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How Many Colleges Really Have A Functioning Redressal Cell For The Marginalised?

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.

Yes, even my college hasn’t created their own committee for addressing the issues of Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi students in campus but it has implemented the UGC guidelines of 12th plan which talks about forming Equal Opportunity Committee as a redressal mechanism in higher institutions for SC/ST students.

In my campus, Equality Opportunity Cell was established by one Bahujan teacher while in some institutions, no such cells have been formed. This signifies that the teaching staff from the Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi background are the ones who can make these guidelines well established in campuses. Lack of similar action from most of the teachers belonging to the so-called upper castes clearly shows their mindsets.

I got to know from the Vice-President of Equal Opportunity Cell (EOC) of my campus that it is only the cell that takes some actions regarding concerns of Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi (DBA) students through protests, discussions but the administration doesn’t play any role in it. And now, even the EOC works less, with limited powers, as now even the convener of EOC is from a so-called upper caste who has made the functionality of any event difficult. The union of EOC have to ask her and the conduct of all events depends on her whims and fancies.

This is also suppressing as it stops us from raising or voice as much as needed to make our issues get noticed in the mainstream of college. Teachers do discriminate but it’s difficult to approach the administration for they don’t even consider the complaint. The Vice President stated, “College administration has zero roles. Even if we are able to conduct discussions and open mike events., stage a few protests and sit in, we won’t get any result. But we can atleast ease out our minds from the burden of doing nothing.”

This is the reality of redressal mechanisms in one of the prestigious college of University of Delhi. You can imagine the conditions of other colleges and universities across India and the discrimination faced by the DBA students in these campuses as the environment, administration, professors, students have a Brahminist ideology. Now let’s look at the regulations of UGC 12th plan and how far it has been implemented.

Representational image. Photo: The Indian Express

University Grants Commission (Grievances Redressal) Regulation 2012

Concerning the increasing number of allegations of harassment made by DBA students, University Grants Commission (Grievances Redressal) Regulation 2012 was formed by UGC to prohibit the harassment, discrimination on the grounds of caste and to ensure a caste-bias free environment in campuses.

It includes establishing Equal Opportunity Cells, SC/ST Cells concerning issues related to finance, social, political, family as mandated by the UGC guidelines to be followed by higher educational institutions. It includes the appointment of anti-discriminatory faculty advisors for SC/ST students to be able to approach them with their problems for help. These guidelines show how a campus can be rid of caste bias effectively but we need to take a bite of the reality sandwich.

Let’s have a look at the Thorat Committee of 2007 to check the history of caste discrimination in these campuses. UGC later came up with some special provisions to ensure equal representation and the anti-discrimination environment in these institutions in its 12th plan.

History Of Caste Discrimination In Higher Institutions: 2007 Report Of Thorat Committee

A committee was formed to check on the discrimination and alleged harassment of SC/ST students in AIIMS, Delhi mentioned through various complaints. Under the chairmanship of Sukhdeo Thorat, then UGC Head, this committee was formed.

The 77 pages report revealed  76% were asked about their caste directly or indirectly during evaluations, while 84% claimed their grades were affected owing to their caste.

Students were forced to live in isolation in hostel rooms, faced discrimination in mess, faced abuse and violence by dominant castes and external examiners were invited for the viva of SC/ST students. “Nearly 25-30 students in top educational institutes have died in the last decade or so but the subsequent governments have failed to take any concrete policy decision to end caste discrimination in educational institutes,” Sukhdeo Thorat told this to the New Indian Express on 31st May 2019.

It has been 14 years since this report was passed but the situation is only getting worse.

Let’s have a look at the recent surveys, facts which reveal how determined our system is to make the higher educational institutions “caste-bias” free.

Students of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences protesting| Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Students Union 2017-18/Facebook

How Far Have The UGC Guidelines Been Implemented?

Bhumika Jain, on 9 August 2019, reported in SabrangIndia that in a recent survey conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, BITS Pilani and Christ University, it was found that UGC Guidelines are yet to be implemented in colleges/universities. Teachers and students of less than a third (42) of 132 institutes had information that they can access the equal opportunity cells or SC/ST cells or lodge a complaint against the ill-treatment being done to them. Only 4 of the 15 institutes (having a badge of ‘institute of excellence’) and 4 of the 13 IITs had the same information while none of the 6 first-generation IIMs had this information.

On 9 July 2019, Indian Express reported, HRD Ministry revealed that over 70 cases of caste discrimination in universities and colleges across the country were reported to the University Grants Commission during 2017-18 in which 66 were cases related to students of Scheduled Castes and 6 were of Scheduled Tribes.

There are a number of studies and cases of caste discrimination against SC/ST students. From Balmukund, Rohith Vemula to the recent cases of Payal Tadvi and Muthukrishnan Jeevananthan these were deaths by suicide which should be called as “institutional murders” as these institutions created such conditions for these DBA students where they felt forced to take their own lives. 

The representation of SC/ST students are already much lower in these higher institutions and the existence of an environment with no one to listen to, harassment by so-called “upper castes” and systemic ignorance of their issues furthers their problems. 

The government and administration of these institutions should think until they get an answer to these questions.

Are these institutions really inclusive? Are the students are treated equally? Do they need more Rohits and Payals to die to ensure effective redressal mechanism in higher educational institutions?

We are entering a new decade. Will we be entering with “new” cases of harassment in these higher educational institutions?

Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Jaati Nahi, Adhikaar Writer’s Training Program. Head here to know more about the program and to apply for an upcoming batch!

This post is part of theJaati Nahi, Adhikaar Writers' Training Program, 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 and apply.

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