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In Findings of IIT Delhi Survey, a Glimpse of Hostility That Bahujan Students Face

One of the disturbing findings of the survey shows that one in two “general category” respondents admitted to making casteist comments intentionally or unintentionally. Of them, nearly 15% admitted to having intentionally passed casteist comments. 
The entrance of IIT Delhi. Photo: 
By Eatcha/Wikimedia Commons CC BY SA 4.0

Mumbai: In the past months, two students – Anil Kumar and Ayush Ashna – of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi died by suicide. Both students, barely 20 years old, belonged to the Dalit community. Following these two deaths in the institution, the Board for Student Publications (BSP), the institute’s official media body, initiated a campus-based survey on caste discrimination. It had to be withdrawn within a week as many students found it “insensitive” and “irrelevant”.

But more than three years ago, a similar survey was conducted by the media body and the results are telling. The survey – based on 545 responses from undergraduate students – shows that two out of every three students from the ‘general category’ felt that “students who belong to the reserved classes get undue advantages in IITD”. The ‘general category’ consists mostly of students from savarna caste groups and some from religious minorities. 

Students from both savarna and Bahujan – those belonging to the Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) – groups were surveyed. The Board for Student Publications claims that permission was not given for the survey to be published on the institute’s website and hence the findings remained under wraps for more than three years. 

One of the disturbing findings of the survey shows that one in two “general category” respondents admitted to making casteist comments intentionally or unintentionally. Of them, nearly 15% admitted to having intentionally passed casteist comments. 

For many Bahujan students, the road to IITs was the first space where they encountered casteism. Over 23% of students, the survey said, faced casteism while preparing for JEE, the entrance exam for IITs. Over 14% of the participants shared that they encountered casteism after coming to IIT. 

In recent years, several cases of acute casteism and the deaths of students from the Bahujan communities due to institutional problems have come to the fore at different IITs. While the institution has refused to take responsibility, such surveys give a sense of the hostility and difficult environment that students have to navigate through. 

Also Read: Interview | ‘There Is Nothing Meritorious about IITs,’ Says Prof Who Resigned Over Casteism

After 18-year-old IIT Bombay student Darshan Solanki died by suicide in February this year, the university set up a 12-member committee to look into the cause of his death. The committee later came out with a controversial report, individualising his death, blaming his “poor scores” and completely disregarding the rampant casteism prevalent on campus.

The Wire first revealed that different IIT Bombay bodies, including the SC-ST student cell, had conducted multiple surveys towards the end of 2021. These brought out the insensitive, hostile and discriminatory atmosphere on campus. 

The IIT Delhi survey was conducted in early 2020, according to students who participated in the survey. 

Both campuses, like most other premier institutions in India, have failed to take corrective measures to change the environment on campus. Instead, as seen recently, IIT Bombay and IIT Hyderabad have set up segregated “vegetarian spaces” in the mess. A student who protested against the “veg-only tables” decision was fined Rs 10,000.

IIT Bombay. Credit: University website

IIT Bombay. Photo: University website

The survey conducted by the Board for Student Publications shows that 50% of students from SC/ST communities felt that students intentionally pass casteist comments. In the survey, when savarna students were asked questions about casteism, some claimed they faced “casteist comments”. This, the study says, shows the “definition mismatch” among students belonging to different caste groups. This mismatch, research scholars who were a part of the survey, say comes from how students from different caste locations look at caste and discrimination.

“A savarna caste student will happily be a part of an anti-reservation WhatsApp group. He won’t mind making casteist comments on the group. But if he finds out about a Bahujan student becoming a part of an anti-caste social media group, he will cry hoarse,” said a PhD student at IIT Delhi. 

The research scholar pointed out some limitations of the survey. “The survey fails to recognise instances of ‘positive discrimination’. It groups terms used for marginalised groups and privileged groups as ‘casteism’,” he said. He further added that assertions by those from marginalised identities too have been categorised as casteist behavior – without understanding the context in which those statements were made or understood. 

It is not just the students but also professors and administrative staff who indulge in casteism, the survey claims – 11% of students who participated in the survey claimed to know of “IITD Professors/administrative staff who have made casteist comments”. 

While many face caste-based discrimination, only a handful are able to speak up, the survey indicates. Three out of four students from the SC, ST and OBC categories are negatively affected by casteist comments, the survey finds. While 59% of the savarna students choose to remain neutral to the casteist atmosphere, 41% expressed that they are “negatively impacted” too. Of the students who participated in the survey, only 20% said they were able to oppose casteism when they encountered it.  

A large chunk of the savarna students expressed their displeasure against facilities made available to those from the Bahujan caste categories. Over 60% said they felt “it is unfair” that people have to pay different fees based on their (caste) categories. Close to 60% found facilities like the book bank made available to students belonging to reserved categories as “unfair”. 

While a similar questionnaire was sent out to students from across caste groups, the last question was visible only to those who filled OBC, SC or ST as their category. From these communities, 215 students responded. Of them, 52% belonged to OBC communities and 48% belonged to SC and ST communities, the survey notes.

Among those who responded to the last question, “68% of the reserved category respondents from metro cities felt that their achievements were undervalued as compared to 24% from a small village.” A similar trend, the survey points out, can be observed for the “I am negatively affected when I hear a casteist comment” option and “I was hesitant in disclosing my rank/caste in front of other people in my first year”.

The survey says 88% of the SC population and 74% of the ST population were hesitant to talk about their rank or caste, while the same is true for 46% of the OBC population. From the results, it can be inferred, the survey report says, “that a significant number of students from the reserved categories feel undervalued and are negatively affected when someone makes a casteist comment”. 

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