Mumbai, Delhi: IIT Bombay college students lurk across the campus searching for empty labs, shady timber and abandoned streets. They meet not for romantic rendezvous; they’re the members of Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle. It’s at these conferences that they talk about incidents of caste harassment on campus and brainstorm methods to fight it.

However they are saying they’re discovering it more and more troublesome to meet in teams and don’t need to be subjected to the savarna gaze.

The Ambedkar-Periyar-Phule collectives on IIT campuses is a current phenomenon in India’s prestigious, globally recognized engineering faculties. For lengthy, the Indian Institutes of Expertise have been the protect of traditionally dominant caste teams. And Dalits, OBCs and Tribal college students have suffered each day informal casteism, discrimination, offensive language and stigma.

College students from marginalised teams who used to dream being a part of these large campuses now weep secretly within the bogs of those buildings. Scared, indignant and unhappy, their greatest battle is to simply belong in these haloed establishments.

That is the place scholar organisations like APPSC and Ambedkarite College students Collective (ASC) step in. They assist marginalised college students address the systemic discrimination they face each inside and outdoors the classroom.

On February 12, this discrimination as soon as once more made nationwide headlines when an 18-year-old IIT-Bombay scholar named Darshan Solanki from Gujarat’s Ahmedabad allegedly jumped off from the seventh flooring of the campus constructing. About three weeks later, household of Solanki and different Dalit college students who’re equally “victims of institutional murders” gathered at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan for a protest, which was lined in a movie titled There isn’t a caste discrimination in IITs? by Maharashtra-based documentary filmmaker Somnath Waghmare. Giving a speech on the gathering, Darshan’s father Ramesh Solanki broke down recounting his son’s enthusiasm for becoming a member of the IIT-Bombay and his interplay with the institute after the loss of life. 

“They told us that Darshan had fallen from the seventh floor of a building. The ground under our foot was shaken. What do we do? I had entrusted my son to the IIT people. My dreams were entrusted to the IIT. I sent my boy, my flower, thinking they will turn him into a plant. Instead, they crushed my flower and threw him away,” Ramesh stated.

A month and a half after Solanki’s loss of life, which has shone the sunshine on IITs’ rising caste divide, the Mumbai police registered an FIR below SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and charged “unknown people” with abetment to suicide below IPC Part 306. Since 2018, thirty-three college students have died by suicide at completely different IITs, in accordance to the Ministry of Training knowledge presented within the Rajya Sabha just lately. Virtually half of them are from the SC, ST, and OBC communities. Furthermore, in accordance to Union Minister of State for Training Subhas Sarkar, between 2018 and 2023, greater than 19,000 SC/ST/OBC college students dropped out of IITs, IIMs, and central universities. All this has led to extra organising by the teams to counter casteism – the newest one at IIT-Goa. Of the 23 IITs, 5 now have useful Dalit college students collectives.

“We give them the space, support, and sometimes solutions. We are fighting for the bare minimum on this campus. To just be, like others,” says a member of ASC who didn’t need to be recognized. The member is a PhD scholar at IIT-Delhi, the place an SC/ST College students Cell was formed simply six months in the past. Its members nonetheless communicate in hushed whispers and are self-conscious about drawing an excessive amount of consideration.

Additionally learn: Erasure of caste in universities existed throughout colonialism, however its roots a lot deeper

Each small step is a big wrestle

It’s nonetheless early days. The IIT Ambedkar study circles are nowhere close to the strident scholar activism of JNU, Jamia Millia, and Delhi College. Most college students stated they don’t discover any accessible, approachable platforms to air their complaints. So, the very first thing that the Ambedkar study circles do is to start organising fortnightly conferences, lectures and workshops on caste harassment.

The older collectives, like APPSC of IIT-Bombay, are extra energetic. From holding occasions and festivals to placing up poster campaigns, they’ve been upping their sustained visibility. However the administration, many members say, are extra a barrier than an empathetic facilitator.

Most of the time, each tiny step ahead and each little motion comes after an exhaustive combat towards the dominant tide of rejection.

“We put up posters and other students tear them down. They do it again and again,” stated Mohit*, who’s related to APPSC at IIT-Bombay.

APPSC at IIT-Bombay was fashioned in Might 2015—after IIT-Madras banned APSC—to not simply assist Dalit college students with their grievances and provides them a way of belonging, however additionally, as Mohit places it, “to question the campus, so voices can be heard.”

The collective typically holds workshops on “caste sanitisation”, and invitations lecturers as properly. It hosts occasions in public areas, close to hostels the place freshers reside.

“Sometimes, we get opposite opinions. Bullying used to happen, but still we manage to hold these discussions,” Mohit provides.

Right now, IIT-Bombay APPSC has round 500 members. However it isn’t a recognised physique. That is used as an excuse to cease members from organising occasions, says Mohit.

“It’s why we face a lot of issues even when putting up a poster. Our existence is the problem for them. Even teachers who try to help us get threatened by other teachers and the administration.”

ThePrint reached out to IIT-Bombay by electronic mail. The story will be up to date with their response.

“We exist without permission,” says Mohit.

Additionally learn: Training is the one method forward however SC/ST/OBC college students trapped in establishment of advantage

Watching out for one another

At a current APSC assembly in IIT-Delhi, a primary 12 months BTech scholar obtained up and conflated his incapability to slot in along with his intelligence.

“Perhaps our intelligence level is low,” he stated.

From the highs of moving into one of the crucial elite institutes, this was a low he by no means thought he would expertise.

Senior college students listened and tried to guarantee him, however to no avail.

“This thing has been filled in his mind in such a way that even after explaining many times, I have not been able to make him understand that he is wrong,” says a final-year PhD scholar of IIT-Delhi in frustration.

Senior APPSC members throughout campuses take it upon themselves to shepherd new Dalit college students, most of whom will not be ready for the truth of life on campus – from caste slurs to title calling to being made to really feel much less.

Organisations maintain common conferences the place older college students hear and check out to counsel their juniors. However more often than not, college students are hesitant to communicate up in a public discussion board. They concern backlash.

“It takes time—4 to 5 meetings—before trust is built. But some just cannot gather the courage to come out,” says one other member of APPSC, IIT-Delhi.

Final September, the ASC member cited above screened Nagraj Manjule’s Marathi movie Fandry on campus. It’s the story of a Dalit boy from a butcher’s household who falls in love with a classmate from a dominant caste. Greater than 100 college students gathered to watch the movie. Highly effective scenes—just like the one the place the boy and his household carry a trussed-up lifeless pig and stroll previous the picture of BR Ambedkar in his trademark blue swimsuit staring at them—galvanised the viewers.

After the screening, many individuals went on stage and shared their experiences and spoke about systemic discrimination.

“We try to ensure that new kids have a platform to talk about the way they are treated,” the ASC member stated.

For first-year MTech scholar Akash from IIT-Delhi, the ASC is household. “Those with whom we have lived can understand our pain,” he says.

Going to IIT was his father’s dream, one which Akash is proud to have fulfilled. Again residence in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh, he’s a hero. However his actuality in Delhi is fraught with slights and stress. He’s been taking drugs for migraine assaults during the last month. His one solace is the ASC conferences.

The discrimination he faces shouldn’t be particular, however is seen in small interactions that the privileged take with no consideration. He finds himself excluded from teams. He’s taunted, however in a method that is made to look like a innocent joke, one which he can’t combat towards. Most of his classmates are from dominant caste teams.

“I tried to fit in, but I failed.”

Since he joined the ASC in September, Akash discovered some reduction within the shared expertise of others.

“Our caste is our identity, we cannot run away from it no matter how much we want. When I saw Babasaheb Ambedkar’s poster displayed on ASC’s stall on the IIT campus, I felt that someone like me was visible in the crowd. So I went and joined them,” he says.

Dalit scholar organisations frequently increase problems with price hikes, caste discrimination, and recruitment of SC/ST college students in PhD programmes.

An RTI software filed in March 2021 found that IIT-Bombay had solely 305 college students from SC class and 60 from ST class out of complete 3,534 PhD college students — a mere 8.63 per cent and 1.7 per cent composition. In contrast to for BTech programmes, admission to PhD programmes are closely determined by college interventions.

Additionally Learn: Extra Dalit college students going to Oxfords, Harvards. West now will get the caste divide

Not on the identical stage as LGBTQ

There’s additionally some envy when the Ambedkar-Periyar-Phule collectives examine their activism with LGBTQIA teams in faculties. Some college students say that there have been circumstances when campus queer collectives get recognition quicker than Dalit scholar teams.

In IIT-Bombay, the queer collective ‘Saathi’ utilized for recognition in 2016, on the identical time the APPSC additionally submitted its software.

Saathi was formalised in 2018, whereas APPSC remains to be ready to hear from the administration.

“We neither got a reply nor any feedback. They haven’t rejected our application, but they haven’t answered it either,” stated Mohit.

At IIT-Delhi, the queer collective Indradhanush has been formalised. The APSC was recognised by the administration in March 2023 however it’s but to be formalised.

“Baby steps,” says the ASC member.

“We work together with the queer collective, their struggle is no less than ours.” However the coed has noticed how in IITs, at the least in Delhi, extra “LGBTQ people are coming out in the open”, and embracing their id publicly. “The administration, too, has been accepting of them. But most SC/ST students in IIT-Delhi don’t want to reveal their identity openly.”

Recognition by the administration is vital as a result of it opens up funds, facilitates organising occasions and helps college students put together their portfolio for job purposes.

“Our biggest fight is for our belonging and being,” says the ASC member. “If we walk on the campus wearing Ambedkar’s badge, people comment with remarks ‘their politics has started’. For us, it is our being, for them it is politics.”

The SC/ST cells arrange within the establishments, which embrace Dalit, Tribal and OBC college, are solely in title and barely obtain complaints.

Additionally Learn: 98% of school at prime 5 IITs are upper-caste, reservation not carried out, says Nature article

Earlier than Solanki, there was Ambhore

The IIT-Bombay committee fashioned to probe Darshan Solanki’s suicide concluded that solely his sister’s assertion corroborates caste-based discrimination, and that there isn’t a different particular proof.

However greater than a month after Solanki allegedly ended his life on 12 February, the SIT investigating the case recovered a ‘suicide note’ on Monday (March 27). It was present in Solanki’s hostel room, and in accordance to the police named a batchmate.

College students of IIT-Bombay allege that at any time when a suicide is reported on campus, the administration doesn’t overtly share the data with the scholars. Even in Solanki’s case, the matter of caste discrimination got here to mild solely after his full title was revealed, says a scholar.

“There are so many incidents of suicide that are not probed from the SC/ST angle,” Mohit says. He cited the loss of life of Aniket Ambhore in September 2014 as a living proof.

Ambhore, a fourth-year electrical engineering scholar, fell from the sixth flooring of his hostel constructing. The loss of life was first framed as an accident, then ruled an end result of the coed “battling internal contradictions” by a three-member committee — all professors of IIT-Bombay — fashioned by the institute to probe the alleged suicide. The probe itself was ordered solely after Ambhore’s mother and father wrote to the IIT director. The committee did make a basic statement about prevailing caste discrimination on the campus, whereas noting “one case” of a visiting college passing a casteist comment in a communication expertise class.

After Solanki’s loss of life, Ambhore’s mother and father spoke out towards caste discrimination in IIT-Bombay.

“We are still asking the administration to exemplify the suggestions that the AK Suresh committee had recommended. But there is no response from them,” says Mohit. Amongst different issues, the committee had suggested forming a “diversity cell”, sensitisation programmes for schools and searching for promising SC/ST college students for profession encouragement.

“There is not much mental health support for us. Whatever it is, is also casteist, shallow, and many times counterproductive to students who need help,” says Mohit.

An APPSC member recounted the traumatic expertise of a scholar who had visited the campus counsellor. “The counsellor made him feel that he was not intelligent enough and said, ‘I don’t think you can handle this’.”

Many of the college students ThePrint spoke to say that the college and administration ought to step in to present a help system for college students who’re struggling to cope.

“If you think there is a lack of intelligence, you can create some mechanism for this on campus. A few extra classes, and an English teacher who could help them,” says Ali, a member of APSC, IIT-Delhi. This was one of many suggestions that the Suresh committee had made in its report on Ambhore’s loss of life.

Additionally learn: EWS quota will lastly destigmatise caste reservation in India

Casteist slurs and ‘jokes’

Suicides are alarming and seize headlines throughout the nationwide media, however what goes unnoticed and unreported are each day micro-aggressions.

The first query on campus often is: ‘What is your rank?’ It might seem to be a routine query, however it’s a socially coded query and infrequently has caste fallout. Folks make pals and choose one another. A scholar finding out BTech at IIT-Delhi stated that even professors ask this query overtly within the classroom.

“If my [JEE] rank is 445 and I got textile, then people understand that I got in on the general category. But if my rank is 1,000 and then my branch is textile, then their facial expressions change,” says a BTech scholar from IIT-Delhi.

This isn’t restricted to lecture rooms, however pervades scholar hostels and cafeterias. It defines interactions between college students and the way social teams are fashioned. Some college students who really feel pressured to disguise their caste have to face one other set of issues. They have to hear to their dominant caste pals complain about college students who obtained a seat within the SC/ST class.

“I hid my caste for a long time, so many of my friends used to share their thoughts with me. They say things like, ‘That rascal got admission through reservation and got a better branch than me, while my rank is higher than him’,” says Rohit, a first-year scholar from IIT-Delhi.

Some college students use offensive phrases like ‘chamar’ however instantly faux as in the event that they don’t know what it means when they’re referred to as out.

However there aren’t any complaints of such incidents. College students are afraid that in the event that they complain, they would be branded and extra harassment would observe.

“Everything cannot be proved with evidence. In cases where there is evidence, action is not taken,” says Himanshu, a PhD scholar from IIT-Delhi.

A newly fashioned group of 30 referred to as ‘Student Federation of Dravidians’ was launched on March 18, and hopes to assist Dalit scholar collectives throughout Indian campuses.

“We will work to help Dalit students by giving them political backup, legal help, and constitutional support. Students across the country are joining us and gradually our organisation will grow bigger,” a member Alyakumar says.

College students that ThePrint spoke to talked about how college students from the dominant caste teams overtly mentioned their second names or made caste-related ‘jokes’.

One Dalit scholar stated that the cafeteria of IIT-Bombay hostel has a separate part only for college students from the Jain group.

“Their utensils are also kept separately,” says the coed. “Once a new student sat there with an egg, and there was a lot of uproar.” The administration has denied this.

A scholar from the Jain group that ThePrint spoke to claimed there was no such demarcation. “No place is fixed but we like it here so we sit here,” he stated.

Again within the campus, Mohit and different members of the APPSC in IIT-Bombay are planning their subsequent occasion. Posters and pamphlets are probably to be pulled out or torn up.

When all else fails, he and others will stand collectively holding the posters of their fingers.

“They can tear down the posters, not us.”

*Names have been modified to defend the id of the scholars. 

(Edited by Prashant)


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