The University Grants Commission (UGC) had made provisions for universities to have in place mechanisms to deal with cases of discrimination back in 2012, much before the resolutions made at the conference of Vice-Chancellors of Central Universities with the Ministry of Human Resource Development, on Thursday. The conference was held in the backdrop of the huge outcry over the death of University of Hyderabad Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula.
The UGC (Promotion of Equity in Higher Education Institutions) Regulation 2012 had, among other things, made it mandatory for varsities to have in place ‘Equal Opportunity Cell’ and appoint an Anti-Discrimination Officer.
However, different universities have interpreted these in their own way. While some of these cells have become defunct, others have turned into training centres. Many of them do not have a dedicated ‘Anti-Discrimination Officer’.
For example, Bangalore University’s (BU) Equal Opportunity Cell is all but dead, and university officials are citing different reasons for it. First among them is the existence of various other cells and committees established to deal with specific groups or issues.
“There is a Director for Students’ Welfare, which mostly gets hostel and food-related complaints. There are also committees for persons with disabilities, cells for those from the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, an ani-ragging cell, and one to deal with sexual harassment. Apart from these, students directly approach the Vice-Chancellor or the Registrar to submit complaints,” said K.K. Seethamma, Registrar (Administration), BU.
The “acute” staff crunch only contributes to the problem, she said. “We have only 350 teachers of the sanctioned 700 posts. And no one comes forward to take up these additional responsibilities,” she added. In Karnatak University, Dharwad, the same cell imparts training for competitive exams to “students from all backgrounds”, said Vice-Chancellor (VC) P. B. Gai, adding that the varsity had not come across any discrimination cases, while the students’ grievance cell mostly receives complaints related to exams, admissions or fellowships.
Karnataka State Women’s University VC Meena Rajiv Chandawarkar, on the other hand, said the Equal Opportunity Cell was “functioning well”, and had the main responsibility of providing access to scholarships and other schemes available to the students.