Caste Based Apartheid In The Indian Institute Of Technology, Madras, India

Presented At: United Nations World Conference Against Racism
Social Justice Retrieval Forum
No,65/21 Saiva Muthiah 5th Street
Royapettah, Chennai - 600 014
Tamil Nadu, India.

India has been practicing Caste System for the last 2000 years. Hindu India is divided into 4 castes. Brahmins are the highest caste, they are the priestly caste. Then come the Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (traders), and lastly Sudras (menials). A fifth group the untouchables (numbering 200 million) lie outside the caste system.

This division of Hindu society was based on Caste laws first set out in the Manu Smriti (The Laws of Manu), dating to the third century. Men are supposed to be punished for sins of past lives by being consigned in low castes.

The untouchables were not allowed to enter the temples. Their touch was considered a sin and it made a caste Hindu impure. Shockingly, even their shadows were considered impure. This discrimination unlike Apartheid is not based on the colour of skin or the race, but on the caste into which one is born. Untouchables are treated inhumanly worse than animals.

Brahmins, (priestly class) are considered supreme and education became their property. The Sudras and untouchables were denied education. If a Sudra happened to listen to Hindu treatises cruel, inhuman punishments like pouring molten tin in the ear were meted out.

Because of centuries of persecution of the untouchables under Brahmin tyranny, when India attained independence (1947), the father of Indian Constitution, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, made a provision for reservation in all Governmental positions and educational institutes to ensure that Untouchables and tribes (also known as Scheduled Castes /Scheduled Tribes) were adequately represented.

The 'untouchables' prefer to be known as "Dalit" for it means broken, crushed, destroyed and it represents the position of untouchables and tribes. We use the word Dalit in the leaflet.

As per the constitutional right of reservation, Dalits are entitled to obtain 22.5% of the vacancies in State postings & admissions to courses of study. This percentage tallies with percentage of Dalits in the Indian population.

Brahmins have monopolized entire educational sector in India. The Brahmin caste forms only 3% of India's population but it occupies all top scholastic & legislative positions. They deny the Dalits even basic Education.

In this pamphlet, we bring out the plights of the Dalits and the various harassments they face in one of the premier educational institute in India- The Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.

The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) were established in 1959 for the purpose of providing higher technological education of world standards to the poor downtrodden students, who couldn't afford to study abroad. The institutes are in the cities of Bombay, Delhi, Gawhati, Kanpur, Kharaghpur, and Madras.

Indian Institutes of Technology are declared under the Parliament of India (Act 59 of 1961) as Institutes of National Importance. These six institutes totally get an annual grant of Rs.9000 crores from the Indian Government (approx. US $ 2000 million), yet sadly these funds are not utilized for the benefit of the downtrodden.

Even these top institutes have not been spared from the disaster of the caste system. The institute at present does not implement the reservation policy for the Dalits. The reason for this vindictive flouting of social justice norms is the Brahmin domination in the administration and teaching at the institute.

In the IIT Madras, out of 427 faculty members (teaching staff) only 2 faculty members belong to the Dalit community. Both these members only belong to the lower cadre. Also, this means that instead of 22.5% of positions being allotted to Dalits only 0.4% reservation is being given. If the proper process of reservation is followed there should be 96 Dalit faculty members.

Also, although Muslims form about 15% of the Indian population there is not a single Muslim faculty member in the Institute. There are only a handful of Christian faculty members.

Around 400 faculty members belong to the Brahmin community. This means that the Brahmins occupy 93% of the teaching community in the institute although their percentage in population is only 3%. About 15 faculty members belong to other Hindu castes apart from Dalits or Brahmins.

The selection to the B.Tech degree is based on an All India Level Entrance test called the JEE (Joint Entrance Examination), which is held commonly for the 6 IITs.

Discrimination against the Dalits begins at the stage of applying itself. The Dalit students are issued coloured application forms whereas other students are always given white coloured forms. This year the application forms given to Dalit students were pink in color and last year it was green. This is a shocking case of modern day apartheid, and a greater shock is that the answer sheets of Dalit students are also coloured.

This year (2001), 537 students were selected to join B.Tech in IIT Madras. Of these 503 students belong to the general category and only 34 students belong to the Dalit community. Instead of 22.5% reservation eligible to Dalits only 6.3% is being filled up. If reservation is properly implemented there should be 121 Dalit students in B.Tech course.

Only a handful of the Dalit students who clear the Joint Entrance Exam are allowed to join the Institute and some of them are forced to take a one year training called Preparatory Course and they are taught school portions once more. The institute then conducts internal exams, and a few of them are selected to join the institute & are made a year junior to upper caste classmates Conducting of Preparatory Courses only to Dalit students is violative of Right to Equality and is a highly discriminatory practice.

Dalit students selected for the B.Tech are continuously harassed & they are wantonly failed in courses by Brahmin faculty. This is facilitated because student's caste is mentioned in the roll call given to Faculty members. Very few Dalit students are allowed to complete their B.Tech degree and many discontinue. Dalit students are entirely denied admissions to other programs like M.Tech, M.S. & Ph.D.

In the Department of Mathematics, IIT Madras, till 1998 no Dalit student had been selected for the Ph.D. program. Despite appearing twice for interview a Dalit student Mr.S.R.Kannan was not selected. For selecting him Dr. (Mrs.) Vasantha Kandasamy, an Associate Professor of the Department had to appeal to various social justice forums to see that he was selected. Till date he is yet to be allotted an office room in the Mathematics Department.

Dr. Vasantha fought for the Dalit scholar, so she is harassed in all possible ways. She was selected as Associate Professor in 1996, but she is denied her right salary. Despite being a highly qualified mathematician having published over 350 research papers in journals & conferences, she is discriminated because she is espousing the cause of Dalit education. She has guided 11 students for their doctoral program - Ph.D.

In an effort to put a stop-gap to the Dalit movement the IIT Madras administration is victimizing Dr. Vasantha. She has sent over 62 letters of appeal to the Indian Government to do justice but no action has been taken. So, Dr. Vasantha will be directly approaching the United Nations Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

Over 200 cases are pending in Honorable Courts in Madras against Director, IIT Madras, for the past five years & some of these cases are regarding denial of reservation for Dalits.

Thanthai Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam and Dalit Panthers of India along with 21 other Dalit organizations have formed a Social Justice Retrieval Forum and are fighting for the rights of Dalits and reservation policy in Indian Institute of Technology IIT, Madras.

We pray to the International Forum of WCAR to support the cause of Dalit Education in IITs, and recruitment of Dalit Teachers in IITs and include the same in your agenda.

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Referred by: Sashi Kanth
Published on: Oct 23, 2001
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