'Transaction Failure' – this message flickered on the computer screen 13 times on 30 October, and each time Prince Jaibir Singh stared at it with trepidation. Time was running out.
After all, the 17-year-old, who belongs to a Dalit community and lives in Uttar Pradesh (UP)’s Ghaziabad, had been allotted a seat at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B), and a technical glitch made him miss his acceptance fee deadline.
Five train journeys, two hearings in the Bombay High Court, and two hearings in the Supreme Court later, Singh will finally make it to the IIT-B – a dream he has harboured since he was a little boy.
On 22 November, the bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna, which was hearing the case, invoked Article 142 (under which the Supreme Court can pass any order that is necessary to ensure 'complete justice' in any case), and ordered that Singh be allocated a seat at the premier institute.
Singh is now all set to join the IIT-B.
“This Court has before it a young Dalit student who is on the verge of losing a valued seat which has been allocated to him at IIT Bombay... It would be a grave travesty of justice that a young Dalit student is denied admission for non-payment of fees and is turned away from the Supreme Court.”Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud
Small Glitch, Huge Consequences
“I was disheartened but I did not lose hope. I did not slack off on following up either. After I missed the deadline to pay the acceptance fee of Rs 15,000, I called up the Joint Seat Allocation Authority (JoSAA) helplines several times. I wrote an email to the grievance cell, as well as to officials at IIT-Kharagpur as they were in-charge of conducting the counselling process,” Singh told The Quint.
When none of this worked, Singh and his sister took an overnight train to Kharagpur in a bid to meet officials to figure out the next step. They reached the office at 9 am and were told two hours later that there was nothing that could be done.
Dejected, the siblings left for home. On their way back, Singh began googling if there were news reports of aspirants from previous years who had gone through something similar.
“I came across the case of a student called Siddhant Batra, who had faced similar issues last year and sought legal route. This gave me courage to fight this legally. Just sitting idly would not have helped, so I decided to do something about it.”Prince Jaibir Singh
Those who know Singh, however, already know that he is not one to give up easily. A teacher, who has taught him at Delhi Public School in Ghaziabad, said, “He’s a one-man army who has always been this determined.”
“We are happy that our student stood his ground to reinforce the value of making humane considerations, which is the foundation of all systems that define and shape our society.”Sangeeta Mukherjee Roy, Principal, Delhi Public School Ghaziabad
Singh’s father is a constable in Delhi Police, his mother is a housewife, and he has four siblings. He studied at Fatima Convent School in Ghaziabad till Class 10, and an excellent score earned him a scholarship that gained him admission in Delhi Public School, Ghaziabad.
“Studying at an IIT is a dream I share with my parents. While I’ve never faced any discrimination due to my caste, I am aware that several students from the Dalit community don't have access to facilities. I am glad I had my father’s support."Prince Jaibir Singh
His Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) advanced rank in 2021 was 25,894 in the general category and 864 in the Scheduled Castes (SC) category. “I have worked very hard. I didn’t take tuitions for years. I only took a month-long crash course once on prepping for JEE,” said Singh.
Every day, Singh studied for 13 hours. “After school, I would come home and study. I would go for evening walks with my brother and come back and study some more. I never compromised on my sleep though," he said.
Singh’s lawyer at the Supreme Court Amol Chitale said, “It was a small technical glitch – the cost of which could have been humongous. He is a sincere student. He couldn’t afford any private coaching and got a good rank despite it all.”
Chitale said that Justice Chandrachud observed that “while technology is a great enabler, there is also a great digital divide.” He said, “The Justice stated that a student sitting in a village with no network should not be expected to do these processes online. There should always be a buffer in such cases, and technical glitches shouldn’t cost students a seat.”
An Uphill Task
On 27 October afternoon, the JEE result spread joy in the Singh household. Singh’s parents’ efforts and his own hard work brought him closer to getting an admission at an IIT, all that he had to do was take four steps.
The four steps were – checking seat allotment, submitting willingness, uploading documents, including medical certificates, and finally transferring Rs 15,000 acceptance fee.
“By 29 October, all my paperwork was in order, including medical test reports, and the fee deadline was 31 October noon,” said Singh. His sister managed to transfer Rs 15,000 a day before the deadline, and that’s when the nightmare began.
“We waited till 30 October for my sister’s salary to be credited. I tried making the payment the same day, but it kept showing errors. I tried for 24 hours but nothing worked. I missed the deadline, and at 12:29 pm, I wrote the first email. I acted immediately, and I suppose the judges understood this."Prince Jaibir Singh
After that disappointing journey to Kharagpur, when Singh decided to pursue it legally, he went to Allahabad to meet an advocate who suggested he file a case in Mumbai instead. “The same day I took a train to Mumbai and met advocate Jyoti Chavan who fought my case in the Bombay High Court.
"In the last 20 days, we spent a lot of money. There was financial strain, it’s not been easy. My parents were heartbroken when all of this happened. We had a very sad Diwali, and for four-five days, we were just on call with our lawyers over this case,” said Singh.
After the Bombay High Court dismissed his petition, Singh was introduced to Chitale who fought the case in the Supreme Court pro bono.
With the tough 20 days behind him now, Singh has IIT-B classes to look forward to now. "I was excited to be on campus but due to COVID-19, classes will be offline now. Students will probably be on campus next April,” said Singh.
His family is beaming with joy. “I knew I could win,” he said. Tomorrow, he turns 18, and the Singh family has several reasons to celebrate now. “There were no celebrations on Diwali but we will have a double celebration on my birthday. All my friends are asking for a party. I am still planning what to do but I am looking forward to celebrating my success with friends and family,” he said.