A students' organisation on Tuesday alleged that IIT-Bombay student Darshan Solanki, who died by suicide, had told a senior that he was facing caste bias on campus.
The premier technology institute, on the other hand, refuted the charge that discrimination on campus drove him to commit the act.
The Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC) said Udaysingh Meena, then a final year student of chemical engineering, had stated that Solanki was facing caste discrimination and exam-related depression.
It also demanded that the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act be invoked in the case, and the IIT should carry out an independent investigation through a panel with at least 50 per cent SC/ST representation.
“Darshan confided in Uday that his roommate, mentors and wing-mates were from the 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,” the APPSC statement said.
Solanki (18) died allegedly after jumping off the seventh floor of a hostel building on the Powai campus of the IIT on Sunday. Hailing from Ahmedabad, he was a first-year student of B.Tech (Chemical) course. The APPSC claimed that students were prevented from speaking at a condolence meeting organised by the institute's administration on Monday.
Earlier in the day, IIT-Bombay rejected charges of caste bias in the institute, saying initial inputs from friends suggested that there was no discrimination, and urged students to wait till police and internal probes were over.
“IIT Bombay strongly refutes claims in some news articles about the tragic death of a 1st year BTech student that imply that the cause was discrimination, and say it amounted to institutional murder.
"Based on initial inputs from friends, there is no indication that the student faced any such discrimination,” it said in a statement.
On Monday, the APPSC had called Solanki's death an institutional murder.
The institute also said it takes utmost precautions to make the campus as inclusive as possible and it has zero tolerance for any discrimination by faculty.
Caste identity is never disclosed to any one (whether students or faculty) once the admission is done and the institute sensitises students to not seek proxy information such as ranks in entrance exams, it said.
While no steps can be 100 per cent effective, discrimination by students, if at all it occurs, is an exception, the premier institute said.
IIT-Bombay has an SC/ST student cell where students can reach in case of any issues including discrimination, and there have been very few complaints to the cell over the past many years, it said.
“A group of students has tweeted mentioning he (Solanki) was driven to take the extreme step due to discrimination against scheduled caste students on the campus. We will investigate the case from all possible angles," said a police official.
“We will inquire with students too, but as of now an accidental death report has been registered,” he added.
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