IIT Bombay student suicide: Harking back at similar death and interim report in 2014, students express dissatisfaction with inquiry committee

"This report is the most unscientific document to come from a scientific institution," writes the Amebdkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC), a student organisation on Twitter
Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay tops the list| Pic: IIT Bombay
Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay tops the list| Pic: IIT Bombay

The recent alleged death by suicide of Darshan Solanki, an 18-year-old Dalit student from IIT Bombay, has attracted the attention of academia from all over the country, highlighting the issue of caste discrimination in elite institutes and the critique is still pouring in. And more is on the way with a section of IITians rejecting the inquiry committee's report on Darshan, which was released yesterday, March 7.

"This report is the most unscientific document to come from a scientific institution," writes the Amebdkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC), a student organisation on Twitter, which was questioned by the inquiry committee. The report mentions that though the students mentioned instances of caste discrimination on campus, Darshan was not known to be facing such issues.

"We did not know him personally, but other students spoke of cases of caste discrimination in classes and other places. However, Darshan was not the only one facing them, so the committee was not ready to accept those. We feel the institute has washed its hands off responsibility with the report," said a spokesperson from APPSC.

The student mentions that the organisation will be bringing out a detailed letter on the matter soon. Meanwhile, APPSC has taken to social media platforms to express their views further on the committee's report, which has been labelled "amateur". "The report is quite contradictory in critical places which automatically shows a direct bias during investigation, trying hard to avoid caste-based discrimination to come up in the conclusion," an Instagram post reads.

The committee's report mentions that Darshan usually used to stay most of the time in his room, did not have many friends and was performing poorly in academics. It was also mentioned that "he was sensitive about his caste identity" and had only confided in his sister about the discriminatory problems he was facing, but had told her that he would "adjust" and "manage". It was concluded that Darshan took the extreme step because of his low marks.

The students are critical of these statements. "It is concerning if an 18-year-old boy was feeling conscious of his caste identity," APPSC writes in its Instagram statement, adding that if he was feeling so, and could not get along with others, the committee should have dug deep to find out the reason and unearthed the problems, instead of vaguely concluding that his marks were the reason. "Has no one ever performed poorly in the history of IIT Bombay," the students question.

On the other hand, a purported video of Aniket Ambhore's father giving a speech has also been circulated by the students on social media. Ambhore, a student from IIT Bombay, allegedly died by suicide in 2014. In the video, his father can be heard speaking that the committee's report would do no good; it would link the boy's grades to his death and bring up nothing of the caste discrimination issues, as had happened in his son's case.

A purported email by a professor from the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Department to a faculty group was shared with EdexLive, which agrees with the parent's statement. "The committee that conducted an internal investigation into Aniket Ambhore's tragic suicide in 2014 went over much the same grounds. Like that report, this one too tends to assume that caste discrimination comes distilled as isolable acts and/or slurs," a part of it reads.

"Like that report, this one too proceeds under the assumption that if no direct causative triggers can be found between such acts/slurs and a suicide, then no links exist between caste-discrimination and student suicides...SC/ST students in IITB, have unambiguously reported caste-based discriminations and oppressions. The committee does not seem to have been detained by these surveys at all. They were perhaps deemed irrelevant to Darshan's suicide." it adds.

"The Director, in a welcome move, has constituted a committee to examine academic stress among first-year UG students. However, there is no hint, even in the distant horizon, of any move to inquire into systemic casteism in the campus," the document reads further.

Another student from the institute, who wishes to remain anonymous, points out that the members of the inquiry committee were biased on grounds that there was no external member as there should be in such cases, and the representation of professors from SC/ST community was less than 50 per cent of the total number of members. "Even Darshan's family is displeased with how the situation has panned out. His family was not contacted before the post-mortem was conducted, as is protocol. And there were different narratives from the police on how and where Darshan had fallen down," the student said.

"The committee's report is factually correct, but the way the facts are presented nullifies the larger issue of caste discrimination. The facts that he was uncomfortable about his caste identity, lack of knowledge on computers, not getting along with others and his confiding in his sister about discrimination, only call for an investigation. But they were presented in the report as disjointed incidents, and the situation was very individualised," she added.

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