(Trigger warning: Description of suicide. If you feel suicidal or know someone in distress, please reach out to them with kindness and call these numbers of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs)
Two days after an 18-year-old student of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay died by suicide, the premier institute on 14 February refuted allegations that the first-year B.Tech student faced "caste discrimination."
The deceased has been identified as Darshan Solanki, who hailed from Gujarat's Ahmedabad, and had joined IIT-Bombay less than four months ago.
On Tuesday,14 February, student group APPSC claimed that "Darshan was facing caste discrimination and exam depression". In a statement on Wednesday, IIT-Bombay said that "no steps can be 100 percent effective”, and discrimination by students, if at all occurs, “is an exception."
What has IIT-Bombay said?
In a statement, the premier engineering college refuted claims of caste discrimination and said that it would be wrong to make such allegations when the police is still investigating the case. “Based on initial inputs from friends, there is no indication that the student faced any such discrimination,” the statement read.
IIT-Bombay further stated, “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.”
What Has the Student Body Claimed?
The Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle, (APPSC), which is a student collective at IIT-Bombay, had on 13 February alleged that the incident is “not a personal/individualised issue but an institutional murder," and that the premier institute "did not care to make the space inclusive and safe for Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi students."
On 14 February, the APPSC claimed, "Darshan was facing caste discrimination and exam depression". The group based their allegation on a statement by Solanki’s senior Udaysingh Meena, a final-year student of Chemical Engineering.
"Darshan confided in Uday that his roommate, mentors, and wing-mates were from general category and reduced talking to him after coming to know about his rank which is a marker for his category. The combined issue of academic pressure and caste discrimination, along with a lack of mental health and academic support, might have pushed him to take such an extreme step," APPSC claimed in their statement.
While the APPSC has alleged that Solanki belonged to the Dalit community, the police said that they could not confirm the same.
“When a student enters the college, he is an IIT-ian. He is a part of the IIT family. We do not ask students about their caste,” an IIT spokesperson told The Quint on 15 February.
Who Was Darshan Solanki?
Solanki was pursuing B.Tech in Chemical Engineering, and one of his batchmates, on condition of anonymity, had described Darshan to The Quint as a "chilled-out person who would never get angry." The friend said, "He used to complete his assignments on time. There are 12 people in our wing. He was introverted but when we used to hang out together, he used to have fun.”
What has the Police Said?
“No suicide note has been found. We have spoken to students at IIT-Bombay. The investigation is still ongoing. We can’t say anything conclusively yet,” a Mumbai Police officer told The Quint on 15 February.
Why Was IIT-Bombay Recently Pulled Up?
IIT-Bombay was pulled up by the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes for failing to provide mental health support to the institute's Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes students. The commission had received a complaint from the students' group APPSC in this regard in June last year.
Meanwhile, in the statement issued by IIT-B on 14 February, the institute also mentions, “IIT Bombay has taken multiple steps over the years to support and protect the mental health of our students. We have an active mentor programme, which reaches out to all new students. Right from the orientation programme onwards, we encourage students to seek support from student counsellors at our student wellness centre, or from our hospital, whenever they need it.”
“Although some who need it do not seek support due to societal norms, many students have benefited from the support. We are working hard to ensure everyone who needs support gets it,” the institute added.