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IIT-Madras professor writes to PM Modi over ‘caste discrimination’ in institute, demands probe

Vipin P. Veetil, who has protested such ‘bias’ since 2021, alleges ‘sabotage’ of recruitment of SC/ST/OBC faculty by upper caste professors, threatens to go on hunger strike.

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New Delhi: Assistant professor at IIT-Madras, Vipin P. Veetil, has written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, alleging a  persisting problem of caste-based discrimination in the prestigious institution. 

Veetil had demanded an independent inquiry by the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) into his allegations. If that is not done, he has threatened to go on a hunger strike from 24 February. 

“I hope you will act to cleanse the scourge of caste discrimination from this land of ours,” Veetil wrote in the letter dated 3 February. 

He has claimed that IIT-Madras faculty had “sabotaged” an ongoing special recruitment drive for SC/ST/OBC candidates for teaching positions. “I would also like the sabotage of the ongoing special recruitment drive for SC/ST/OBC faculty at IIT Madras to be investigated by the Government of India. I am writing to you after having exhausted all internal and other grievance redressal mechanisms,” the letter stated. 

Also read: Harvard recognises caste-based discrimination, gives Indians studying in US hope of equality

‘Relentless harassment after complaint to NCBC’

Veetil had submitted a written complaint to the National Commission for Backward Classes last year on the alleged caste-based discrimination he faced in the humanities and social sciences department at IIT-M. After this, at the direction of the NCBC, IIT-M set up an inquiry commission. 

Veetil who belongs to Maniyani caste, recognised as an OBC community in Kerala, had earlier quit the institute in July 2021, alleging discrimination, only to rejoin it later in September. But, after the alleged continued harassment he was subjected to after his complaint to the NCBC, he has resigned again now. 

“Since the conclusion of the inquiry in October 2021, the then director of IIT Madras and the head of the Department of the Humanities and Social Sciences have relentlessly harassed me. So much so that I have had to resign simply because the casteist-hegemons at the Institute will not let a person of a ‘low caste’ live in peace, let alone work with dignity,” Veetil wrote in his letter to the prime minister. 

The three-member IIT-M panel set up to look into Veetil’s charges had found no evidence of caste-based discrimination in October.

In a statement issued on 6 February, IIT Madras stated, “IIT Madras reiterates its commitment to preserve and carry forward its culture of inclusiveness and ensure no one is left behind in access to quality education from an institute of repute such as an IIT.”

‘Narrowing of subjects advertised’

Veetil has written a letter, also dated 3 February, to Union minister of education Dharmendra Pradhan, pointing out the ways he believes the special recruitment drive of SC/ST/OBC candidates has been sabotaged by the “predominantly Brahmin faculty”. 

“The sabotage has been effected by narrowing the areas advertised, excluding areas that may attract anti-caste individuals, and attempting to raise the minimum criteria for selection,” Veetil said in his letter. 

He alleged that the institute advertised candidates for ‘Indian writing in English’ instead of ‘Dalit studies’, going against advice given by field experts. 

“Note that ‘Dalit Studies’ might have elicited applications from candidates who could have threatened the caste structure from within IIT Madras,” Veetil alleged. 

He further said that going against recommendations, the institute advertised openings in political theory and applied economics, instead of political science and economics general. The subjects advertised, he said, are considerably narrower than the subjects recommended by experts. 

“The narrowing of the areas advertised will limit the number of SC/ST/OBC candidates who are eligible to apply, and thereby decrease the probability of finding a suitable candidate,” he alleged in the letter. 

Veetil alleges that many non-Brahmin faculty members (he didn’t specify how many) had in fact written complaints in November 2021 about the allegedly faulty recruitment drive to Bhaskar Ramamurthi, then director of IIT-M, but received no response. 

“He (Ramamurthi) did not respond to the complaints for more than a week. After which, I forwarded the complaints, along with supporting evidence, to the Ministry of Education, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and the National Commission for Backward Classes. In response to the escalation, the Dean, Administration, of IIT Madras sent a note to the faculty members who had written the complaints. This note contained arbitrary, inconsistent, and unsound justifications for the narrowing of the fields advertised and for the removal of Dalit Studies,” Veetil has written. 

In its statement, IIT Madras further said, “Any allegations made about us on narrowing the areas advertised is baseless and incorrect. The faculty recruitment area advertised for the English Group in the Humanities and Social Sciences Department is ‘Indian Writing in English’. This area is inclusive of the area ‘Dalit Literature with a background in English Literature’ initially proposed by some faculty. The decision on the area was taken with an intent to broaden the reach among potential faculty applicants while meeting the teaching needs of the department.”

(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)

Also read: The IITs have a long history of systematically othering Dalit students


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