Published: 13th April 2019
If I withdrew discrimination complaint, my PhD would have been cleared: IIT-Kanpur scholar Subrahmanyam Saderla
IIT-Kanpur's associate professor, Subrahmanyam Saderla, has been on the news for the "caste-discrimination and institutional harassment" he has faced at his institute
After the international education fraternity came down on them, the IIT-Kanpur board decided not to revoke Dalit researcher Subrahmanyam Saderla's PhD degree but decided to get his thesis examined by an independent expert committee. But he has not received any formal notice yet. The last year has been one downhill journey for the researcher as he went from being discriminated against for his caste to watching the professors who discriminated against him walk scot-free, almost. The incident, he says came as a shock to him because he never thought that caste-based discrimination was this frequent in modern India. At home to perform his father's last rites, 31-year-old Subrahmanyam, who is working as an Assistant Professor in the Aerospace Engineering department, spoke to us about what really happened in IIT Kanpur. Excerpts from the conversation:
The Board of Directors is yet to take a decision about your thesis. What is the situation like at campus?
There's just a drama playing out at the campus right now. The Senate can only recommend an action. The Board has to take the decision. And this recommendation is just a way to get back at me for complaining about their friends who were then found guilty of harassing me. The director called me and said that there is no reason to worry and that nobody can touch my degree or thesis. There were no serious charges as per the Ethics committee report.
How did this whole investigation into your thesis start?
The complaint was only about the literature survey part of it and the appendix. The appendix includes just the references and the literature survey is an account of the current state of research in the field and what has been done so far in this field. There were parts in my literature survey that had similar content as my senior's literature survey. But that is because his work was also in the same field as mine. But I rewrote the whole section and submitted it again.
What happened after that?
Someone sent an anonymous letter saying that I had committed plagiarism. If this was a serious case of plagiarism no one would do that unless they had some other agenda — clearly this is nothing but an attempt to seek revenge on me for complaining about their friends who were found guilty of harassing me. I have heard about authors complaining about plagiarism but no one has ever heard of anonymous e-mails complaining about it. This whole thing was a huge conspiracy to set up a sort of trade-off — if I take back my case against the seniors they would take back the complaint. And I was offered that too.
Did you face any discrimination when you were a student here?
I did my Masters and PhD in IIT Kanpur. But I never felt any discrimination because my professor was very protective. Dr AK Ghosh, the current HOD, has always been very supportive. He kept me so busy with work that I didn't even have time to interact with people. And he has also been advocating against discrimination but not many pay heed. I feel these people cannot digest the fact that someone from a lower caste is at the same place as them and at the same position too. To be honest I never knew what is caste or any discrimination based on it. My mother is from a 'so-called' upper caste and my dad from a 'so-called' low caste. My parents have also kept me protected from these social evils. My family is not just multi-caste but multi-religious also. My maternal grandfather converted from Hinduism to Christianity. But that happened after my parents got married. So, my mother is Hindu.
How are your parents taking this whole issue?
I am at home now to perform my father's last rites. He passed away on March 26, 2019. He was the one I had spoken to about this and he was stressed. He died of a heart attack. My mother knew nothing. My dad did not let her know.
Do you think there is a way to stop this from happening to anyone else?
You need equality in your society. You have to stop looking down on people because of where they come from and start appreciating their work. Whenever there is a majority the others will be affected badly. Now that I have spoken up a lot of people are coming out with their complaints and I intend to stand by them.