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IIT Kanpur Case Sheds Light on Discrimination Faced by Dalit Professors and Students in IITs

Ravi Kaushal |
Despite finding out that the allegations Saderla had raised were true, the Board of Governors suggested that he settles the case with a compromise.

The Allahabad High Court on Wednesday stayed the recommendation of the National Commission of Scheduled Castes (NCSC) for lodging a First Information Report and suspend four senior professors accused of discriminatory behavior against fellow Dalit professor Subramanyam Saderla in Indian Institute of Technology (Kanpur). The court, in its order, asked both the parties to file affidavits in the matter and asked IIT Kanpur to submit action taken report by May 1.

In another shocking turn of events, Bheem Singh, a Dalit student pursuing Ph. D at the same institute committed suicide by hanging himself on Wednesday. Kanpur Police has found a torn suicide note but did not make its content public. Singh's friends at the institute said that he was under severe stress. The incidents clearly suggest that everything is far from hunky-dory for Dalit students and teachers at IIT Kanpur.

“Questioned my mental fitness”

Subramanyam Saderla, who belongs to the SC category, joined the Department of Aerospece Engineering at the institute on January 1 this year. Sadrela, in his complaint, alleged that his harassment began soon after his joining. He said that four senior professors – Ishan Sharma, Sanjay Mittal, Rajeev Shekhar and Chandra Shekhar Upadhyay – not only passed casteist remarks about him, but also questioned his mental fitness to be an assistant professor at the institute.

Saderla said that he was continuously ridiculed and humiliated at the conferences organised by the department. Similarly, a professor at a dinner party at home, incessantly complained about the newly appointed assistant professor. The professors reportedly even circulated emails among the faculty members, questioning Saderla’s credentials. It must be noted that Saderla joined the institute through special recruitment drive for the SC candidates.

After receiving Saderla's complaint, IIT Kanpur Director Manindra Agarwal formed a three-member investigation committee, headed by Prof Vinay Kumar Pathak of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Technical University (AKTU), to look into the allegations. The committee found that Saderla's allegations were true and submitted the report to the Board of Governors for further action.

Agarwal said that the institute found that senior professors were spreading misinformation about Saderla. "(He) joined the IIT-K aerospace engineering department on January 1. We found that some senior faculty members started spreading (misinformation) that the new faculty member is not suitable, mentally unfit and has bad credentials… and that the recruitment was wrong,’’ The Indian Express quoted Agarwal as saying. 

“They also spread some e-mails against the faculty (member) saying he is not fit to be at the IIT. There was a lot of mental harassment and he complained to me. On January 12, a fact-finding committee was formed to look into the matter. However, the harassment continued and the faculty member went to the NCSC," added Agarwal.

Despite finding out that the allegations he had raised were true, the Board of Governors suggested that Saderla settles the case with a compromise with the accused professors. He then moved to NCSC seeking action against the culprits.

Commenting on the issue, Sociologist Vivek Kumar told Newsclick that existing laws are not sufficient to address these problems. "The lack of diversity in the institutions of higher learning has resulted in dominance of the upper castes. If they are not made aware of their wrongdoings, the discrimination will persist," he said.

Multi-layered Problem and Institutional Bias

Dalit activist, studying the perturbing trend at the IITs, said the process of entering these institutes is challenging for Dalit students. Repeating the rhetoric of merit, they are accused of snatching away the seats of deserving candidates. Similarly, the atmosphere of IITs is less engaging, which leaves the teachers and students shackled with stress.

The institutional bias against Dalits also gets reflected in the number of teachers at various IITs. A statement by Ministry of Human Resources Development revealed that only 1.12 per cent of sanctioned strength are engaged as SC faculty at IITs. 

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The bias was also reflected in the cases of Vasantha Kandasamy and Dr Mahesh Kumar. Kandasamy, a professor of Mathematics at Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, alleged that she was not promoted for 11 years. A Newsminute report suggested that her support to Dalits students brought her in the bad books of administration and her promotion was held for years.


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