“Why is the Special Investigation Team (SIT) not probing the caste discrimination angle in my son’s death?” asked Ramesh Solanki, father of 18-year-old Darshan Solanki, who died by suicide at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Bombay on 12 February this year.
Hailing from Ahmedabad in Gujarat and a first-year student of B.Tech in Chemical Engineering at IIT Bombay, Darshan belonged to the Dalit community.
Ramesh's statement comes after a Sessions Court in Mumbai on 6 May granted bail to 18-year-old Arman Iqbal Khatri, another student at IIT-B, who was accused of abetting Darshan’s suicide by the SIT of Mumbai Police on the basis of a ‘suicide note’ recovered during the investigation.
Arman was charged under several sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) including Section 306 (abetment of suicide) and Section 506 (criminal intimidation) and arrested on 9 April.
Three months after Darshan's death, The Quint speaks to his father and takes a look at the court order granting bail to the accused in the case.
‘Darshan Was Isolated, Taunted, Ostracised Due To Caste’: Kin Assert
“We have submitted all evidence. Janvi (Darshan’s elder sister) has also stated that Darshan confided in her about facing caste-based discrimination on campus. Why is the SIT not investigating into these testimonies and trying to find out who are those students who discriminated and harassed Darshan for his caste?” Ramesh told The Quint.
He asserted that Darshan's peers ostracised him, reduced their interaction with him, and humiliated him on learning about his caste.
Meanwhile, Janvi, a final-year student of Masters in Computer Application at an Ahmedabad-based university, maintained that her brother was singled out for belonging to the Scheduled Caste community.
“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 batch mates used to say, ‘Dekho Dalit aa gaya’,” Janvi had earlier alleged to The Quint.
At a press conference in Mumbai on 11 May, Janvi also said that she stumbled upon Darshan’s Instagram account and came across a chat where a fellow student was asking Darshan his IIT-JEE rank.
“Darshan told him his JEE rank and went on to say in the chat that since he now knows his category, he will probably also not like Darshan anymore. Darshan told the student that he mustn’t think that reserved category students get undue advantage,” Janvi said.
She added that this, like many of the other testimonies earlier, is “telling of the fact that in Darshan’s experience at IIT Bombay, people stopped liking him after they learnt that he belongs to the reserved category.”
Caste Angle Side-lined: Darshan’s Father Alleges
“Who are these students who harassed Darshan and discriminated against him based on his Dalit identity? Why have their names not come up yet in the investigation?,” Ramesh asked, as he alleged that the SIT has sidelined the angle of caste discrimination on campus despite evidence pointing to that effect.
He claimed that the SIT was not even looking at alleged instances of caste discrimination, as stated earlier by Darshan’s family and a few students, and has instead “pinned the blame on one student in a separate matter.”
Over a month after Darshan’s death, the SIT on 27 March had found a ‘suicide note’ from Darshan’s room in Hostel 16 of IIT Bombay. It was a question paper, behind which was written, “Arman has killed me.” It is important to note here that the Powai Police had not found any such note during the preliminary investigation.
On being asked about the authenticity of the alleged suicide note, Ramesh told The Quint, “My daughter and I both have deposed before the SIT, that the handwriting on the note does not match that of Darshan’s. Although Darshan’s mother stated that it was his handwriting, she was also not sure.”
He denied responding on the bail given to the accused in the case.
Nothing On Record To Show Caste Discrimination: Court
While granting bail to Arman Iqbal Khatri, the Mumbai Sessions Court noted, “There is nothing on record to show that the accused was harassing the deceased on the ground of caste discrimination.”
The court also observed that except for the handwritten note, there was nothing on record to show that Arman instigated Darshan to die by suicide.
“Mere allegations in the suicide note that the applicant is responsible for his death would not be sufficient to come to the conclusion that the applicant has committed the said offence of abetment,” stated the court order accessed by The Quint.
‘Arman Had Threatened To Kill Darshan With Paper Cutter’: SIT Investigation
On 11 April, the investigating officer of the SIT had recovered the paper cutter which was allegedly used to threaten Darshan Solanki by his batchmate Arman Khatri.
“In the investigation, it is revealed that the accused (Arman) threatened to kill Darshan with a paper cutter, after he had spoken offensively to the accused about his Muslim religion. The deceased has also repeatedly apologised to the accused,” the court order stated.
The SIT further submitted in court that Darshan died as a direct result of various acts of Arman "which had forced him to commit the suicide."
The 18-year-old was arrested on 9 April and had been in judicial custody since 15 April.
While granting him bail, the court on 6 May had observed, “Except the one incident of showing the paper cutter to the deceased Darshan by the applicant, there is nothing on record to show that the applicant/accused instigated the deceased to commit suicide.”
Noting that Arman has no criminal antecedents, he was granted bail on a personal bond of Rs 25,000 and on condition that he takes prior permission from court before leaving Mumbai.