Two days after it said “discrimination by students, if at all it occurs, is an exception”, the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay on Thursday admitted that it had conducted two campus-wide surveys that documented different kinds of caste discrimination faced by Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe students and the consequent mental health issues they were facing, as reported by The Hindu on Wednesday.
This comes amid charges from the Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC), a student body of the campus that the institute was responsible for the death of 18-year-old Dalit student, Darshan Solanki, who allegedly killed himself inside the institute on Sunday afternoon. The student body alleged that the institute was aware of the scale of the problems faced by SC/ST students and still did not take steps to address them in time.
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On Thursday, IIT-Bombay officials confirmed that two surveys were conducted by the SC/ST Cell, one of which was conducted in collaboration with the Student Wellness Centre (first in February 2022 and second in June 2022) to address issues of discrimination and “culture of exclusion”. The institute said, “The purpose of the surveys was to gauge the priorities of the tasks ahead and get suggestions on new tasks for the SC/ST students’ cell.”
Because of this, the institute had not taken explicit consent of the participants to publish the results of the surveys, the administration explained, justifying the move to keep the results confidential in the face of demands from the APPSC that these results be made public.
“The surveys indeed helped to prioritise the tasks; various SC/ST cell initiatives were started,” the institute added, saying among these measures were the SC/ST Cell mentorship programme, the caste-sensitisation course (mandatory for all), and. scholarship-related hand-holding workshops.
While the institute said it had the sensitisation course in the works ever since the two surveys were completed last year, officials added that the content for this course “is under preparation”.
Officials also said that the SC/ST Cell mentorship programme, where students of marginalised backgrounds can choose a student mentor from their own social backgrounds, had begun in May 2022. However, this had not been extended to Solanki’s department, Chemical Engineering, by the time he enrolled into the programme, according to students. However, the institute insisted this programme had been wholly rolled out.
In one of the surveys (conducted in February 2022)asking students to share experiences of discrimination, the institute had said, “We promise to devise policies that will make sure that such events and culture of exclusion is no longer repeated.”
Under fire from the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, which was acting on a complaint about the lack of mental health support for SC/ST students, IIT-Bombay had also been directed by the Union Education Ministry to hire SC and ST student counsellors, which Director Subhasis Chaudhuri had on February 1, 2023 said was “in the process”.
(Assistance for overcoming suicidal thoughts is available on the State’s health helpline 104 and Sneha’s suicide prevention helpline - 044 24640050. Those in distress could also seek help and counselling by calling helplines from this link)