Published: 02nd February 2023
IIT Bombay: Students allege caste discrimination; NCST demands director's response
The APPSC student group has demanded that all faculty, staff and students be caste sensitised through workshops
The National Commission of Scheduled Tribes (NCST) has served a notice to Subhasis Chaudhuri, Director of IIT Bombay (IITB), directing him to report on students' complaints of caste-based mental harassment. The notice, dated January 31, has allowed the institute three days' time to respond.
The Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC), IIT Bombay, which is a student group, wrote to the NCST regarding mental harassment at the campus. The students allege that they have been facing such issues from time to time, but the matter escalated when a counsellor appointed at the Student Wellness Centre (SWC) was known to have made a snide comment against reserved category students in a Facebook post.
In the purported post, APPSC alleges that Counsellor Hima Anaredy has questioned the merit of students belonging to the reserved classes and has passed casteist remarks. Due to this, many SC, ST and OBC students claimed that they stepped back from receiving the counsellor's help, though they needed it. "And those who went to her were mistreated," stated an APPSC member, on the condition of anonymity.
He further said that the Facebook post has been there on the counsellor's profile for seven years and this is the length of time that students have been experiencing harassment on campus. "IIT is stressful for everyone. If a counsellor appointed at SWC behaves this way, where else can we seek help?" the student asks.
He mentioned that after the Facebook post was seen by the students, they wrote an email about the issue to the Director of IITB, asking him to take action, and appoint counsellors who were well-versed with the problems reserved category students face and are aware of their socio-cultural background, preferable someone from their own community. "But the institute refused to do so. Then we wrote to NCST," the APPSC member said.
This was last year, in June 2022. After the students' complaint, in November, NCST asked the Ministry of Education to ask for IITB's response on the matter. "But our Director denied receiving any email from us at that time. So, we wrote to NCST again, along with the email we had sent as proof, following which, the NCST served another notice now," the student stated.
The students demand that the counsellor be immediately terminated, and a new one, who is caste-sensitised, be appointed in her place. Additionally, the students want IITB to be directed to conduct a special recruitment drive to hire professional counsellors from SC/ST/OBC backgrounds, following the reservation mandate.
"These problems are created due to lack of representation of the reserved category in faculty and other positions, and due to violation of the reservation norms," the APPSC member said. Thus, the students have also demanded that IITB conduct "caste-sensitisation programmes and workshops for all employees, faculties and students, making it compulsory for everyone to attend," as mentioned in their letter to the commission.
APPSC has further requested the Alumni association to include counselling and help for caste-based harassment in the Bandhu portal, which is a self-help website, funded by the alumni. "Currently it provides counselling for gender and sexual orientation-related issues, but there is no provision for caste-based problems," the student said.