Days after a few students at IIT-Bombay protested against a rule reserving some tables for “vegetarian food only” by eating meat at one of the “reserved” tables, hostel administrators have slapped a penalty of ₹10,000 on one of the protesting students and launched an inquiry to identify two other students it suspected were part of the protest.
The campus saw controversy erupt after administrators at Hostels 12, 13, and 14 last week reserved six tables in the common mess space for vegetarians, promising action in case anyone flouted it.
The day after, on Thursday, about four to five students, in protest against segregation of the mess, ate dinner at one of the six “reserved” tables in what they called “individual civil disobedience”. The students who led the protest emailed their respective mess and hostel administrator notifying them about the protest.
While some students supported the protest, there was opposition from some quarters, who argued for the need to “respect the sentiments of the minority”. Amid shouting and harassment, in the form of being recorded without consent, the protesting students stood their ground, finished their meal, and left.
On October 1, the Mess Council of the three hostels held an online meeting with the Wardens and Assistant Wardens about complaints regarding the flouting of rules by some students in the mess on September 28.
While the minutes of this meeting, made public by students on Monday evening, said that it reviewed evidence against a resident of Hostel-12 and held him responsible for “instigating the incident”, it did not mention the nature of evidence.
The mess council resolved, “This act was a premeditated attempt to disrupt the peace and harmony within the mess, in defiance of the advice provided by the associate dean SA… At least two other individuals were involved, whose identities are yet to be ascertained.”
It added the student’s behaviour was “contrary to the inclusive and peaceful atmosphere at H-12,13,14 mess”, further imposing a ₹10,000 penalty on the concerned student to be deducted from their Semester Mess Advance (SMA).
The SMA is an advance amount — around ₹25,000 to ₹30,000 - that each student pays as a mess fee in advance. A deduction from this account would mean that the concerned students would have to pay an extra ₹10,000 to avail mess services for the remainder of their semester. The student was notified of the penalty in an email on October 1.
The mess council further resolved to take the help of student representatives to identify the other two students suspected to be involved in the incident, adding that disciplinary action would be taken against them also.
The rule designating separate tables for people eating vegetarian food only was the culmination of an incident in mid-July, when a few students had put up a poster in an unauthorised manner declaring some tables were “for vegetarians only”. At the time, the mess councillor had denounced such segregation saying there was no space in the mess that could be reserved nor could anyone seek to exclude anyone.
While unsaid segregation at IIT messes across the country have been called out by students, and alumni as a manifestation of caste-discrimination - this is the first time such a segregation has been sanctioned by hostel and mess authorities officially.
The Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle of IIT-Bombay, a student collective that had supported the protesting students last week, on Monday said, “This action of the admin is similar to a Khap Panchayat acting to uphold untouchability in modern times.”
The IIT-Bombay administration is yet to publicly address the controversy over the “vegetarian food only” policy being implemented in the mess space of Hostels 12, 13 and 14.