Why do our IITs need a SC/ST cell?

Recently, data obtained under the Right to Information (RTI) Act revealed that 16 out of 19 Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) cells in Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) across the country are non-functional. While four IITs did not even have SC/ST cells. Though the Center claims that 19 out of 23 IITs have dedicated cells for the welfare of SC-ST students, 16 of them are not functioning, the data showed. While 18 cells did not have any funds, 16 have not organized any event since August 2022. Twelve cells have no rooms allotted for meetings or discussions and 10 have no idea about reservation, or any mechanism to check quota implementation, the application filed Periyar Phule Study by Ambedkar Circle (APPSC), a student union based at IIT-Bombay, found.

IIT Delhi (Agency File Photo) premium
IIT Delhi (Agency File Photo)

The spate of suicides among students in IITs has led to allegations of caste-based discrimination in premier higher education institutions of the country, and highlights SC/ST cells, which according to the University Grants Commission are required to come up in all higher education institutions Were. (UGC) mandate since 1998. However, the mandate is not binding on the IITs, where since 2018, 33 students from marginalized communities, including Dalits, have died by suicide, according to a reply to Parliament earlier this year .

On 16 March, IIT-Delhi set up an SC/ST cell on its campus to ensure effective implementation of the reservation policy. Professor Praveen P Ingole, president of the cell and SC/ST Liaison Officer at IIT-Delhi, said that the cell is now fully functional and has already held meetings with its members and stakeholders. “IITs are not bound to follow UGC rules and guidelines as they are autonomous. But, IIT-Delhi has gone a step ahead and constituted an SC/ST cell as per the UGC mandate. The cell will not only monitor the implementation of reservation policy in the campus but it will also look into the grievances of the students belonging to SC, ST and OBC communities.

In February, the death of an 18-year-old Dalit student at IIT-Bombay sparked allegations of caste discrimination, something the institution denies. Four cases of suicide among IIT-Madras students between February and April alone also brought back the debate on the lack of a proper mechanism to address caste discrimination in these institutions. The issue gained nationwide prominence following the tragic death by suicide of Rohith Vemula, a PhD student at the University of Hyderabad, on January 17, 2016.

In such a context, the cell set up by IIT-Delhi is a significant step: it aims to implement, monitor and continuously evaluate the institute’s reservation policies for admission as well as recruitment of teaching and non-teaching staff. The institute is one of two – the other being IIT-Bombay – that have launched separate websites for SAIL. According to RTI data obtained by APPSC, IIT-Bhubaneswar is the only institute which has mentioned quota on its website but does not even have a cell.

IIT Bhubaneswar Liaison Officer-SC, ST, OBC, PWD and Minorities Rajkumar Guduru said that the institute has not yet created a special cell for SC/ST students. “We have proposed a special cell for SC/ST students, but this has not materialized so far. The current arrangement is that all such complaints will be addressed by the Director. No complaints have been received from ST students so far,” said Gudru.

Cell Responsibilities

According to an official notification issued by the institute on March 16, the cell has been mandated to implement the reservation policy, monitor and evaluate and plan measures to ensure effective implementation of the policy and program of the Government of India.

As per the reservation policy of the Government of India, IIT Delhi reserves 27% seats for students belonging to Other Backward Classes (OBC), 15% for Scheduled Castes (SC) and 7.5% for Scheduled Tribes (ST) students. The process of implementing the Teacher’s Reservation Bill 2019 (SC 15%, ST 7.5%, and OBC 27%) is under consideration and will be implemented soon.

The notification further states that the cell will deal with the representations received from SC, ST and OBC candidates in connection with their admission, recruitment, ratio and other similar matters. It will provide necessary assistance in resolving academic and administrative issues of SC, ST and OBC students and staff.

The cell will soon constitute a separate committee to exclusively deal with the grievances of SC and ST students. The committee will be in line with the UGC guidelines issued on April 11. “We already have a mechanism to redress the grievances of students, but we do not have any special committee to redress the grievances of SC and ST students. Therefore, we are considering creating a separate mechanism for redressal of grievances of SC and ST students by including a Students Grievances Committee under the SAIL exclusively for such students.

The UGC last month issued the Students’ Grievances Redressal Regulations, 2023, which will replace the 2019 guidelines, and mandate Student Grievance Redressal Committees (SGRCs) to include one member from a marginalized caste or tribe and one woman. Had done it. To deal with student grievances should be constituted by every higher educational institution.

“Our committee will be formed on the same lines. However, it will specifically deal with the issues of SC and ST students only,” Ingole said.

The cell is also planning to come up with an online platform through which students from marginalized communities will be able to register their grievances. “We are planning to add an option in our existing service portal of the institute through which students from marginalized communities can directly raise their grievances. The complaint will be directed to the liaison officer of the SC/ST cell and then the officer will forward those complaints to the Grievance Redressal Committee,” he said.

“However, till this system is put in place, any student can directly approach our cell,” he said.

Asked whether SAIL would have the power to punish faculty members or students found guilty of any discrimination against their SC, ST and OBC colleagues, Ingole said, “SAIL will not deal with complaints directly. It will be resolved by the concerned committee. Our job is to monitor the progress of the complaint and make sure it is being dealt with fairly. We will also focus on speeding up the process.”

concerns over autonomy

While students and faculty members on campus welcomed the formation of the cell, they raised concerns over its autonomy. “The cell should work independently without any pressure from the administration. It should not become a token gesture,” said a PhD student of the institute, who belongs to the Scheduled Caste community, requesting anonymity.

Responding to which Ingole said that the cell will work independently. There will be no interference from the administration in the functioning of the cell. The cell will maintain the confidentiality of every student who approaches it with a complaint,” he said.

The liaison officer said that the SC/ST cell with the help of other existing centers or committees in the campus will organize sensitization programs in the campus. “The cell will ask other bodies in the institutes to conduct sensitization programs and workshops and ensure that students from unreserved categories also attend these sessions. Sometimes students don’t even know what constitutes discrimination,” Ingole said.

“We are also looking at introducing a course or at least a module to sensitize students towards the issues of SC and ST communities,” he added.

Ingole further said that the cell may also explore bridge courses that are being offered by the institute during summer vacations for students from marginalized communities. “If we feel there is a need to start more courses, we will discuss it with the administration,” he said.

Meanwhile, the cell is also considering providing separate counseling services to students from SC and ST communities. “We may appoint counselors from SC and ST communities for this purpose,” he said.

(With inputs from Debabrata Mohanty)

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