​Centre slept on NHRC’s 2013 Dalit discrimination report
Students staged a protest in New Delhi on Tuesday

By: Mihika Basu

Union HRD ministry under UPA-II failed to act and did not send a follow-up notice to academic institutions across the country. The new government too did not bother to take up the matter

The Union ministry of human resource development (MHRD) has been sitting on a National Human Rights Commission‘s (NHRC’s) alert in 2013 on caste-based discrimination and violence against Dalit students in premier educational institutions across India.

Academic institutions across India denied having ever received any specific instructions or directions from the ministry — either under UPA-II rule when the notice was sent to it or later, during the Narendra Modi regime — on taking measures to protect Dalit students from discrimination on their respective campuses.

In the context of the discrimnatory practice in the Hyderabad Central University which led a Dalit research scholar, Rohith Vemula, to commit suicide, the NHRC notice pointing to widespread bias against scheduled caste students gains significance.

The NHRC notice was based on a complaint filed by Kantilal Parmar from the Navsarjan Trust, Ahmedabad, on May 24, 2013. (Interview with Parmar on Page 2) The complaint drew NHRC’s drew attention to news reports claiming a series of suicides — 18 in all — by Dalit students in educational institutions across India over the years before Parmar’s complaint.

The institutions of higher education included a few of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru, and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi where Dalit students were discriminated against forcing some of them to commit suicide.

Moreover, Parmar had said in his complaint that this list of 18 was not an exhaustive one as it only covered cases which could be documented and where parents and relatives had raised their voices against the institutions.

An NHRC notice on June 5, 2013, had said: “The National Human Rights Commission has issued a notice to the secretary concerned in the Union ministry of human resource development on the basis of a media report alleging fierce caste-based discrimination and violence in the hostel of Dalit students in Patna University early this year. The Commission has also received a complaint from an NGO, Navsarjan Trust of Ahmedabad, quoting media reports that 18 Dalit students committed suicides during the last four years in premier educational institutions of the country including, among others, IIT, Mumbai; IISc, Bengaluru; IIT, Kanpur; AIIMS, New Delhi.”

The NHRC had further stated that the news reports, if true, “reflect widespread prevalence of discrimination towards Dalits in the educational institutions, driving them to take extreme steps”.

It had observed that the state has the responsibility and duty to ensure that an atmosphere is created in educational institutions wherein everyone, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, can pursue studies. “The Constitution of India has also elaborate provisions to stop discrimination against the Dalits,” the NHRC notice had said.

And yet the MHRD had failed to send out directives to the academic institutions to implement protective measures on a war-footing.

Some directors from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), on condition of anonymity, informed Bangalore Mirror that they either had not received any specific instructions from the MHRD on the issue of discrimination against Dalit students and subsequent steps that could be taken, or they could not recall receiving any such instruction from the Ministry back then following the NHRC notice.

“Usually, the IITs have strong student bodies and mentors in place who can be approached in case a student faces any problem, personally or academically. The office of the dean of student affairs across IIT campuses are also equipped to deal with any kind of discrimination against students. Also, every IIT has a strict mechanism in place to tackle complaints of bias on campus, albeit in a sensitive manner,” said an IIT director.

Widespread feeling
Meanwhile, an article by IIT Bombay’s student media body Insight, in its May 2014 edition, had stated that 56 per cent of students belonging to various categories like scheduled castes (SCs), scheduled tribes (STs) and other backward classes (OBCs), felt that discrimination did exist in the institute, albeit in a discreet manner. The survey on first-year students who had joined IIT Bombay in July 2013, had said while 69 per cent freshers denied any caste discrimination, 28 per cent said it was there in an indirect manner while three per cent said they had witnessed it first-hand.

Dalit suicides that led to NHRC alert

* M Shrikant, IIT Bombay (Jan 1, 2007)

* Ajay S Chandra, IISc, Bangalore (Aug 26, 2007)

* Jaspreet Singh, Government Medical College, Chandigarh (Jan 27, 2008)

* Senthil Kumar, University of Hyderabad (Feb 23, 2008)

* Prashant Kureel, IIT Kanpur (April 19, 2008)

* G Suman, IIT Kanpur (Jan 2, 2009)

* Ankita Veghda, Singhi Institute of Nursing, hmedabad (April 20, 2009)

* D Syam Kumar, Sarojini Institute of Engineering and Technology, Vijayawada (Aug 13, 2009)

* S Amravathi, Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad (Nov 4, 2009)

* Bandi Anusha, Villa Mary College, Hyderabad (Nov 5, 2009)

* Pushpanjali Poorty, Visvesvaraiah Technological University, Bangalore (Jan 30, 2010)

* Sushil Kumar Chaudhary, Chattrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University, Lucknow (Jan 31, 2010)

* Balmukund Bharti, AIIMS, New Delhi (March 3, 2010)

* JK Ramesh, University of Agricultural Sciences, B’lore (July 1, 2010)

* Madhuri Sale, IIT Kanpur (November 17, 2010)

* G Varalakshmi, Vignan Engineering College, Hyderabad (Jan 30, 2011)

* Manish Kumar, IIIrd Year BTech, IIT Roorkee (Feb 13, 2011)

* Linesh Mohan Gawle, PhD, National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi

(April 16, 2011)