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Harassment glare after Dalit campus suicides

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By BASANT KUMAR MOHANTY
  • Published 22.11.11
  •  
Manish Kumar
Jaspreet Singh

New Delhi, Nov. 21: Manish Kumar could not take it any more. The harassment he had been suffering for three years only because he was a Dalit was showing no signs of abating. So, the IIT Roorkee student killed himself.

That was on February 13 this year. Manish had been a third-year BTech student and was the only hope of his family, his shattered father Rajinder Kumar said.

“Manish was my only son and the future of our family. He was a brilliant student. He wanted to become a technocrat. But he died depressed with the constant humiliation he had to face at the institute. He was called a chamar (low caste),” Rajinder said.

After his suicide, the local police did not file a case against the accused. Only recently, a case was registered on the orders of a local court. There has hardly been any progress in investigations.

“I have met Uttarakhand DGP J.S. Pandey and demanded a fresh probe. He has agreed,” Rajinder said.

Manish’s suicide is not an isolated case. The Insight Foundation, a group working against discrimination against Dalit and tribal students in higher education institutions, recently released a report on suicides by 18 Dalit students in the last four years.

“Despite reservation in education and jobs, most of the administrative staff and faculty in higher education institutions are from the upper castes. They think Dalit students are not meritorious. They harass Dalit students and in many cases these students commit suicide. We have found 18 such suicides in reputed institutions in the last four years,” Gurinder Singh Azad, the students’ co-ordinator of the Insight Foundation, said.

The organisation brought the matter to the notice of National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy, who wrote a letter to NAC chairperson Sonia Gandhi in May this year.

The Telegraph has accessed the letters between Sonia and Roy under the Right to Information Act. In her reply to Roy, Sonia said the authorities concerned would examine the issue.

The NAC then directed the human resource development ministry to look into the alleged suicides. The ministry asked the University Grants Commission if it was aware of such a problem and if it had taken steps to prevent such incidents.

The UGC quickly issued two circulars in July to universities under it, directing them to take steps to prevent caste discrimination.

“The UGC’s circulars may not yield any result. They are advisory in nature,” said Udit Raj, the chairperson of the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations.

The Insight Foundation claimed that faculty members deliberately harassed Dalit students, regardless of merit.

One such case is of Jaspreet Singh, an MBBS student of Government Medical College, Chandigarh, who committed suicide in 2008.

The suicide note found in Jaspreet’s pocket said a senior faculty member had been harassing him regularly and had failed him in one subject.

Based on a complaint filed by Jaspreet’s father Charan Singh, a team of professors from PGI Chandigarh re-evaluated the paper and awarded Jaspreet pass marks.

Jaspreet’s younger sister killed herself a year later on Rakshabandhan day, apparently because she could not tie a rakhi on her brother’s wrist.

“Is it a mistake to be born in a Dalit family in this country? My son was a brilliant student but was harassed deliberately by an HoD. I lost my youngest daughter, who committed suicide being depressed over his brother’s death,” Charan said.

“I cannot say why the HoD has not been arrested and suspended from the job. The suicide note clearly mentioned his name.”

The matter is pending in a local court in Chandigarh.

Of the 18 students who committed suicide, five are from IITs, one from IISc Bangalore and one from AIIMS.

Allegations of caste-based discrimination have earlier been filed against IIT Kanpur authorities. Many Dalit students had to terminate their courses for “bad performance” in IIT Kanpur last year.