He Was Euphoric When He Made it to IIT-Bombay: Darshan Solanki's Father Recalls

Darshan was a Dalit student pursuing B.Tech at IIT Bombay. He had allegedly died by suicide in February this year.

6 min read
Hindi Female

On a crisp June evening, 48-year-old Ramesh Solanki – dressed in all white, with his head shaved – sat at a solidarity meeting at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), and sipped tea.   

Intermittent sips of tea were his only way of fighting back tears. “The students who are fighting for my son Darshan help me be strong. I see him in each one of them,” he said.   

On 12 February, Ramesh, a plumber in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad, got news that changed the course of his life, and shrouded him in unimaginable grief. His son, Darshan – an 18-year-old – died, allegedly by suicide, at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Bombay.   

Darshan was a first-year B.Tech (chemical engineering) student, and belonged to the Dalit community. Nearly four months after joining the elite educational institute, he was found dead near hostel-16 premises. 

The same day, student body Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC) had alleged that Darshan faced caste discrimination which led him to take the extreme step and called it an “institutional murder.” IIT-Bombay, however, had refuted these allegations and stated that "no steps can be 100 percent effective”, and discrimination by students, if at all it occurs, “is an exception." 

Since then, Ramesh has travelled from one city to another in search of justice. On 2 June, he was in Delhi, nearly 1,000 kilometres away from home, for a hearing on the case by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), which has recently taken cognisance of the matter.   

In an interview to The Quint, Ramesh spoke about the memories of his son, grappling with grief, and why he will continue to fight for justice.


'Darshan Was Euphoric When He Made It To IIT-Bombay'

“I don’t want what happened to Darshan to happen to anyone else. That’s why, I must fight,” said Ramesh, as students and teachers at JNU joined the solidarity meet and discussed caste discrimination in elite educational institutes across India.

Nearly a month after the 18-year-old’s demise, on 2 March, IIT Bombay had released an interim report of the 12-member internal committee, which had claimed: “His deteriorating academic performance could have affected Darshan seriously… There is no specific evidence of direct caste-based discrimination faced by Darshan.”

“How can someone who cleared the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) exam not once, but twice, be a weak student and score poor marks? I simply can’t believe it was suicide,” bemoaned Ramesh.   

Ramesh recalled how Darshan had cleared JEE for the first time and got through the civil engineering course.

“But he wasn’t convinced. At that time, I had even asked him to pursue B.Tech from IIT-Gandhinagar. But he persisted and appeared for JEE a second time – both times without any external coaching. He was euphoric when he made it to IIT-Bombay and I was proud of him,” said Ramesh, as a smile almost fleeted across his face. 


'Had Spoken To Darshan 30 Minutes Before He Died'

Janvi, Darshan's 21-year-old sister, who is pursuing a Masters degree in Computer Application (MCA) from an Ahmedabad-based university, had rejected the interim report released by IIT-Bombay’s internal committee and called it “complete falsehood.” 

She had earlier told The Quint that Darshan had often confided in her about facing caste discrimination on campus

“When he found himself stuck using a laptop, his friends used to mock him saying ‘you don’t even know this much.’ Whenever he used to go for group study sessions or even dinner, his batchmates used to say, ‘Dekho Dalit aa gaya (Look, here comes the Dalit)’,” Janvi had claimed. 

This was the first time that Darshan was away from his family.

Ramesh said that his last call with his son was approximately 30 minutes before he died on 12 February.

“He had just finished giving his exams, and was excited to visit us and our extended family. I had transferred some money to him as he was going out with his friends,” remembered Ramesh.


'Not Darshan's Handwriting in Purported Suicide Note' 

On 1 June, even as the NCSC took cognisance of the matter, Ramesh said that he was not convinced with the way the investigation has been conducted so far. 

“At the NCSC hearing, the SIT stated that a chargesheet has been filed in the matter and asserted that there is no evidence to prove caste discrimination,” Ramesh told The Quint

He said that the Mumbai police pointed at the evidence against Darshan’s batchmate Arman Iqbal Khatri as well as the handwritten 'note' which was recovered from his room. It is important to note that the Powai police had not found any such note during the preliminary investigation.

While the police claim that the note reads, “Arman has killed me,” Ramesh said that he does not believe that it is Darshan’s handwriting.

A First Information Report (FIR) was registered in the case by the Mumbai Police on 30 March under various sections of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

Arman was arrested on 9 April and charged under several sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) including section 306 (abetment of suicide) and 506 (criminal intimidation). After spending nearly a month in jail, he was granted bail by a sessions court in Mumbai on 6 May. 

Ramesh said that several faculty members of IIT-Bombay, including those belonging to the institute’s Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) Cell, were also present at the hearing. 

“They parroted the findings of the interim report. They said that Darshan got poor marks, and showed his marksheets at the hearing,” Ramesh said. He also claimed that he was not allowed to take his lawyer at the hearing. 


'Darshan Would've Turned 19 In March This Year'

Darshan was the youngest of Ramesh and Tarlikaben’s two children, with dreams, aspirations, fear, likes and dislikes of his own.  

“He was a cheerful child. He loved studying. Once, he got the second position in class five and was quite disheartened. I motivated him then to keep at his studies,” Ramesh recalled. 

He was fond of playing cricket and used to enjoy being out in the open or sitting by the banks of a river, reminisced his father. 

“He was a foodie. His favourite dish was makhaane ki sabzi and anything made of paneer. Darshan had a sweet tooth and loved gulab jamun and  motichoor laddoo,” said Ramesh. 

On 21 March, Darshan would have turned 19. “In his memory, we distributed laddoo to young children in our neighbourhood,” said Ramesh with a sigh.

Darshan was a Dalit student pursuing B.Tech at IIT Bombay. He had allegedly died by suicide in February this year.

An old photograph of Darshan with his father Ramesh, sister Janvi and mother Tarlikaben.

(Accessed by The Quint)

Over a cup of tea at a dhaba in JNU, even as the pink of the bougainvillea and the yellow of the laburnum dotted the campus, Ramesh remembered how Darshan cut off the TV cable connection when he entered class 12 to ensure there are no distractions as he prepared for the board exams.

“We had no cable connection in the house for two years as he was preparing for JEE… I miss him every day,” said the father.   

Grief has engulfed the Solanki household, and Darshan’s mother Tarlikaben has stopped going out of the house. “Every now and then I catch her staring at Darshan’s pictures or going through his videos on her phone,” said Ramesh.


'Need Monitoring Committee To Check Caste Discrimination At Campuses': JNUTA Prez

Ramesh, who was in Delhi for the NCSC hearing, had come to the JNU campus for the solidarity meet organised by Collective, a students group.

Also present at the meet was Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers' Association (JNUTA) president, Professor DK Lobiyal. He said, “Systemic caste discrimination at elite campuses is a reality which cannot be ignored. It happens in overt as well as covert ways. It is very difficult to gather evidence when the discrimination has occurred covertly.” 

He said that students belonging to marginalised communities often have to deal with the additional pressure of their financial condition back home and often find no support from the institute and administration. 

The APPSC had earlier alleged that SC/ST Cells in most IITs were not functional, with only two IITs allocating funds to these units, and only three IITs allotting a room. The student body had based these findings on an RTI. 

On being asked how to ensure a conducive environment for students, especially those coming from marginalised communities, at elite campuses, Professor Lobiyal remarked, “The faculty at IITs need to be sensitised on the issue, even more than the students. In addition, there needs to be a monitoring committee to check caste discrimination on the lines of anti-ragging committees.” 

He added that reservation among the faculty is one of the ways to ensure students belonging to marginalised communities find some support on campus. 

Meanwhile, Ramesh is determined to fight, not letting grief get the better of him. His objective is three-fold – “This should not happen to other students, and God-forbid if it does, my fight will inspire other parents to speak up and to push the lawmakers to check caste discrimination on campus.”

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