

Support Systems

The MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), USA, on which IITs are said to have been modeled, have plethora of recognized student bodies for different minorities (for example, a very strong Black Students. Union) and run various programmes that provide the much needed space for these students to interact with each other, to articulate their problems and to negotiate with the MIT administration.

However, IITs believe that there are only two types of students ‘general’ category and ‘weak’ and thus ‘undeserving’ students.

Hence, they copied everything from MIT but forgot to replicate the democratic institutional spaces provided by MIT to the students from different backgrounds.

IIT Delhi does not allow the formation of any students’ groups in the campus, other than those that are run by the administration itself for ‘extra-curricular’ activities. In the past, some of the Dalit students tried to organize themselves informally, but were unsuccessful.

Studies on the problems faced by SC/ ST students

It is interesting to note that, despite the heavy dropout rate of 25 % for the Dalit students, IITs have never bothered to carry out even a single systematic study of the problems faced by the Dalit students. One look at the website of MIT will tell you, about the number of studies, by the institute, on the problems faced by the women and the African-Americans students and the measures taken by them to increase their representation, especially in sciences.

 

Experiences of Dalit Students in IIT Delhi

I interviewed about 20 Dalit students from IIT Delhi to document their campus experiences and to understand the nature and extant of prevalence of caste discrimination in the campus. Interacting with them had been a great learning experience for me as I had to spent lot of time with each of them to break the ice.

Initially, most of these Dalit students stated their ignorance about prevalence of caste discrimination in the campus and were reluctant to talk on caste, but after some rapport building between us, they were very forthcoming about their experiences.

I have compiled some of their experiences below without revealing their identity. There are many narratives, which I could not include as the nature of the incidents might clearly betray the student’s identity, even if I do not reveal their names. Needless to say, these incidents were much more overt in nature.

Student No. 1 (Final Year B. Tech)

Professors in IITs are undoubtedly better than the rest in the country, but there are some who need to be corrected, who believe that all SC/ ST students are weak in studies and all weak students have to be SC/ STs.

In my first semester, the Physics professor was taking my viva and I was not able to answer, on which she became very annoyed and asked me, “Are you from quota?” I said, “No.” Then she explained, “Quota means SC/ST.” I again answered, “No.” She was asking the same question to the general category students, if they were not able to answer in the viva.

Throughout her classes, I had the fear that she would do something wrong in my grading. So, I was quite nervous and never went to her for any help or to clarify my doubts.

Student No. 2 (IInd Year, B. Tech)

I was doing a course in Biotech department. Due to my illness, I didn’t appear for one of the exams in that course. There is a rule that if the student has not appeared due to medical reason, he/she is allowed to sit for the re-exam, after submitting the medical certificate.

When I asked for my re-examination, the professor immediately replied, ‘you come through reservations in IIT and then don’t even sit for exams’.

I could not say anything because here students don’t speak anything before the professors as our fate lies ultimately in their hands. They may fail us if they wish. However, I kept on requesting for re-examination. Later, he agreed but I was failed in that exam.

Student No. 3 (IInd Year, B. Tech)

Last year, I was attending a course and by then, I was already in the Students Review Committee list. When one of my professors got the list, she told me, “SC/ST students are very poor and if I ask something from you, I don’t think you will be able to answer that”.

When I protested on her statement, she said, “Oh! So you want to fight with me!”

After that she became very hostile to me. Whenever I went for some clarification, she used to get angry and rebuke me for not being able to understand ’simple’ English and always made very discouraging comments like, “Are you always sleeping in the class? Why did you join IIT if you don’t know English?”

However, unlike other students, I persisted in meeting her, as I needed continued support. One day, she got very angry and told me, “I think you are mad. You should get medical check-up.”

Then I realized that it was getting tough to cope up with her.

I called my father and then both of us went and met the professor. She was very rude to both of us and told my father that there was something wrong with me and I must consult a doctor. My father tried to talk to her but in vain. The professor did not budge from her point that I am mad. At the end, I failed in the subject. I paid the price of asserting myself and asking guidance from the professor.

Student No. 4 (IIIrd Year, B. Tech)

Standing Review Committee (SRC) is supposed to monitor the student’s performance and help them to improve. But, in practice, it does nothing. In its meetings, the members are least interested in listening to student’s problems.

Normally, only your past examination marks are asked and then you are grilled / ragged for that therefore not many students willingly attend the meetings.

Before the SRC meeting, we are supposed to fill a form stating our problems. In the meeting, one of the professors sits with all the records, and briefs other faculty members about the concerned student.

In one such meeting, I filled up the form where I mentioned all my problems. When I went inside, one professor showed my records to the two neighboring professors and said in a hushed tone, “SC student”. Then one of the professors said, “Ok, let him go”.

Student No. 5 (IIIrd Year, B. Tech)

Here in IIT, we cannot form any group. One of my Dalit seniors tried to contact IIT administration to organize an orientation programme for SC/ST freshers. Immediately, a letter was sent to his parents stating that, “your son is involved in politics”.

Pravin Togadia and Ashok Singhal can come and speak in the IIT hostel (they came in the tenure of the previous IIT Director) but the students cannot organize Dr. Ambedkar Jayanti in the campus.

Since the last few years, the SC/ST Employees Association is organizing Dr.  Ambedkar Jayanti, but when Dalit students tried to organize, they faced stiff resistance from the IIT administration and were categorically asked the rationale for celebrating Dr. Ambedkar’s birthday in IIT campus!

One funny incident that reflects the prejudices and ignorance of IIT faculties happened few years back. On Dr. Ambedkar Jayanti, the SC/ST Employees Association invited IIT Director as the chief guest. When asked to speak, he just said one sentence, “In IIT, there is no caste discrimination” and went back to his seat!

Brand IIT: The Myth and the Reality

The ‘upper’ caste IITians – both faculties and students – bemoan a lot about the reservation policy for SC/ ST students, claiming that it downgrades the quality of ‘Brand IIT’.

However, the truth is that these IITs, themselves, are products of the largesse of the developed countries. These countries, in the name of ‘aid in development for a Third World Country’, not only, provided them technical and financial support to start with, but are still helping them to upgrade and to remain at par, through liberal scholarships and various other assistance, so that the Indians could run such ‘institutes of excellence’.

IIT Bombay, founded in 1958, was set up by UNESCO and the erstwhile Soviet Union. IIT Madras was established in 1959, with the assistance from the Government of the erstwhile West Germany. IIT Kanpur was also established, in 1959, by the US government and a consortium of nine US universities helped to set up the research laboratories and academic programmes there. Similarly, IIT Delhi was established in 1961, by the benevolence shown by the former colonial masters United Kingdom.

Till now, not even a single IIT has been able to stand on its own in terms of research, cutting edge technology, training, even after guzzling huge amount of money from the Indian exchequer and huge financial aids from various other sources including foreign countries.

A large number of today’s merit mongers (the IIT faculty members) benefited from these foreign scholarships together with an opportunity to study in liberal foreign campuses. It would have been interesting if the citizens of these countries had opposed these opportunities provided to Indians, arguing that such efforts were diluting the ‘quality’ of their campuses and taking away opportunities from their own deserving candidates!

In the Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s academic Ranking of World Universities (2006), IIT Kharagpur was the only engineering college from India listed among the top 500 universities worldwide and that too among the lowest bracket (below 400).

The purpose of this ranking by the Chinese university was, to find out the gap between Chinese universities and world-class universities, particularly in terms of academic or research performances. This ranking is an honest attempt by the Chinese to improve their universities and technical institutes.

In contrast, nobody has ever heard of such an attempt from India. Except one, no other IITs figured in the list of top 500 institutes worldwide.

It is intriguing that the IITs, monopolized by much ‘meritorious’ upper caste community, are not able to compete with foreign institutions, even after years of continued support and assistance from many reputed institutions and at the expense of huge public money, the budgetary allocations for IITs for the year 2005, being a whopping 650 crores!

Many efforts are being made to cleverly create a façade of IITs as great, ‘quality’ institutions, producing ‘brilliant’ researchers, engineers, etc. Why this façade is being created?

It is to hide a very important fact.

The Indian Parliament envisioned that the IIT system would ‘provide scientists and technologists of the highest caliber, who would engage in research, design and development, to help building the nation towards self-reliance in her technological needs’.

A Central statute, the Indian Institute of Technology Act, 1956, & 1961, declared the IITs to be ‘of national importance’, thus paving the way for huge financial support from the government as well as for the conferring of a higher degree of autonomy.

However, instead of providing scientists and technologists for the country, IITs have turned themselves into institutions for providing lucrative jobs, both in India and abroad, for the kith and kin of urban English speaking upper caste/middle class, and in the process, completely sidelining their basic objectives.

That is why, the ‘quality’ of IITs is being marked in direct proportion to the pay packages offered to the students by the multinationals and not by any technological innovations.

This is the precise reason behind so much hostility against SC/ ST students in these campuses, as their entry into these institutions would shrink the lucrative job opportunities for the ruling class.

Hence, all the chest thumping of ‘merit’ and IIT being the ‘Centre of excellence and quality’ becomes necessary in order to hide the fact that the IITs, rather than preparing students for research and development (the reason for their creation), have completely metamorphosed themselves into institutions that cater only to the interests of the parasitic upper caste/ middle class and the multinationals companies.

If the IITs remained honest towards their basic objective of facilitating the development of the country through research, they would have gladly accepted the entry of students from the communities that have been directly involved in the production processes like Dalits and Tribals, instead of stigmatizing these students as inherently ‘weak’, based on their performance in entrance exams.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Alok Mukherjee permalink
    May 5, 2011 4:41 am

    This article reminds me of the work of the French scholar, Pierre Bourdieu, on the role of the school in (re)producing an elite class drawn from the society’s ruling group. Clearly, exactly the same process is going on in India paid for by the people. At the conclusion of my book, This Gift of English (Orient BlackSwan, 2009), I have questioned whether state educational institutions will ever be sources of empowerment and emancipation for India’s most marginalized communities. It must be asked whether this goal will be met until the communities themselves take over the educational space and make decisions regarding institutional culture, curriculum, teaching practice and choice of teachers.

  2. AMIT permalink
    May 6, 2011 2:53 pm

    really an eye opener….time to unite and fight the manuwadis for the protection of the rights of the obc/sc/st

  3. Ramesh Vaidwala permalink
    May 8, 2011 10:15 am

    Shame! Shame! manuwadi meritwale

  4. manmohan permalink
    December 6, 2011 10:45 pm

    It’s unfortunate to see the stigma of caste even in such institutions. The discrimination is not that prevalent in south. However no efforts are being made to identify and solve the plights of students of these communities..

  5. saurav nayan permalink
    February 9, 2012 10:26 am

    i am a students of PDPM-IIITDM jabalpur setup by MHRD goverment of india.i am a reserved category(sc) student .i would like a formal complaint as i strongly feel that i am being victmized recently, i was terminated from the collge as per guidelines in the ug manual.i accept that i have been a poor student,but my case was made worse by nstitute authorities as certain faculty member(dr.tanuja sheorey)openly started in front of other students that she will get me terminated no matter what. due to this,i went through a lot of tough times which is resulted in my bad performance and hence i again performed badly in examination despite my sincre efforts.i came to this institute to learn and sturdy hence bad performance is not a sin for which i need to victimized.

    I want to draw attention on some points.

    1. Most students who are on termination are fromed reserved cateogory.

    2. I have discussed my termination with certain faculty members. they also feel that my
    termination was done in improper way.they have told me that director,registrar
    and coordinator acadimcs affairs have been openly violating decisions of senate themselves and in my case they have used it to terminate me.

    3. my question is why the rules are followed only in my case and not in all cases.for the benefit of their own students they modify the rules while for me they fallow word by word.this is simple case of victimization.

    4.The institute claims that the acadimic calender is framed and they fallow the dates accordingly as approved by senate. But the truth is that since last two years,the academic calendar has never been listed in minutes of senate meeting.only rectification of calender is done but calender never listed.this institute authorities have been doing this to modify the dates as per their wish.

    5.The decisions of anybody are implemented only after minutes are rectified bt in my case even before rectification of minutes of senate meeting,termination letter was issued to us in hurry by dr.prabin padhy. Thus institute authorities are themselves violating all the working norms of senate.

    6.The rules are followed as per their comfort. for e.g.,in case of project based internship(PBI),grades are being reevaluated again in jan. 2012 despite the fact the last date of grade submission was 5th Dec 2011. this is being done to benefit some special chosen students. There are no rules for reevalution framed by senate. Neither they have taken any permission from senate to re-evalute the grades. But since they want to benifit their own choosen students violating/making new rules.

    7. The constitution of senate is not as per MOA (memorandum of Association) i..e chairperson consider person as senate member even thought they are not the members as per rule.

    8. Senate meetings are not conducted as per MOA (memorandum of Association).

    9. More preference is given to General category students. This can be seen from the CPI/SPI of students terminated. There is hardly any difference between those terminated (i.e. my case) and those not terminated.

    10. I was terminated because Dr Tanuja Sheorey had openly claimed that she will get me terminated. Even my grades in her course were bad as she did not grade me properly.

    11. I was given termination letter based on a meeting whose minutes were neither confirmed or ratified at that time.

    12. In one of the course one faculty member deliberately gave me ‘F’ grade as he was
    instructed by someone to do so.
    I hope you will give your timely attention to the above points will help not only me but other reserved category students who have been facing alots of problems in this institute. last but not the least i would like to say that i have performed academically badly and i am not making excuse for my failure. All i want to say that if my programe is terminated from this institute it should be done in fair way not as per the wish of certain faculty members.

    I request to take view of all senate members as few of them have been objecting to the way senate is run.

    yours faithfully,

    SAURAV NAYAN
    ROLL NO-2009110
    BRANCH- Mechanical
    MOB-7879499493

  6. Ravi permalink
    February 16, 2012 6:54 am

    I know the problems of Dalits.But those dalits who get chance in IITshould study well and unite.Going abroad is one option.Leave India try yo move abroad and share your ideas and work among yourself.Form companies ,obviously huge amount of manpower is present ,but money might be the problem, so they have use best of thier brain.

  7. ST guy permalink
    July 9, 2012 10:22 am

    Hey all,

    I was also a student of an IIT. I am from reserved category(ST). I did my post-graduation from IIT where I got admitted after clearing GATE exam with more than 95 percentile. I hardly prepared for the GATE exam and still able to get that percentile and without coaching. I am sure that among the 95% students who were behind me in GATE exam included almost 85% of general category students and most of them took coaching to appear for the exam. During my studies I performed better than most of the general category students and helped in most of their projects. I don’t think we are backwards. I have many SC/ST students and all of them performed well. Even I have seen some undergraduates from our category who have received medals for their academic performance. I felt very proud of them. It’s the fact that even most of the SC/ST category students in the IIT’s are the state/board toppers in their intermediate.

    During my post-graduation I also worked as TA for the undergraduates and found that no matter from which category you are coming in if you don’t try hard you will fail. I found many general category students who were trying to bluff me during the VIVA. Also more than 50% of the students performed very poorly irrespective of their category. I spoke to many of them and found that almost 90% of them came from the coaching classes. Only 10-20% of the class are naturally brilliant. If the weaker students[not mentioning SC/ST] can’t do an assignment properly he tries to bluff it by making some non-technical high funda english statements. Those were the funny moments for me at that time.

    About my experience of staying with the general category students: It’s my pleasure that almost all of our class members were very supportive in terms of study and we helped each other a lot. Still few were there who made wrong statements about SC/ST students and from the very first day of our meeting in the IIT campus. My classmates never knew that I am from ST category and neither I revealed it to them and the few students mentioned above continued to make poorer[not only poor] statements about us. I never protested about that. If they made any wrong statement I just ignored them.

    Also it’s my suggestion to all the weaker students [not only sc/st], if you are finding any difficulty in any subject please discuss it with your classmates. They are your best fellows. Faculties can only guide you in the class. They have their own life and will hardly make any honest effort to help you. So be with your friends, discuss with them, and all of your problems will automatically be solved. I found many faculties from our department[no reservation for sc/st] were incompetent in terms of knowledge and hardly got the right qualification in terms of knowledge to become a faculty member in any local engineering college. We are unfortunate that they are there and the system will always run like that. And the funniest thing is that some faculty members don’t even hesitate to say that they don’t know hindi as they are US educated but unfortunately hails from India. How can you expect them to help you if you are a hindi speaking student and finding difficulty to cope with the english language.

  8. July 26, 2012 1:12 pm

    There are some pertinent points that have been made in this article. I have a few comments:

    A. Firstly, the Government of India has made many mistakes in its entire education policy. The first is at the level of School Education. It needs to concentrate on providing high quality, very low cost School Education for all children. The concept of high quality is mistakenly assumed to be in English. This is absolutely wrong and is a colonial hangover. Additionally, our syllabus needs to be overhauled a lot. We teach children all kinds of westernized concepts but do not teach them about our own districts, states, nation in a more organized manner. Neither do we teach vocational skills to all – as a result we are becoming a nation with very little skills in crafting, fabrication which reduces our global competitiveness in areas such as manufacturing etc. We also need to teach at the school level the true meaning of merit, character, honesty, hard work – our entire society has to be built on this. We need to apply our minds in helping create this with the State Governments and the Center. There is an overhaul that is needed and diluting of the school system like a meaningless CCE is not the answer. Our children are intelligent and hardworking, but we need to support their creativity and innate intelligence with the right syllabus and in our own languages. Conclusion: Overhaul Schooling

    B. Our higher education system needs to have text-books, curriculum and teaching in our regional languages in areas of Engineering, Medicine, Science as well as other subjects such as B.Com., B.A. in Economics, Law, Political Science etc. Countries have progressed when they are able to teach students in their own language. Smaller (in terms of population) countries like France, Italy, Austria, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Brazil, Japan, Russia teach their children in their own language. We need to invest in this. I do hope people in this forum spend some efforts in this direction. We cannot truly progress and solve our own problems unless our children get higher education in our own beautiful, rich, vibrant languages. Some of the greatest Universities of the world teach in their own native languages – Univ. of Tokyo etc.. Conclusion: Stress our local languages, reduce the importance of English.

    C. India had a great tradition of merit. Somewhere in between, the Brahmans over-ruled the principle of merit with the principle of heredity. This was the first step in the decay of our country. With hereditary behavior, merit took a backseat. When merit declined, the ruling class became short-sighted, self-serving, oppressive, greedy. This destroyed the strength of our country and our weaknesses increased with time. Then we were invaded and the whole country became backward. We need to come out of this and a genuine system of merit has to replace our corrupted system. This can be accelerated with points A and B – we must be able to teach our children and give them the best education ALL over the country and in their own language – they will bloom very fast, they do not have to go through the trauma of trying to hide their identity, instead, they will grow up as proud, confident, creative, integrated citizens of a country that deserves to do better for its people and by its own people. We have to take this initiative. Conclusion: The long term goal must be purely merit driven society, that alone will dismantle the discrimination of caste.

    D. We need special support systems for SC/ST students and in fact for many others who are away from home, young, vulnerable and at an age that is impressionable. We need to have a support system that has a heart. This needs to be there in all colleges and universities. I have seen several suicides while studying at IIT over 25 years ago. Trust me, it is very very sad to see someone who was sitting on your table having a meal the night before, lying lifeless with eyes that are permanently closed. God then, never asks, “What was your caste? What was your All India Rank?” And this is not just about caste – some of those who left us then were General Category students. Conclusion: We need sensitive, caring support and guidance for students who are vulnerable, unable to voice their concerns and fears and support them so that they do not feel victimized for asking for help.

    Ultimately, it is about education and the power of education to transform an individual, his/her family, a community, a region, a state and a country. We need to have our own education system that will lift us (Bharat and not ‘India’) in the fastest, most relevant manner and make us a truly meritorious country. To do this, we need to overhaul our education and take it closer to our people before it is too late. This education system will make us more humane, more sensitive, more creative, more closer to building a sustainable, strong country. Westernized education is NOT going to help us much. We need to modernize ourselves. We have made the mistake of equating modernizing with westernization. Countries that have NOT made this mistake are progressing – China, Japan, Taiwan, S. Korea etc. They are modern, yet anchored by educating their people in their own languages from schooling to PhDs. It is time we all asserted ourselves and had the right to make our own institutions. With sincerity, hard work, the right support from each other, we can make a transformation within our lifetimes. And we need to – for the sake of our ancestors who lived in a free society, for our ancestors who did not live in a free society, for our families and for future generations. I wish all success in their efforts to obtain genuine justice, rewards for their honest efforts, health, happiness, peace and love.

  9. i faced discrimination too permalink
    September 12, 2012 9:42 am

    i write this under a pseudo name, you all know why, and well nothing in your article surprised me. Its my final year now, and though I have not faced discrimination from professors and the like, partially because i dress well and am well versed in English. Though they still make a big deal about my average performance, but after going through hell for the first two years, i really don’t care now.

    Forget the professors, its the other students. I had the unfortunate luck to get admitted into one of the top three branches in IIT Delhi. And i was advised that do not add the category to your rank unless somebody specifically asks. That made me very uncomfortable from day one,and though I have been a topper of my school, I could not help but feel inferior to all of these other general students.

    Initially when they knew my two digit rank sans the category they were worshiping me, but as soon as they got to know the category attached to it, boy people stopped talking to me. All the guys in my class were behind me from day one, but then the girls told them and everyone turned hostile. It was rather sad.

    And there have been so many other instances, but i really don’t care now. Others have sadder stories. I myself know of three guys who left their hostels in the second week of the first year, because well it was too much for them.

    My sadness aside, the point made above about most of us students coming from hindi backgrounds, yes that is true and i have seen so many people struggle trying to grasp simple concepts and work their asses off. They study more than the normal students, well they have to, and even after that they manage to score average marks.

    The English classes are a dud. They never happen. I had decided to go teach in a few myself, but actually really nobody cares.

    Other students hate you. The professors really don’t care. Life does tend to get a bit unbearable, but then there are so many of us here, so many doing pretty well and if you manage to find your friends, you can stick through it.

  10. knowyouriit permalink
    October 2, 2012 6:57 am

    I seriously doubt the authenticity of this article and see this as an attention seeking attempt by the author rather than trying to identify the crux of the problem. I am myself an IIT Bombay pass-out of 2010 batch, Chemical Engineering and am currently a student at PGDM, IIM Ahemdabad. Moreover, my room-mate at IIT belonged to the ST category and to this day is one of my closest friends in life. Also, I belong to what the author calls ‘upper cast’, though I do not believe in casteism.

    I would like to rebut the following concerns raised by the author.

    1. Regarding Faculty. Professors are supportive to anyone who approaches them with any kind of problem – academic or personal. Also, for all such issues, every IIT has a Counsellor as well, whose job is to entertain distressed students. All professors who I had interacted with were highly intellectual people. Most of them were PhDs from best foreign universities. Almost all of them are very open minded and prejudices such as caste, gender, etc dont exist in their dictionary.

    Also, already IITs have a shortage of 33% of the faculty. How do you think in such a scenario the each faculty member can devote extra time, etc for each ST/SC student

    2. Grading. Relative grading system only means that a person getting more marks will get a better grade. So, I can get a 10/10 grade even if I get 60 marks out of 100, if I have the highest marks. Regarding the example given above, it is impossible that a student will fail the course on getting 60 marks. No faculty sets the grading standards so tough.

    Some may say the grading should not be relative. For that my answer is that IITs are supposed to produce working professionals, who will be judged relatively at their workplace.

    3. Regarding Research. IITs do produce cutting edge research by Indian standards. Most IITians who opt for research, pursue their PhD abroad because the research opportunities and funds in India are limited. After completion of their higher studies, they come back to India to give back to the nation. Those who remain abroad have become successful entrepreneurs, researchers and scholars and give back to the nation by giving huge grants in the name of alumni funds to various Indian institutes, not only IITs. Interestingly, these funds have also been used to fund special scholarships, reserved only for ST/SC students.

    4. Regarding English Medium. The author has himself written this article in English. Why has he not written it in Hindi as well for those who can’t read English. I don’t see a link on the page which directs me to the Hindi translation. Hindi or other regional languages do not have the vocabulary for a vast number of engineering text. 90% of the engineering research papers published in the world in English. For those who are weak in English, every IIT conducts a 2-month program before the start of the course to help them free of cost.

    5. Regarding toughness of IIT-JEE and the IIT curriculum. Needless to say that IIT has created a name for itself only because people who been through this system know what toughness is and are respected for this quality. If you make the IIT system lenient, IITs will loose their image and will become just like any other college by the corner.

    6. Cast and Income. Finally, the author is promoting casteism by this article itself by correlating cast with income. I accept that the percentage of poor people may be more amongst certain castes but it is completely wrong to say that every person in a so-called “higher” caste has a higher income level. Especially taking the case of the SC/ST students in IITs, the income level of most of them is good.

    7. Facilities for SC/ST students at IIT. Irrespective of their income, all SC/ST students enjoy monthly pocket money of Rs 1500/-. They also enjoy free text books. And they are also exempt from any tuition fee i.e. they only need to pay for the mess at IIT.

    8. Reason for casteism. Casteism is not one-sided. It is not the responsibility of a specific caste to create a society free of castes. It is a common responsibility of all and such misleading articles as above only add fuel to casteism. Playing the blame game will not help.

  11. harsh permalink
    October 9, 2012 6:40 pm

    i am currently persuing b.tech from iit bombay. i am also from sc category. although their is no such discrimination of category in iit bombay, i faced a lot of difficulty in academics. and the reason was simple you can`t really compete with students having rank in two digits in general category in a few months so i got bad results. but i never gave up and now i get marks better than most of them. the reason is that the way i studied upto my jee preparations was totally wrong , whenever i found something difficult i tried to learn the process and didn`t bother about concepts. but in the company of these general category students i learned their secret of success and that is they never try to remember things, they always used to understand the basics and then the practice that make them perfect. they have an indepth understanding of the basics. so everbody who is unable to get good marks should apply two rules right now for his entire student life:
    1 never mugg up or remember things , always think logical and always go with the basic concepts in any subject.
    2. never miss class even if you don`t understand a single word taught by prof, go to class each day this will help you a lot in exam.
    3. do a lot of practice of book questions or tutorials as when you don`t practice you go wrong in exam no matter how well you understand the subject.
    best of luck.

    • akash permalink
      December 3, 2012 11:43 pm

      dont worry and be conscious……!

  12. akash permalink
    December 3, 2012 11:44 pm

    can write about decimation issue, @ ap.pagare@hotmail.com

  13. Jogendra Singh permalink
    October 6, 2013 1:17 pm

    Great thinking dear….pls send me your mail id.
    My mail id is – jogendrasingh27@yahoo.com

Trackbacks

  1. Caste discrimination in IIT Delhi « Writing Caste
  2. Dr Jaspreet Singh: The Death of Merit – Another Documentary « The Death of Merit

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