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1 Year to Dalit Student Darshan Solanki's Death at IIT Bombay: What Has Changed?

The 18-year-old student had allegedly died by suicide merely a few months after joining the elite campus.

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It has been a year since the death of Dalit student Darshan Solanki at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, but his father Ramesh Solanki’s quest for justice seems to have taken a long pause.  

Eighteen-year-old Darshan – a first year student of Chemical Engineering at IIT-B – had allegedly died by suicide on 12 February 2023 just a little over three months after joining the elite campus.

A student group at IIT Bombay, called the Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC), had labelled Darshan’s death “institutional murder” and alleged that despite complaints, "the institute did not care to make the space inclusive and safe for Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi students.”

IIT-Bombay had refuted these allegations at the onset. 

Eighteen days after Darshan’s death, an interim report was submitted by an internal committee, which claimed that “the despair of deteriorating academic performance appears to be a very strong reason which might have affected Darshan Solanki very seriously.”

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Darshan’s father, Ramesh Solanki, who works as a plumber in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad, had rejected the report, saying the committee did not consider all evidence and material on record. Darshan’s sister, aunt, and uncle had alleged to The Quint that his friends used to taunt him for his Dalit identity and that Darshan faced caste-discrimination on campus. 

Although an FIR was filed by the Mumbai Police against unknown persons under various sections of the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 as well as Section 306 (abetment of suicide) of the Indian Penal Code a month after his death, Ramesh told The Quint that he is still “awaiting justice” – and that the “case is going in the reverse direction.”

What has changed on the ground in the last 12 months? The Quint finds out: 

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‘Where is Final Report of IIT-B's Internal Committee Probing Darshan’s Death?’ 

“Darshan’s uncles, aunts, friends, and family have come home. We are all sitting and reminiscing about my son’s childhood,” Ramesh told The Quint on Monday, 12 February, a lump in his throat. 

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

Ramesh had earlier told The Quint that Darshan had cleared JEE (Joint Entrance Exam) twice – both times without any external coaching – and that he “was euphoric when he made it to IIT Bombay” in 2022. 

“How can someone who cleared the JEE not once, but twice, be a weak student and score poor marks? I simply can’t believe it was suicide,” Ramesh had lamented, referring to the outcome of the interim report. 

The interim report, which also ruled out “any specific evidence of caste bias”, was submitted by a 12-member committee, which was appointed by the Director of IIT Bombay and comprised Professor Nand Kishore from the Department of Chemistry, wardens of Hostel 16, and members of the SC/ST Cell at IIT Bombay.  

“It has been a year to Darshan’s death. When will the committee send the final report or disclose its findings,” asked an IIT-B student.  

Last year, the APPSC, too, had raised questions about the committee, demanding more SC/ST representation in it as well as external members for unbiased investigation. 

The student, requesting anonymity, told The Quint that the administration had promised an ‘Open House’ discussion post-Darshan's death and claimed that it hasn’t taken place till date. He remarked, "The institute does not feel the need to discuss the issue with its students!" 

 The Quint has reached out to IIT Bombay’s Public Relations Office (PRO) and will update the story once they respond.  

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‘Cosmetic Adjustments Made Post-Darshan's Death, No Palpable Impact on Ground’  

Ramesh said that the pall of gloom that had engulfed the Solanki household after Darshan’s death has started to lift. Darshan’s mother Tarlikaben, who at one point couldn’t stop looking at her deceased son’s video on her phone and mourning, is now slightly better. Darshan’s elder sister Jahnvi has also taken to her studies in college.  

It was Jahnvi, who had earlier alleged to The Quint, that Darshan had confided in her about facing caste discrimination from his peers on campus. She had said: 

“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, Dalit is here).’ 

Nearly six months after Darshan’s death, IIT Bombay had allegedly issued a set of "anti-discrimination guidelines" which stated that it is inappropriate to ask other students about their JEE ranks and GATE scores – and that violations can lead to "severe punishment." 

A student of IIT-B and member of APPSC, requesting anonymity, told The Quint that some “cosmetic adjustments” have been brought about, but changes are not palpable on ground in the “absence of a clear mandate which defines the roles and responsibilities of the SC/ST Cell.” 

The students demanded the administration to disclose the grievance redressal mechanism of the SC/ST Cell as well as lay out steps taken to ensure inclusivity on campus. “While these guidelines have started the conversation, the dominant narrative is anti-reservation,” the student said. 

On 4 July 2022, The Indian Express had reported that the SC/ST Cell of IIT Bombay plans to introduce a mandatory course on caste awareness. The move was reported after surveys conducted by the Cell indicated holding sensitisation events and having a mandatory academic course on caste and racial discrimination.

The students that The Quint spoke to claimed that there has been no action from the administration in this direction. One of them said, “The SC/ST Cell has again gone into oblivion.” The Quint has reached out to IIT Bombay’s PRO about the same, too. They are yet to respond.

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'Only Faculty Diversity Can Address This Issue'

On being asked about any recent updates in the case registered under the SC/ST Act on 31 March last year, Ramesh told The Quint, Case peeche jaa raha hai (the case is going in the reverse direction).” 

A month-and-a-half after Darshan’s death, Mumbai Police Special Investigation Team (SIT) had recovered a 'suicide note' from Darshan’s hostel room at IIT Bombay. Over a week later, on 9 April 2023, the police arrested Darshan’s batchmate Arman Khatri in connection with abatement of his suicide. 

While Khatri was let out on bail on 6 May last year, a 443-page chargesheet was filed by the Mumbai Police on 30 May, which stated that Darshan had a tiff with Khatri in his last few days, and that he was afraid of his friends finding out about his caste over the past few months. 

Khatri, on 1 August 2023, had filed a writ petition in the Bombay High Court appealing to quash the chargesheet, Ramesh’s lawyer Avinash Ovhal told The Quint. It was registered by the court on 3 January this year and is scheduled for a hearing on 2 March. 

Meanwhile, the APPSC member said that proper representation of Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasis in faculty recruitment is a way forward in addressing caste discrimination as well as for caste sensitisation.

An RTI filed by APPSC paints a grim picture as far as faculty recruitment in 2022 is concerned. According to the figures posted by the student body on social media, a meagre 9 SC candidates were recruited through Mission Mode Recruitment of the total 133 vacancies in 2022. 

“We have yet not received the RTI reply on corresponding figures in 2023 for IIT Bombay, but IIT Kanpur, which reported three student suicides last year, point at an equally grave situation. Faculty members are decision-making bodies and there has to be a proportionate representation of SCs, STs and OBCs in the same for the students' problems to be addressed,” the APPSC member said. 

A parliamentary committee, last week, submitted a report saying SC and ST candidates are deliberately declared "not suitable" for appointment as faculty members in educational institutions because of "biased" assessment by selection panel. It also recommended mandatory inclusion of SC and ST candidates on the selection panel during recruitment to avert the said bias.  

“If there are not enough SC/ST candidates in the faculty, then how will that representation show in the selection panel during recruitment drives,” the APPSC member remarked, as he pressed for an urgent need to recruit more faculty from the oppressed communities.   

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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