'Elite Institutions Are Not Devoid Of Caste': Social Rights Activist On Recent Death Of Dalit Student At IIT Bombay

Social rights groups and Dalit activists claim that educational institutions fail to create any suitable support mechanisms despite attempts to bring caste discrimination issues on campus to their attention.

Following the death of the student, student organisations are demanding a more inclusive and safe space for marginalised students on campus

One more Dalit. One more alleged death by suicide. Perhaps, one more life lost to caste oppression. 

18-year-old Darshan Solanki jumped from the seventh floor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay hours after speaking to his father. He appeared to be 'fine' but perhaps there was more than what the eyes could meet. 

Solanki's family has alleged that he was facing discrimination for his caste from his peers, who had started isolating and cornering him. Earlier, Solanki had allegedly admitted to his family that the behaviour of his friends had suddenly changed after they found out his caste and were 'jealous' as he was pursuing his education free of cost. 

Although the institution has refuted allegations of caste discrimination and an investigation is underway, Dalit rights organisations and activists hint at a larger social issue at the heart of these "elite" institutions which are not devoid of "caste".

Speaking to Outlook, Dalit rights activist Beena Pallical says, "The reflection of the society is also reflected in higher educational institutes. Caste continues to be practised and it is further propagated with teachers passing casteist comments."

Post the suicide of Dalit student Rohith Vemula from the University of Hyderabad in 2016, discussions have sparked over the need for a law on discrimination in educational institutes. "Maybe it is time to look into that," the activist adds. 

Making similar remarks, the student organisation Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC) has said, "What is most distressing in this whole episode is the consistent attempts by the administration including the Director, to outrightly deny that there is any caste discrimination on campus," according to a report by the New Indian Express.  APPSC has demanded the resignation of the director of the institute.

APPSC is demanding a more inclusive and safe space for marginalised students on campus. "The students and organisations who are attempting to give a way for surfacing a much-needed discussion about discrimination on campus are being accused of harming the "prestige" of this "premier" institute," the APPSC said in a statement.

The APPSC further said that although they raised the issues of discrimination faced by students on campus earlier, the institute failed to create any suitable support mechanisms. "The unwillingness to appoint SC/ST counsellors even after our complaints shows the blatant disregard towards students," they added in their statement. Moreover, they alleged that the director reiterated that "there is no discrimination" on the campus.

Additionally, Pallical also urges institutions to conduct sensitisation workshops for students as well as teachers. "Moreover, as the PoSH Internal Complaints Committee deals with complaints of sexual harassment, committees should also be formed to address other kinds of harassment," she tells Outlook.

Meanwhile, the APPSC has requested the administration to release reports of surveys conducted by the SC/ST cell and others for public discussion. The Director of IIT Bombay expressed his sorrow and regret through a mail sent out to students and faculty. However, the institute has refuted charges that Darshan Solanki faced systemic discrimination.