Published: 08th March 2023
#WhatTheFAQ: Caste-based discrimination or academic struggle — what led to Darshan Solanki's suicide? The story so far...
The recent interim report of the investigation committee by IITB concluded that deterioration in academic performance was the reason for Solanki’s suicide, a claim that APPSC and his family vehemently
The suicide of Darshan Solanki, a Dalit student from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB), has caused a stir in the country, reigniting discussions on institutionalised caste-based discrimination in elite institutions. The Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC) at IIT Bombay alleges that it is a case of institutional murder, while the institute refutes the claim. The recent interim report of the investigation committee by IITB concluded that deterioration in academic performance was the reason for Solanki’s suicide, a claim that APPSC and Solanki’s family vehemently reject. Here is what has unfolded so far.
Darshan Solanki, an 18-year-old first-year student of IIT Bombay, died by suicide last month. Following his death, the Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC) released a three-page document accusing the institute of caste discrimination and lapses in administration, highlighting challenges faced by reserved category students. The document claimed that non-English speaking, non-urban students, oppressed castes, and low-income families faced immense discrimination and harassment from students, faculty, and institute employees on campus. The APPSC cell termed the death an "institutional murder" and demanded that the Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act be invoked in the case. They also demanded that the IIT carry out an independent investigation through a panel with at least 50 per cent SC/ST representation.
What is IIT Bombay saying?
IITB has refuted the claims of "institutional murder" and stated that it takes every possible measure to ensure an inclusive campus. An IANS report quoted the institute spokesperson as saying, "IIT-B has zero tolerance for any discrimination by faculty. Caste identity is never disclosed to anyone, whether students or faculty, once the admission is done." The institute also stated that there are very few complaints about the SC/ST cell.
In their interim investigation report from March 2, the committee rejected caste discrimination as the cause of Solanki's death and instead emphasised his deteriorating academic scores as a contributing factor. The report stated that "DS (Darshan Solanki) neither contacted the SC-ST students' cell nor the cell mentors about facing any kind of caste-based discrimination or difficulty. He also did not contact the Students Wellness Centre, Hospital of IIT Bombay, or other institute functionaries in the context of any caste-based difficulty faced by him."
How did the APPSC cell respond?
The APPSC cell made several revelations about the case, including instances where Darshan expressed his concerns about caste-based discrimination on campus. They also released screenshots of an anti-reservation and casteist post made by the head counsellor of the Students’ Wellness Centre of IITB, stating that individuals in such positions make the campus environment less supportive for marginalised students, which discourages them from seeking help. In a recent conversation with EdexLive, an APPSC cell member said, "These counsellors completely ignore social factors and power hierarchies caste while counselling and blame the individual students for their mental health issues."
The APPSC has rejected the investigation report, calling it the most "unscientific document from a 'scientific institution'" and alleging that it could be renamed a "signed confession of institutional murder of Darshan Solanki by committee." In their statement, they remarked, "The nonchalance with which the committee has substituted Darshan's name with 'DS' speaks volumes of the shallow, superficial and flippant attitude in which they have prepared a hasty report." The cell also questioned the institute's caste sensitivity for citing Solanki's rank as an issue since ranks and JEE scores form the basis for discrimination in IITs.
Is the campus inclusive?
Representatives from both IIT Bombay and IIT Madras have continuously complained about a lack of proper SC/ST cells and grievance redressal mechanisms for marginalised students. APPSC cell previously also called out the IITs for their subtle and daily casteism based on names, English proficiency, JEE scores and rankings. The cell said that the urban crowd usually makes the marginalised crowd feel like they do not belong at the institution, and as a result, they are completely alienated on campus. Furthermore, allegedly, anti-reservation sentiments are commonplace and casteist slurs are thrown at these students. They are criticised for all the support they receive from the government and are called freeloaders for their scholarships.