'Made To Feel Undeserving': Students at Elite Institutes Say Caste Bias Rampant

Students speak up on 'caste bias,' days after IIT Bombay student Darshan Solanki died by suicide on campus.

6 min read
Hindi Female

Saala SC hone ke baad bhi itna attitude dikhata hai! (You’re flaunting so much attitude despite belonging to Scheduled Caste!) This is what a first-year student at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras was told, allegedly by a college senior on campus. 

Meanwhile, an IIT-Delhi student claimed that two of his "Brahmin friends would even play a game of guessing people's castes based on their skin colour." The student wrote on Twitter, "They made fun of me too, always blaming the mess in my hostel room on my upbringing as someone from an unclean non-Brahmin caste."

Ever since the news of the death by suicide of 18-year-old Darshan Solanki – a Dalit student at IIT-Bombay, allegedly due to caste discrimination – surfaced, many former and current students of elite educational institutes have shared instances of the caste bias they have faced. 

The Quint spoke to students and alumni of institutes such as IIT-Bombay, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and National Law University (NLU) about the overt and covert ways in which they have faced caste discrimination on campus.


‘College Counsellers Also Upper-Caste’: NLU Student 

A young woman, who belongs to a Scheduled Caste, and studies at the National Law University (NLU) spoke to The Quint on condition of anonymity. She alleged that once her roommate got to know that she belonged to a Scheduled Caste, “her demeanour changed, especially when it came to academic discussions.” 

The woman said, “The bias was not in my face but I could see it in the way she treated my opinion about academics.”

It is pertinent to note that Solanki's kin too had alleged to The Quint that the 18-year-old had confided in his sister and an aunt that when his peers found out that he's Dalit, their behaviour towards him had changed.

Meanwhile, the NLU student also claimed that apart from this, "some professors" casually call out students by their surnames, which can be “off-putting” for some of the students. “This is not a big deal for those who come from privileged backgrounds or are upper caste… But for some of us, it is problematic because it tells the entire class which caste we belong to,” the student added. 

She recalled a recent incident at Gujarat NLU where a professor had asked students to tell their ranks during an introductory session. “That effectively gave away which caste/category students belonged to, thereby isolating them further,” she lamented.

On being asked whether she approached the SC/ST Cell to address her grievance, she pointed out that the Cell only became operational three years ago. “As a first-year student then, it was scary. I didn’t want to be identified as the girl who created drama. A lot is at stake for us, especially us,” she said. 

A couple of years later, she said that she has realised that “going to the SC/ST Cell won’t have made much difference.” She said, “The process is long-drawn, and your name gets dragged through dirt. Besides, caste discrimination at law colleges is so subtle, you can’t really pin-point it. It just happens around you. You can feel it but it can’t be materialised into an issue… People don’t understand,” she said. She also said that the college has two counsellors and “both are upper caste. “  


‘College Conducted Survey on Caste But Findings Not Made Public. Why?’ Asks IIT Bombay Student

“The idea of IITs being elite institutions, driven by meritocracy, has added additional pressure, especially on students who do not belong to privileged backgrounds,” a student at IIT Bombay, requesting anonymity, told The Quint

About Solanki, the IIT-B student said, “He cleared one of the most challenging entrance exams on his own without any help from coaching institutes. There are so many like Darshan here, who have made it on their own. They are the brightest students who have overcome so many hurdles to earn a seat at the IITs.”

Solanki's uncle Indravadan Parmar too had told The Quint a few days ago that he was a "brilliant student, who had made it to his dream institute because of his own hard work. He did not even take coaching."

“The moment a student from the SC/ST background steps on campus, he or she is ambushed with a new kind of cut-throat competition. To be told that one is undeserving because one came through reservations can be very unnerving. I remember Darshan telling his friend once, ‘Main ghar pe sabka laadla tha, yahaan to koi value he nahi hai (I used to be everyone’s favourite at home. Here, I have no value)’,” the IIT-B student recalled.

Also a member of student collective Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC), the student claimed that the SC/ST Cell at IIT Bombay was not doing enough to support students belonging to these communities, adding that the Cell got a room on campus only last year. 

“The Cell has not conducted any sensitisation activities to become visible. Students are not even aware of its existence… IIT-B had conducted two surveys – one on instances of caste discrimination in February 2022 and one on mental health in June 2022 but the findings were never made public,” he alleged. 

The student said that despite the findings not being made public, a mentorship programme was started based on those findings of the survey. “Isn’t this acknowledgement that students are facing discrimination on campus? First, IIT-B needs to acknowledge that there is a problem, only then can it be rectified,” said the student.

Meanwhile, IIT-Bombay, in a statement, refuted allegations of caste discrimination, saying, “The institute takes utmost precautions to make the campus as inclusive as possible. IIT-Bombay has zero tolerance for any discrimination by faculty. Caste identity is never disclosed to anyone (whether students or faculty) once the admission is done... While no steps can be 100 percent effective, discrimination by students, if at all it occurs, is an exception.”


Faculty Hurled Casteist Slurs: AIIMS Resident Doctor 

Tu SC hai, apne level mein reh (You’re a SC, stay within your limits), “apna muh band kar (shut your mouth)” and “kaali billi ki tarah mera rasta mat kaat (don’t cross my way like a black cat all the time)” are some of the things a faculty member at the Centre for Dental Education & Research (CDER) at AIIMS allegedly said to a senior resident doctor in March 2020, as per an FIR filed with the Delhi Police by the latter. 

The FIR was filed under sections of the SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and IPC section 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace) after the woman, on April 17 2020, attempted suicide, allegedly over caste and gender-based discrimination. 

The woman doctor had allegedly overdosed on medication in her hostel room, and was found unconscious by her friends. She survived and later told the police that the faculty member had allegedly been discriminating against her for the past two years.  

A senior doctor formerly at AIIMS told The Quint that caste discrimination was pervasive at the elite medical college. “Students belonging to the SC/ST and OBC categories are often under-marked in their interviews, to prevent them from scoring equal or more than General category students. If that happens, a reserved category student can get their seat converted to General category, and the authorities do not want that to happen,” he alleged.


‘No Space To Participate’: TISS Student 

“It felt like I didn’t have any space to participate in discussions or to just talk,” a former student of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) told The Quint on condition of anonymity. 

The student who belong to the Other Backward Classes (OBC) background, said, “I was always made to feel the additional pressure to match up to skills of students who come from privileged backgrounds – their language prowess, their confidence. But I always felt I lacked something.” 

On being asked, whether she had approached any Cell at TISS, she said she hadn’t. “I don’t think there is any Cell or mechanism for OBC students. If there was, I wasn’t aware. I didn’t file any complaint.” 

She said that she used to discuss issues with fellow students and other student groups. “Being an institute of social sciences, there was discussion on casteism and discrimination, unlike the IITs where students may not be exposed to discussions like these,” she remarked. 

She said that Solanki’s death by suicide reminded her of medical student Payal Tadvi, who had died by suicide in May 2019 allegedly after facing harassment by her seniors. Tadvi, 26, belonged to a Scheduled Tribe, and was a second-year MD student at Mumbai’s TN Topivala National Medical College (TNMC), when the incident happened.


‘What Caused Darshan Solanki To Take Such A Drastic Step?’ Ask Kin

Solanki hailed from Gujarat’s Ahmedabad and had joined IIT-Bombay around three months ago to pursue Chemical Engineering. He had just finished his first semester exams. On 11 February, a day before the incident, he had video called his family and seemed excited to go back home for upcoming festivities, his uncle Parmar had told The Quint.  

“He was a brilliant student. Then what caused him to take such a drastic step?” asked Parmar. Solanki’s family has alleged that he was being discriminated against because of his caste.  

“My nephew told us that the behaviour of his friends changed towards him once they found out that he belonged to a Scheduled Caste,” Parmar had claimed, adding that some of Solanki’s friends “had stopped talking to him and used to taunt and trouble him after they found out that he belonged to the Dalit community."  

Although IIT-Bombay has strongly refuted allegations of caste discrimination on-campus, APPSC has alleged that Solanki’s death was “institutional murder” and not a “personal/indivualised case.”

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Topics:  IIT Bombay   AIIMS   TISS 

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