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June 16, 2007

''...and now disclosure of discrimination by IIT in Chennai…''

Reflect on some of the major Indian headlines and other news stories in recent months:

**50,000 Tribals and Dalits convert to Buddhism**

**Caste violence triggered by the Gujjar community in Rajasthan**

**The growth of the Dera sect in Punjab, most of whom are Dalit Sikhs**

**The Chief Justice Mishra Commission recommends reservations for Dalit Muslims and Christians**

**The OBC reservation issue referred to a full bench of the Supreme Court**

**Media and human rights groups focus on the human trafficking issue, most of them being SC/ST children and women**

**Election of the Dalit leader Mayawati as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh**

Despite all of these, a section of the upper caste intelligentsia and extremist right wing groups continues to deny the caste issue, blaming the social disruptions, the emergence of the caste vote and the Dalit voice on other forces. They say it is a conspiracy hatched by the foreign-born Sonia Gandhi or the Vatican or the West. There used to be a time when Indian political rulers would blame any Indian crisis on the ‘foreign hand’. In fact, when extremists murdered and burned Graham Staines and his two sons to death, the then-Defense Minister blamed it on the ‘foreign hand’, contrary to hard evidence.

My friend Udit Raj sent me the enclosed report on caste discrimination in one of India’s premier Institutes of Information Technology in Chennai which has been a Brahmin upper caste enclave for many decades. Earlier I had reported of the caste configuration among the lecturers in Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Now read the story of the Chennai IIT and judge for yourself if we really must advocate for Dalit rights…


There are only a handful of Dalit students and faculty members at the elite institute, but they face widespread discrimination and harassment

PC Vinoj Kumar Chennai

All the noise against extending reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in centrally-funded institutions might be a little irrelevant given that an institute like IIT Madras has parted with only a fraction of the 22.5 percent quota for students belonging to the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the Scheduled Tribes (STs). According to information provided by the institute's deputy registrar, Dr K. Panchalan, in September 2005, Dalits accounted for only 11.9 percent of the number of students. They were even fewer in the higher courses — 2.3 percent in ms (Research) and 5.8 percent in Ph.D. Out of a total of 4,687 students, Dalits made up only 559.

Activists who have been fighting for proper implementation of reservations for Dalits describe IIT Madras as a modern day agraharam — a Brahmin enclave. Located on a 250 hectare wooded campus in the heart of the city, the majority of the 460 faculty members and students here are Brahmins. According to WB Vasantha Kandasamy, assistant professor in the Mathematics department, there are just four Dalits among the institute's entire faculty, a meagre 0.86 percent of the total faculty strength. There are about 50 OBC faculty members, and the rest belong to the upper castes, she says.

Vasantha says Dalit Ph.D scholars are routinely harassed. "They are forced to change their topic of research midway. They are unduly delayed, and are failed in examinations and vivas. It is a stressful atmosphere for them." She says her support of Dalit students got her into the bad books of the management.

There have been many agitations against the management in the past over not filling the Dalit quota and the alleged harassment of Dalit students. Activists say there were even fewer Dalit students and faculty members in the institute some years ago, and it was only because of efforts by parties like Paatali Makkal Katchi (PMK), Dravidar Kazhagam (DK), Viduthalai Chiruthaigal (VC) and Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam (PDK) that the situation improved. In 1996, K. Viswanath, general secretary of the IIT SC/ST Employees Welfare Association, remarked in a letter to the institute's director that the institute was yet to have a professor from the SC/ST community even after 37 years of its existence. There were only two Dalits of the rank of assistant professor and there was just one Dalit scientific officer, he noted.

In 2000, the PDK published a book based on a study it did on the anti-Dalit attitude in the institute. The study noted that there were several departments at the institute where even after 41 years, "not a single Dalit student has been selected for doing Ph.D or has successfully completed his degree". The study also stated that, "almost all M.Tech and ms Students in IIT were Brahmins." The PDK is now demanding that the institute come out with a white paper providing details of the total number of Dalit students who have completed postgraduate and doctoral programmes. "The National Commission for SC/ST should closely monitor if reservation policy for Dalits is being strictly followed in student admissions," says Viduthalai Rajendran, PDK general secretary.

The PDK is not alone in levelling such charges. Retired IAS officer V. Karuppan, who is state convener of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), recalls that in 2005 a "meritorious" Dalit student was denied admission to the Ph.D course in the Mathematics department. "They didn't call him for an interview initially. But he was asked to appear for the interview after we argued his case with the authorities. But in the interview, they asked him irrelevant questions and failed him," he says.

There have been many complaints of discrimination against Dalit students in the campus. The PDK study cites the case of a Dalit student Sujee Teppal, who had scored 94 percent in Maths, Physics, and Chemistry in the public intermediate exam. Sujee had also secured admission in bits, Ranchi and bits, Pilani but chose to attend IIT Madras, where in spite of her meritorious track record she was made to join the mandatory one-year "preparatory course" for Dalit students. According to the PDK study, "at the end of the course in which she only re-learnt her 12th standard syllabus, she was declared failed." The institute refused to reverse its decision in spite of the intervention of the National Commission for SC/ST and the then state SC/ST minister Selvaraj in her favour.

Another serious charge against the institute is that successive directors have flouted rules in appointing faculty members, and do not advertise vacancies in newspapers. Former Congress MP Era Anbarasu has brought the issue to the notice of Human Resources Development Minister Arjun Singh in several letters. In the memorandum submitted to the minister on September 2, 2006, he states: "The ambiguity is apparent because even the number of vacancies is not announced. In order to broaden this arbitrariness, applications to the entry level position of assistant professor are invited for all the 15 departments at the same time. Norms and guidelines for selection are wilfully abandoned by the respective departments."

Anbarasu wants a high-level committee to probe irregularities in appointments and the violation of reservation policies by the IIT management. He has levelled charges against director MS Ananth, whom he calls a "highly casteist man". He says that disregarding all norms, Ananth has mostly chosen faculty members from his own community of Iyengar Brahmins. Of the six deans in the institute, four are from the Iyengar community.

In his memorandum to Singh, Anbarasu has demanded that the present director be replaced with someone from the OBC/SC/ST community as the institute has had only Brahmins as directors so far. "I met the minister (Arjun Singh) three or four times and discussed with him these issues. He promised to order a probe, but nothing has happened till now," he says.

A PIL filed by Karuppan last year against the allegedly flawed selection process in IIT Madras was dismissed by the High Court. Karuppan has now filed a review petition. He also met the IIT director along with a senior leader of the CPI to discuss the reservation issue, and says the director told him that no policy of reservation for SC/ST was applicable to IIT Madras. Karuppan says there are several cases pending in courts against the institute's selection and reservation policy. They include writ petitions by the IIT Backward Classes Employees Welfare Association, and the Vanniar Mahasangam.

An angry Thol Thirumavalavan, general secretary of the Dalit Panthers of India, says, "Dalits are only working as sweepers and scavengers in the institute". He wants the IIT management to release a white paper containing details of appointments and admissions given to Dalits and OBCs. "The Tamil Nadu government should demand this information from the institute," he says.

When Tehelka tried to meet IIT Director MS Ananth to get his views on the allegations against him and the institute, his secretary wanted this correspondent to send a mail stating the purpose for the interview. In the mail to the director, it was stated that the interview was needed "on the issue of SC/ST reservation policy in IIT, Madras." His reaction on Anbarasu's memorandum to the Union HRD minister levelling charges of corruption against him was also sought. However, his secretary said the director was not available for comments.

Posted by klajja at June 16, 2007 11:17 PM

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I came across your blog through Dalit solidarity network and thanks for all those wonderful articles.All these IIM's and IIT's are just run by these elite upper castes and this discrimination is going on for the ages.I think they are venting out their anger of reservation through display of cheap tricks by playing with students career. These kind of professors should be exposed in every institute and their names should be posted online.This must be due to lack of adequate dalit professors in the departments.Thanks to Tehelka.com for this article. I wish your articles should be spreading on internet, it can happen only when many blogs will be used for this cause. there by it can be shown in easy search of big search engines.Blessings.

Posted by: redeemed at July 30, 2007 06:06 AM

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