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How Many Rohit Vemulas Will We Lose Before We End Caste Discrimination?

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This post is a part of JaatiNahiAdhikaar, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz with National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights & Safai Karamchari Andolan, to demand implementation of scholarships in higher education for SC/ST students, and to end the practice of manual scavenging. Click here to find out more.

Last year, the Ministry of Education shared data in the Parliament which showed that in the last five years (2014-2019), a total 7,248 students have dropped out from the IITs. The Ministry sighted better placements opportunities as the reason for drop out. But there is another side of the story. The percentage of SC/ST and OBC students in the drop out is 47.58%. 24% of the dropouts belonged to OBC category, 15% constituted SC and 8% constituted ST category in the case of IITs. The dropout rate at IIMs is even higher than IIT’s. The SC, ST and OBC together constitute a total of 62% of the drop-out students at IIMs. The highest number of dropouts were from IIT Delhi, IIT Kharagpur, IIM Indore and IIM Kashipur.

college students in line for admission
The percentage of SC/ST and OBC students in the drop out is 47.58%. Representational image.

Finding Loopholes

One has to find reasons for the high drop out from the IITs and IIMs. According to the Ministry, the reason for these dropouts is attributed to shifting to other colleges/institutions, personal reasons, medical reasons, placement during PG courses and pursuing higher education abroad. The drop out in undergraduate programmes is attributed to withdrawal due to wrong choices filled, poor academic performance, personal and medical reasons.

The action taken by the government includes the appointment of advisors to monitor the academic progress of students, provision of additional classes for academically weaker students, peer-assisted learning, counselling on family and personal issues, psychological motivation, appointment of liaison officers, internal complaints committee and extracurricular activities to de-stress students. Even when close to 50% of the dropouts from the prestigious institutes of the country are from SC-ST and OBC category, the government didn’t find it necessary to form a committee to look into the ‘caste-angle’ of this serious issue.

This is not just about the students but also about the appointments of the faculties in the reserved category. On December 31, 2018, Ministry of HRD (now Education ministry) replied to a question that the sanctioned strength of faculty in all the 23 IITs is 8856, against which, 6043 faculty are in position and 2813 are vacant. Of the 6043 faculty in position in the IITs, 149 are from the Scheduled Castes (SC), and 21 from Scheduled Tribes (STs).

The ministry also laid out that IITs follow a flexible cadre system for appointment of faculty and hence the sanctioned strength of faculty is not fixed. But one should ask whether under the disguise of a ‘flexible cadre system’, are the IITs not sanctioning the required number of faculty from  SC /ST categories? 

According to the reservation policy standard rate of 15% and 7½ % for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), there should have 906 faculties from SC category and 453 faculties from ST category in position as of December 31, 2018. This is just 2.46% and 0.12% against the sanctioned 15% and 7.5% for SC and ST’s respectively.

This Is How Caste Operates In Eminent Universities Like JNU And DU

This marginalization does not only happen in IITs but also at other eminent institutes like Jawaharlal Nehru University and Delhi University. JNU was set up in 1966. But the shocking thing is that it adopted the reservation policy for appointing Assistant Professor in 1982 i.e. after 16 years of establishment and for the post of Professor and Associate Professor, after 55 years of its establishment.

In 2015, the Ministry of HRD set up a committee under the leadership of Shri. Faggan Singh Kulaste to look after the welfare of SC/STs and implementation of reservation policy in Jawaharlal Nehru University. The committee was disconcerted by the litany of excuses put forth by JNU that either the candidates do not apply or do not fulfil the essential qualifications and specialisations advertised to justify the current shortfall.

It also expressed grave displeasure on the insouciant attitude of JNU in this regard. The committee reported that inadequate representation of SC/STs in the teaching faculty in such a premier education institution points to a failure somewhere down the line in the educational system whereby students from the reserved categories are not able to come up to such educational standards required to be selected for the posts of Professors, Associate Professors and Assistant Professors.

The committee also stressed that JNU should introspect on this issue. It was recommended that necessary relaxation/concession should be provided to SC/ST applicants while considering their applications for these posts to increase their representation that would also act as a morale booster for the student community.  The data with regard to reservation in Delhi University is in many ways similar to that of JNU. A committee under Shri Kirit Solanki reported that as of April 2015, only 1.13 % persons out of total sanctioned posts of Professor were from the SC category whereas there was no representation of ST among this post. Only 3% persons out of total sanctioned posts of Associate Professor were from the SC category and only 0.3% were from the ST category. 

Representational image.

Why Is More Representation Must? 

We are in 2021 and the dream of having an egalitarian society is still far away. Despite there being constitutional and legal safeguards in place for the upliftment of SCs/STs, the disparities between SC/ST and non-SC/ST continue to exist alarmingly. The circumstances under which a person is forced to live their life are responsible for their future.

The motto of reservations is equal representation.

It has been so many years since independence, but even today, the representation of  Bahujan and Adivasi people is minimal in the most important positions of the country. Despite all this, the panel feels that IITs should be exempted from implementing proper reservation measures. In most colleges, the SC-ST cells are mere formalities. The government should pay attention to how more and more Bahujans can get seats in reputed institutes like IIT, IIM, JNU, Ashoka and more. As long as the number of Dalit and Bahujan faculty members do not increase in such reputed institutes, Bahujan students will continue to be harassed, directly or indirectly.  

Transforming New India 

The goal of the government should be to raise the universal status of all Dalit students and tribals so that they can compete with the privileged savarnas. Casteism, inequality, racism will never be eradicated unless the hatred and contempt felt by the upper caste towards Dalit and tribal students is eradicated. When we talk about equal competition, we have to see if there is enough representation from all castes to come forward for this uphill battle. How long will it take to clear the ingrained prejudice from the minds of casteist people? How many Rohit Vemulas will India have to lose to give up this systemic caste discrimination?

References : 
  • Lok Sabha Starred Question No. 267- 31.12.2018
  • Rajya Sabha Unstarred Question No. 3731 – 25.07.2019
  • Sixth Report: “Role of Educational Institutions including Universities, Technical,  Medical and Engineering in the socio-economic development of SCs and STs – Implementation of reservation policy in Jawaharlal Nehru University”. (2015-2016) -Sixteenth Lok Sabha.
  • Twenty-Second Report: Role of Educational Institutions including Universities, Technical, Medical and Engineering in the socio-economic development of SCs and STs – Implementation of reservation policy in University of Delhi”.(2018-2019) -Sixteenth Lok Sabha.
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