"Unacceptable": Students, critics weigh in on IITs alleged caste profiling for jobs  

Most recently, instances of casteism surfacing in the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) have led to experts questioning whether the identity of a student would eventually lead to the death of the
Picture Courtesy: TNIE
Picture Courtesy: TNIE

As per the evidence accrued by EdexLive, via Dheeraj Singh, an IIT-Kanpur and IIM-Calcutta alumnus and the founder of an online forum, Global IIT SC/ST Support Group, students have been surrounded by a blanket of doubt, as few IITs namely Kanpur, Bombay, Guwahati, and others, are allegedly mandatorily requesting students to mention their category or their general rank as per the CRL (Common Rank List) while registering themselves with the placement portal of the institute. It may be noted that officially, all three aforementioned IITs have refuted the allegations point blank.

Not only this, several companies made it mandatory for students to mention their category along with their general ranks, during the registrations. How could this be problematic for the students and why are they fearing this? Few of the testimonies provided to us by Dheeraj Singh are indicative of a fear that deeply resides with the students. Although they have proven themselves at these institutions beyond their identities, the doubt of being discriminated against as a student from a marginalised community lurks. 

Student testimonies scream fear
A final-year student from IIT Kanpur says, "I belong to SC Category ... and want to bring to your notice that some of the companies in the placement season are making us fill the general rank in JEE (Joint Entrance Examinations)." The student further expressed his apprehension regarding the process of the placement, "I personally am afraid if I mention anywhere that I don't have a general rank but a category rank, they won't select me for further process." This was shared with Dheeraj Singh with EdexLive, who has been relentlessly advocating for these students. 

The student testifies, has a score of 7.9 CGPA (Cumulative Grade Point Average), and knows how to code which adds to his skill set but fears that he might not be provided with an opportunity of employment as of yet at one of the premier technical institutes of India.  

Another student testimony shared by Dheeraj Singh states, "I have a score of 7.7 but since it is not a high score, I am worried whether I will get shortlisted." The student's fear revolves around his inability to seek help and guidance from his friends and mentors as he believes that would result in them finding out about his caste. As the students were already under extreme duress, they were apprehensive about connecting with the media directly, informed Singh.   

"The shame is what one calls systemic," says Singh. A systemic form of discrimination takes place culturally and socially and this permeating into education is nothing short of trauma-inducing for several students, he adds.

"Born Back Loggers"

A file forwarded to EdexLive by the IIT Kanpur alumnus shows how the ostracising of SC/ST students is not a new affair. The circular dated April 3, 2003, reads, "Back loggers including BORN (emphasis added) back loggers must discuss their courses with the undersigned before mailing." The notice was allegedly floated by professor Dr BP Singh from the Mechanical Engineering Department of IIT Kanpur. 

Source: Dheeraj Singh, Founder, Global SC/ST Alumni Support Group
Source: Dheeraj Singh, Founder, Global SC/ST Alumni Support Group

In an email to the then director of IIT Kanpur Sanjay Govind Dhande, many students had alleged that such forms of verbal attack were not limited to the notices, they claimed that the professor passed derogatory remarks. 

Following the release of the controversial notice, Singh, with other SC/ST students, had raised the issue which led to the formation of a fact-finding committee by the IIT, with proper faculty-student representation. As per the report of the committee, shared with EdexLive by Dheeraj Singh, "the committee, therefore, believes that Dr Singh's actions were not intentionally malicious or discriminatory but they revealed a gross insensitivity to consequences and an inability to understand that his actions were hurting the feelings of a section of students". 

It also stated, "While the committee thinks...no disciplinary action need be taken against Dr Singh, the Institute must seriously counsel Dr Singh and try to sensitise him to the consequences of his actions."     

But have such situations in these institutions diminished in number? A former student of IIT Kanpur belonging to the General Category shared with EdexLive that there is an "active situation of discrimination going on in the campus and this will affect the mental health of the students and severely affect their placement of some of the deserving students there."

Critics struggle to find a reason

Dr Ravikant Kisana is popularly known as Buffalo Intellectual (@ProfRavikantK) on X (formerly Twitter) and he engages actively in critical caste studies. In a conversation with EdexLive, he opines that this is not a newly formed discourse of casteism that students face. "The discourse has been present for a very long time. Historically at such places, if a student is dark-skinned or if their English falls short of perfection, next their ranks will be inquired to prove convictions true, that dalit students are inferior when compared to the savarna students."

Another critic of caste discrimination, Nethrapal, an IIT-IIM alumnus and also the author of The Pain of Merit, a book that analyses caste-merit and reservation, says, "Ideally speaking, collection of such information is creating a sense of prejudice in the minds of the recruiters... if this data is being used to segregate the students as per their caste, it is a violation of several provisions of the Constitution."

The critic questions if such information is recorded with the students' consent before it is shared with recruiters, and asks if the students are being explained as to why this data is collected. He shared with EdexLive, "The Personal Digital Data Protection Act, 2023 clearly lays down provisions on how to collect sensitive personal information such as caste." The ramifications of the collection of data can lead to further discrimination of students. 

Where is the transparency?
Nethrapal states that the matter regarding the collection of such data by the companies and the IITs can be resolved if the reasons behind doing so are made clear. "They should provide a reason and not only this, to protect the privacy of a person, such information should immediately be deleted as it would have nothing to do with employment after a person is hired by the company. All this should be done in tandem with the laws laid down by the Data Protection Act."

MG Devasahayam, a former Army and Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, calls it "unacceptable", and says that there is a difference between how admissions and placements are carried out. "A company has the right to collect such data only if they are looking to diversify and emphasise no-discriminatory policies or else, such selections should be purely made based on merit." The former bureaucrat also suggests that the matter must be investigated and an Affirmation Action Plan must be implemented to make sure that such data, even if collected, are done while maintaining legalities and should also be administered effectively.

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