“Did Darshan die by suicide because of caste discrimination or was he killed,” said Ramesh Solanki, father of the first-year B Tech student at IIT Bombay, who died by suicide on 12 February.
In a 58-second public appeal video, he asked people to participate in a candle march on 19 February from 6pm to 7pm so that “Darshan gets justice”. He said that this is not a political rally but a social one.
18-year-old Darshan Solanki, who hailed from Ahmedabad and was pursuing B Tech in Chemical Engineering, had joined the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay three-and-a half months back and had just finished giving his first semester exams, his family has said.
The appeal was shared by Gujarat MLA and Dalit activist Jignesh Mewani from his official Twitter handle on 17 February, five days after Darshan’s demise.
‘Darshan Suffered Caste Discrimination:’ Kin, Student Body
Darshan’s maternal uncle Indravadan Parmar had on 16 February told The Quint, “My nephew told us that the behaviour of his friends changed towards him once they found out that he belonged to a Scheduled Caste.”
"He told his sister and badi mummy (aunt) that some of friends had stopped talking to him and used to taunt and trouble him after they found out that he belonged to the Dalit community," Parmar had said.
A day after Darshan’s death, a student collective at IIT-Bombay called Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC) had alleged that Darshan’s death 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.
The student collective has now demanded the “immediate resignation of the Director” and has also demanded that the institute file an FIR at the Powai Police Station to investigate the case under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) At.
“The investigation is underway, and we have still not ascertained the cause of Darshan’s death. There is no FIR as of now, only an Accidental Death Report,” a senior official of the Mumbai Police told The Quint on 17 February.
IIT Bombay ‘Strongly Refutes’ Allegations of Caste Bias
In a statement, the premier engineering college on 14 February 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.”