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Survey Shows Caste Discrimination Affecting Mental Health of SC/ST Students in IIT Bombay

A survey conducted at IIT Bombay finds that caste discrimination is a key cause of mental health problems faced by reserved category students.
Survey Shows Caste Discrimination Affecting Mental Health of SC/ST Students in IIT Bombay

Image Courtesy: National Herald

New Delhi: Caste discrimination is a “central reason” for the mental health problems reserved category students face on campus, according to a survey carried out by the SC/ST Students’ Cell of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay.

The Indian Express reported that the survey, carried out in June last year, found that almost one-fourth of the SC/ST students who participated in the survey suffered from mental health problems, while 7.5of them faced “acute mental health problems and exhibited a tendency for self-harm”.

The SC/ST Students’ Cell at IIT Bombay, comprising students as members and faculty as convenors, conducted two surveys in 2022. The first survey, held in February, aimed to gather data to gain insights into the lives of SC/ST students on campus and the challenges they face. The second survey, conducted in June, focused on the mental health of students belonging to reserved categories, The Indian Express reported.

“It was very significant that despite a hostile environment in IITs, 9% of the students (12 students) attributed caste as a substantial reason for their mental health problems. Four students also identified professors’ casteist and discriminatory attitudes as the reason for their mental health issues,” the survey was quoted as saying by the news report.

As per the news report, the surveys were distributed to all SC/ST students at the institute, who number around 2,000. Out of this group, 388 students participated in the February survey, and 134 students took part in the June survey. The institute is yet to release the official findings of the surveys.

The June 2022 survey revealed that 23.5% of SC/ST students at IIT Bombay require mental health assistance from the institution. However, 22.2% of respondents expressed concern about both the SC/ST Cell and Student Wellness Centre (SWC). The survey report further said that 27.4% of SC/ST students prefer to receive assistance exclusively from the SC/ST Cell rather than the SWC, indicating a lack of trust in the mental health services provided by the institute.

The survey gains import in the backdrop of an 18-year-old, Dalit IIT student’s recent death. Darshan Solanki, a chemical engineering student from Ahmedabad, died by suicide on February 12 by allegedly jumping from the seventh floor of his hostel block at IIT Bombay, the day after his semester exams ended. His family has since claimed that he was a victim of caste-based discrimination on campus, while IIT Bombay denied these allegations and said it was investigating the matter, as per media reports.

Following the incident, three student groups from the institute called for the IIT Bombay Director to resign, citing a lack of a safe space for students and inaction regarding students' well-being on campus. In a public letter, the groups also demanded that a case be registered under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and the anti-ragging law.

However, the institute submitted an interim report on the suicide dismissing the allegations of caste-based discrimination. The report cited Solanki's “deteriorating” academic performance and introverted nature as possible factors in his death, according to the Indian Express report.

IIT Bombay has responded to the survey by the SC/ST Students’ Cell and stated that they have not received the results of the survey yet, The Indian Express reported. The institute further noted that the SC/ST Students’ Cell has taken appropriate measures to address the issues raised in the surveys, even though they have not been shared with the senior administration.

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