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The long shadow of caste over campus

Darshan’s death brought back the focus on allegations of caste discrimination in the institutes of higher education in India
Last Updated : 25 February 2023, 02:40 IST
Last Updated : 25 February 2023, 02:40 IST
Last Updated : 25 February 2023, 02:40 IST
Last Updated : 25 February 2023, 02:40 IST

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It was a dream-come-true moment for Darshan Solanki when he came from Ahmedabad to Mumbai and took admission in the Institute of Technology, Bombay, to pursue a graduate degree in chemical engineering. The son of a plumber and a domestic worker braved all odds to reach the premier tech school.

But the dream was shattered in less than a year. The body of the 18-year-old Dalit student was found in a pool of blood on the campus of the elite institute on February 12. He purportedly ended his life by jumping from the seventh floor of the hostel building. The police registered an accidental death report and started an investigation.

His family and the Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC) of the IIT-Bombay alleged that Darshan was a victim of caste discrimination.

The authorities of the IIT Bombay, however, strongly refuted the allegation.

“When he came home last time, he told us that the behaviour of his friends had changed after they had come to know that he belonged to the SC (Scheduled Castes) community. Some of them not only avoided hanging out with him, but even stopped talking to him,” Darshan’s sister Jhanvi Solanki, herself a final year MCA student, told TV channels.

“It is a fact that students from the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes face immense harassment and discrimination on the campus from students, faculties, and employees,” the APPSC alleged, calling Darshan’s death a case of “institutional murder”. The students organisations demanded that the police should register a case under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and Anti-Ragging Act.

“The IITs are infamous for the high number of suicides by the students, particularly by the ones from the SC/ST communities,” the APPSC has claimed. “The data shows that most of the students dropping out also belong to SC/ST communities.”

Darshan’s death brought back the focus on allegations of caste discrimination in the institutes of higher education in India. It reminded many the suicides of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit PhD scholar, on the campus of the University of Hyderabad in January 2016 and of Payal Tadvi, a Muslim Bhil postgraduate student of the Topiwala National Medical College in Maharashtra, in May 2019. Radhika Vemula and Abeda Tadvi, the mothers Rohith and Payal, filed a petition in the Supreme Court, seeking an adequately rigorous and accountable mechanism to end caste discrimination on the campuses in India.

The APPSC and two other organisations of students in the IIT Bombay demanded an internal independent investigation into the allegations about caste-discrimination on the campus and the probe committee should not only be headed by a person either from the SCs or STs, but should also have at least 50% members from the community.

Several organisations have demanded resignation of the institute’s director, Prof Subhasis Chaudhuri, for allegedly failing to end caste discrimination on the campus. The IIT Bombay did set up a panel to conduct an internal probe, although some organisations remained sceptical about its ability to look into the “systemic caste discrimination” on the campus.

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Published 24 February 2023, 18:47 IST

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