IIT-Bombay ‘veg. table’ row | Dean says policy made by elected body, calls protest ‘provocative, insensitive’

October 05, 2023 09:32 pm | Updated 09:43 pm IST - New Delhi

The campus had been seized by the issue since July 2023, when a few students put up posters designating certain spaces in the common mess of Hostels 12, 13 and 14 for “vegetarians only” - without any sanction.

The campus had been seized by the issue since July 2023, when a few students put up posters designating certain spaces in the common mess of Hostels 12, 13 and 14 for “vegetarians only” - without any sanction. | Photo Credit: Prashant Waydande

As voices against the policy of a hostel canteen of the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B), segregating certain tables for vegetarian food begin to grow louder within the campus, the Dean of Student Affairs (SA) on October 5 sent an email to all students and staff on the issue, the first from the administration on the controversy.

In the email, Dean (SA) Suryanarayana Doolla said that while the IIT-B, “unlike other institutions” does not and will not have any separate vegetarian mess space, the segregation policy formulated for the mess of Hostels 12, 13, and 14 was decided upon by the Mess Council - an elected student body - which “represents the students at large”.

This is why the wardens have been asked to look into ways to resolve the conflict, the Dean said, further blaming the students who protested the policy for starting the ongoing controversy on campus. He said such “provocative and insensitive” actions will not be tolerated.

The Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC), a student body on campus that had supported the protest last week, registered a strong protest against the Dean’s email in a public statement issued on Thursday night - alleging that the Office of the Dean was “spreading misinformation” about the protest and the events that led to the ongoing controversy.

This comes even as some students and faculty have started signing a letter petition online, asking the Dean of Student Affairs to revoke the segregation policy and the ₹10,000 fine imposed on one of the students who led the protest against the said policy of the Mess Council.

The campus had been seized by this issue since July this year, when a few students put up posters designating certain spaces in the common mess of Hostels 12, 13 and 14 for “vegetarians only” - without any sanction. The Mess Councillor had at the time issued a statement barring any such segregation.

However, with “complaints” coming from students over the next few weeks, the Mess Council took a unanimous decision in a meeting and last week issued a rule sanctioning segregation in the mess - reserving six tables for those eating vegetarian food only.

As an act of “individual civil disobedience”, four to five students protested against the policy the following day by eating their dinner with meat at one of the reserved tables amid shouting and jeering from others in the mess. Within days, one of the students who had protested was slapped with a ₹10,000 fine by the Mess Council and an inquiry was launched to identify two other students suspected to be involved in the protest.

In the email addressed to all on campus, the Dean (SA) on Thursday said that the students had continued with their protest despite being asked by the faculty concerned to not proceed with it and wait for a formal meeting. He called the protest an act that “disrupted harmony” on campus and “led to the conflict”.

“In addition, there were reports of some students deliberately spilling non-veg food to cause discomfort to fellow students. Such provocative and insensitive actions are not acceptable,” he said in the email, even though eyewitnesses to the protest and the APPSC have denied that any such thing had happened during the peaceful protest.

The APPSC went on to point out that well before the controversy began this year, there have been multiple reported instances of students being harassed for even mistakenly taking their non-vegetarian meals to the “unofficially” designated vegetarian space. It asked what the Dean (SA) had done to resolve these conflicts that had been reported to the administration.

The student body went on to ask what action had been taken against the students who had “unauthorisedly” put up the posters in July this year and sought to know if these actions were not promoting disharmony.

It went on to question how the Dean (SA) was calling the Mess Council an elected student body given that it consists of four faculty members and three students and operates under the supervision of the Associate Dean (SA).

The APPSC said, “The misinformation spread by the administration (the respected Dean’s office) might end up in spreading deliberate distrust among the student community. Peace and harmony can best be maintained in our campuses by maintaining the spirit of constitutional rights and not by inducing majoritarian insecurity and fear.” 

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