Published: 03rd April 2019
Scholars, activists sign statement slamming IIT-Kanpur for trying to revoke Dalit prof's PhD — for calling out senior colleagues' casteism
A three-member committee had found that Saderla was a victim and recommended that the institute’s Board of Governors take action against the four senior professors harassing him
Over a hundred academicians, intellectuals and activists from across the world have slammed IIT-Kanpur for attempting to revoke the PhD of an SC scholar who accused senior professors of caste discrimination. The statement of solidarity with Dr Subrahmanyam Saderla was signed by scholars from universities from TISS to Brown University to Columbia University and SOAS University of London. It was also signed by activists like Arundhati Roy.
According to reports, IIT-Kanpur has recommended recently that Dr Subrahmanyam Saderla's PhD degree be revoked. Dr Saderla, an assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering, is an alumnus of the same institute — he received his MTech and PhD degrees. Revoking his degree means that he would lose his job at the university. The administration's recommendation will reportedly be placed before the institute’s Board of Governors soon, where the final decision would be taken.
Saderla joined IIT-Kanpur in January 2018 and was, reportedly, the subject of caste-based discrimination by four senior professors — Ishan Sharma, Sanjay Mittal, Rajeev Shekhar and Chandra Shekhar Upadhyaya — who, allegedly, made casteist remarks against him and questioned whether he is mentally fit to be part of the institute. "He submitted a complaint regarding this against the four professors, which was taken up by a three-member committee set up by the institute," the academicians' statement said.
Saderla’s complaint also said that he was humiliated and ridiculed at conferences organised by his own department and in social gatherings including one dinner party at the residence of one of the four senior professors. The complaint also reported that emails had been circulated among faculty members questioning his credentials. “In addition to the caste-based discrimination I have been facing by the hands of these professors since the day I joined IIT Kanpur, they have now started making random allegations on my research work…They started digging up things against my wife. I am continuously being harassed and anonymous emails against me are doing the rounds in the institute,” he told The Indian Express.
A three-member committee found that Saderla’s allegations were true and recommended that the institute’s Board of Governors take action against the four senior professors. Following this, at the board’s request, a retired judge of the Allahabad High Court investigated the complaint once again, and also found the accusations against the four professors to be true.
Following the committee’s recommendations and the retired judge’s findings, the institute’s Board of Governors in November 2018, reportedly, decided to demote Sanjay Mittal and Chandra Shekhar Upadhyaya, and let off Ishan Sharma with a warning. Rajeev Shekhar had, in the meanwhile, been appointed as the Director of IIT-Dhanbad. The Kanpur police also registered an FIR under Section 500 (defamation) of the Indian Penal Code, the Information Technology Act, and the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against the four professors. The National Commission for the Scheduled Castes also took cognisance of the case on the basis of a complaint submitted by Saderla, and issued an order that the institute lodge an FIR against the four professors under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and suspend them from duty; this order was stayed by the Allahabad High Court on an appeal by the four.
IIT Kanpur’s faculty forum has now, allegedly, sided with the four senior professors who were found guilty of caste-based harassment by the university appointed committee and stand accused of an atrocity under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. A group of 130 faculty members resolved to “divest” the institute’s Deputy Director and the Head of the Aerospace Engineering Department — who were supporting Saderla, at an “emergency meeting” convened after the filing of the FIR. They demanded that the institute “defend” the four professors and bear their legal expenses. The forum requested that faculty members contribute voluntarily to a “legal defence fund” for the four professors.
"It is in this climate where the entire faculty body of the institute is hostile to Saderla that the current developments have taken place. An anonymous email sent to several faculty members on October 15, 2018 alleged that Saderla had plagiarised sections of his doctoral thesis on parameter estimation of unmanned aerial vehicles using flight test data at low and high angles of attack. The anonymous complaint was referred to the institute’s Academic Ethics Cell, which investigated the complaint and submitted its report in November 2018," read the statement of solidarity signed by the scholars.
The report of the nine-member ethics committee found “no reason to revoke the thesis” either. It stated “...there is no allegation of plagiarism with regards to the scholar’s research work comprising his creative and technical part of the dissertation, including detailed experiments, tables, figures and the conclusions drawn from them. Thus the only instances of copying are restricted to certain introductory passages in several chapters and mathematical basics and preliminaries."
The nine-member committee in its report stated that “the committee felt that it would not be proposed to consider revocation of the thesis” instead they recommended that Saderla rewrite the passages in question and submit an updated thesis in a month, and tender an apology letter to the institute’s director for his “misdemeanour.” Saderla complied with these recommendations and duly submitted an updated thesis and letter of apology within the recommended time period. However, in a meeting of the institute’s Senate on March 14, 2019, it voted to have Saderla’s PhD revoked.