After two Dalit students allegedly died by suicide at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi in the past two months, a campus-wide survey on caste discrimination circulated by the institute’s Board of Student Publications (BSP) was suspended within hours of commencing.
As soon as the survey was shared, complaints said the survey’s design was “biased, insensitive, and problematic”, with the institute’s official Scheduled Caste (SC)/Scheduled Tribe (ST) Cell stating that it had not been consulted on the survey.
“The cell was officially never consulted about this matter. The chairperson of the cell was never made aware about a survey or the questions that were supposed to be in it. We will examine the said survey,” the chairperson of the SC/ST Cell told The Hindu.
The BSP said it was withdrawing the survey because “proper channels were not followed”.
In July this year, Ayush Ashna, a final year B.Tech student in the Mathematics and Computing Department allegedly died by suicide. Earlier this month, Anil Kumar of the same department also died allegedly by suicide. Both students belonged to Scheduled Castes.
Mr. Kumar’s death had led to renewed outrage from students at IIT-Delhi on the need to investigate indications of caste discrimination, and initiate an inquiry against the Mathematics and Computing Department, among a list of other demands that have officially been communicated to the administration.
On Thursday, students on campus told The Hindu that they were made aware of a survey being conducted by the BSP for the next edition of The Inquirer, one of the BSP’s publications. The BSP is the officially-recognised student publication of the institute, and is headed by Professor Gaurav Goel of the Chemistry Department.
The survey, titled ‘Student survey on caste-based discrimination’, contained nine sections, with a total of around 45 questions, and was being circulated on a Google Form, with the survey promising anonymity to respondents.
Students pointed out that in the section on opinions about reservation and affirmative action, “bias is clearly seen”. In the said section, one of the two questions asks the respondent their opinion on reservation in the institute. Out of the four choices, one is “Prefer not to answer”, and of the other three, two responses are negative while one is a conditional positive.
In addition, in the section titled ‘Representation in Student Bodies’, only two questions are asked, neither of them having anything to do with representation. One question asked: “How willing are you to take up a Position of Responsibility on campus?” and the other asked existing holders of positions of responsibility to “rate their experience in terms of personal growth”.
Another question, which asked respondents to rate how often they witnessed a particular type of caste discrimination, had ‘Never’ on one extreme and ‘So common that I don’t even bother’ on the other, with students saying this would be insensitive for SC/ST/Other Backward Classes (OBC) respondents.
“Not taking the cell or its members into confidence for something like this is showing how social exclusion is operating in the institute,” Shainal Verma, student representative of the institute’s SC/ST Cell said.
As of Thursday evening, the survey had been suspended, with the web page saying it was “no longer accepting responses”.
“It was accepted that proper channels were not fully followed. Therefore, we have withdrawn the survey,” Professor Goel, president of the BSP, said.
Those who require assistance for overcoming suicidal thoughts may contact Sanjivini, Society for Mental Health suicide prevention helpline 011-4076 9002 (10 a.m. to 7.30 p.m., Monday-Saturday) or by calling any of the numbers provided in this link