The Outsiders - Caste Discrimination in
IIT DELHI [Tehelka latest issue]
Friday, June 27, 2008 9:40 AM
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My humble request to you is to go through the following report and support
the IIT Delhi's Dalit students' struggle for Justice. Last 50 years, IITs
have gone scott free on the cases of caste discrimination. Probably this
is the first time that Dalit students have come out in open. They need all
A new case of caste discrimination in IIT Delhi highlights the miserable
plight of Dalit students in India's premier technical institute, reports
Ravinder Kumar wants to force caste discrimination into the public eye
FOR AKSHAY (name changed), his admission in 2002 to the Indian Institute
of Technology, Delhi, (IIT-D) was an achievement whose magnitude has less
to do with his being Dalit than with the fact that he has battled
schizophrenia since his early teens. Diagnosed in 1997, Akshay has been
through years of therapy, which his doctors at the All India Institute of
Medical Sciences (AIIMS) have certified to have had 95 percent success.
His struggle with this complex, mind-debilitating illness, however, meant
that it took him six years to reach third-year studies at India's premier
This May, Akshay went to his professor of Applied Mechanics to request an
attendance waiver because he hadn't been keeping well. A sensitive
response is what one would have expected, particularly from a person of
the sophisticated calibre IIT professors can be thought to possess. What
Akshay received, instead, was a reprimand of stunning crudity. "Every
second beggar on the street is a schizophrenic," he claims the professor
told him. "IIT has no room for such people. Degree engineer ko milti hai,
bimaar ko nahin (engineers get degrees, not the sick)." Then came the
crowning blow: "The only reason you're here is because of reservations."
The stunned 24-year-old stood speechless.
But worse was to come. Akshay's name, along with those of 19 other IIT-D
undergraduates, was struck off the institute's rolls earlier this month
because his "performance was below the required minimum level for
continuation". This is the first time the institute has asked so many
students to leave; 12 of them are Dalits. Akshay, a bank clerk's son from
Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh, doesn't deny the fact that he hadn't done well,
but insists that the institute must examine the reasons for his poor show.
"I sought support but all I got was a dressing-down for being a Dalit," he
says. "I can't get over that, and I can't understand why the faculty is
not more supportive."
Along with AIIMS, IIT-D was at the vanguard of anti-reservation protests
in 2006, when the human resources development ministry sought to expand
reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in State-funded
institutions of higher learning. The anti-quota campaign reached a nadir
of vulgarity when IIT-D students took to articulating their protest by
pretending in public places to mend shoes and sweep roads, implying that
these "low" professions (to which Dalits have traditionally been confined)
would be the upper-caste IIT aspirant's only career options were the quota
law to be enforced. Propaganda through SMS and e-mail was a highlight of
the campaign -- these and other inspired ideas were, it was later found,
the brainchild of a Gurgaon-based public relations firm, which had offered
to help out.
Resentment of backward-caste students is apparently endemic at IIT-D, and
comes not just from peers but the faculty as well. Where professors are
meant to guide students through the institute's demanding course work,
many of them actively demoralise those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
"The IITs were never democratic," avers a former student, who asked not to
be named. "I don't mean in terms of functioning, but in their attitude
The 20 students expelled this year were also obliged to vacate their
hostels without delay. Some left without questioning. One decided to fight
back. Last December, Ravinder Kumar Ravi achieved passing marks in a
subject he was later informed he had failed. He approached the Dean with
the initial mark sheet, but, he says, "the Dean took no heed and said the
teacher's word was final". He then went to the teacher concerned (whom he
doesn't wish to name); she subsequently e-mailed the Dean to explain that
the discrepancy had occurred because she had missed one of Ravi's
assignments, which had caused his grade to fall from D to E. "Is it not
perverse that the same teacher who gave me passing marks at first found
cause to fail me later?" Ravi asks.
HAVING APPROACHED the offices of Union Human Resources Development
minister Arjun Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Uttar Pradesh
Chief Minister Mayawati but to no avail, Ravi lodged a complaint with the
National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), which sought an
explanation from IIT-D director Surendra Prasad. Although NCSC chairman
Buta Singh has told TEHELKA that Ravi's is a clearly established case of
discrimination, Prasad denies the charge. "Students who are aggrieved will
obviously make allegations of discrimination," he says. "Our teachers
don't even know who is a Dalit student and who is not." When told that
students contend that faculty members often ask them their caste, Prasad
said: "You must take their claims with many, many pinches of salt."
Ravi, meanwhile, is planning his next move if the "institute doesn't
accept its mistake": a hunger strike. Following the termination letters,
he has in fact started a mini movement of sorts. Its aim, he says, is to
force into the public eye the discrimination that has gone unobserved at
IIT-D for years. IITians allege that four to five students are expelled
each year from the institute for poor performance. Of them, at least three
are from the Scheduled Castes/Tribes (SC/STs). This time, while the
institute claims that 20 termination letters were dispatched, students
suspect that there are 28 expulsions of which at least 18-20 are SC/STs.
After Ravi put up posters in each of the campus hostels, asking fellow
sufferers to get in touch with him, distressed students began calling him
right away. "One of them told me it was best for him to end his life,"
"In all the institutes of excellence, the question of merit has turned
into blatant casteism," says Anoop Kumar, the editor of Insight: Young
Voices, a bimonthly Dalit youth magazine. "The faculty is already
prejudiced and therefore they treat Dalit students as substandard. It's
worse for students who are from financially weak backgrounds and lack
proficiency in English."
Sunil (name changed), a Dalit who graduated from IIT-D in 2003, says the
discrimination begins in senior school itself. In his final years at the
premier Delhi school he attended, Sunil says his classmates were resentful
of the fact that he, an SC, had a reservation-ensured fillip to his chance
of an IIT admission. "When you enter IIT, you arrive with this baggage of
having been branded as second-rate," he observes. The 27-year-old says he
escaped jibes from his professors because of his urban background; a Dalit
student from a small town or village, however, has a bad time of it.
Lacking proficiency in English, these students are thrown into the same
pool to sink or swim as the rest. With little institutional assistance,
many of them are unable to cope. "There is immense pressure at IIT for a
general category student, but for a Dalit, it becomes twice as tough,"
says Sunil, now pursuing an MPhil in sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru
University. He recalls
a day in the first month of his course when a chemistry professor found
out that one among a group of students who had sneaked out of his lecture
was an SC. "He went ballistic," says Sunil. Addressing a class of 50, the
professor reportedly said, "These worthless people resort to such antics.
They don't deserve being educated."
Dalit students were often referred as 'shadda', a derogatory term derived
from 'Scheduled Caste', leading to a sense of segregation. According to
Kumar, it is then that students withdraw into a shell and some even
The IITs always claimed that they admit students on the basis of merit.
But Kumar says the concept of merit is bogus and it's all about
opportunity. "The Dalit predicament is not only about caste and
reservation. It's about educational reforms. And these so-called premier
institutes need to value that." *
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 26, Dated July 05, 2008
INSIGHT: YOUNG VOICES is an English bimonthly Dalit youth magazine. One of
our prime objectives has been to create a platform for Dalit students and
youth to share their views and to interact with scholars, academicians,
activists and organizations working on the issues related with the Dalit
Towards this, our study circle organizes meetings on any particular issue
every month. We encourage young Dalit students/ researchers/ activists to
share their work with us during the meetings of Study Circle.
Facilitating highest education for all
with computerized objective testing
Dr. Satinath Choudhary
Present article is an exploration with regard to how to make highest
education inexpensive, popular and achievable for all, and how the elite
institutions can be made partners of students in their (students')
pursuits of highest education rather than their enemies, looking down upon
them and telling them that they are not worthy of the highest education.
Further, when the teachers themselves are the graders and happen to know
their students (as is the case at IITs and other elite institutions of
higher learning), the teachers cannot be above suspicion and mistrust with
regard to charges of bias and partiality (see: "The Outsiders," Tahelka,
June 26, 2008,
In such cases on line objective testing can a long way in saving the
educators from such charges of bias. Microsoft, CISCO and other big IT
companies us such online testing for training and certification of their
Once upon a time education was supposed to be only for the elites. They
used to shut the door to education for those not considered to be elites.
We are continuing the same even today. Today we can make enormous gains by
"facilitating" all students to study whatever they would like to study and
acquire as much knowledge as possible. The more knowledge a community has
the more prosperous, dexterous and forward looking it will be in this
"information age". Instead of rejecting many students from pursuing higher
studies, we need to find ways of encouraging, facilitating and enabling
all those willing to pursue higher and higher studies, as long as they are
willing to persevere. This can be facilitated with the help of online
tests with large question-banks, as described below.
Broadly speaking there are two types of tests: (1) Traditional subjective
tests, requiring essay type of answers, and currently in use in most
schools and colleges. (2) Objective tests using multiple choice type of
questions, gradually coming in vogue, particularly in various competitive
examinations. In the following we will first try to analyze these two
methods. We will then point out that the latter (objective tests) can
further be refurbished with the help of computers and large question-banks
of multiple choice type questions to enable creation instant test-sets and
evaluate the answers instantaneously. Such a possibility can lead to
opening the gates of best and highest degrees for all citizens of the
Current norm for subjective testing is to give same set of questions to
all examinees. This makes it easier for the question paper makers to make
question sets and for the examiners to go over answer sheets and grade
them. Further, with relatively small number of questions in each set,
different sets of subjective tests would generally have substantially
different degrees of difficulty, making it a bit difficult to make
relative comparison among the examinees. To avoid controversies generally
all subjective type of testing are done with just one and the same set of
questions for all examinees at one level.
This entails distribution of the one and the same set of questions to a
large number of students at one and the same time, with consequent
problems of security, leakage of questions prior to examination, grading
by a large number of evaluators of the subjective tests with consequent
non-uniformity of grading standard, deployment of a huge staff for the
duration of the test and suspension of their (the staff's) regular duties
for that duration and huge expense involved in the cumbersome process of
such examinations. Obviously, this whole process of examining students is
very cumbersome and therefore it can't be repeated more than a once or
twice a year.
In case of objective test, so far the norm for all objective type of
testing is to give one and the same set of multiple choice type of
questions to all examinees. Giving identical set to all examinees entails
the same kind of security problems as those mentioned above, with the
exception that grading does not depend upon the mood of the examiner and
there is more uniformity and transparency in grading. So, the way
objective tests are being currently administered, it does not yield huge
advantage over subjective tests.
If a test-set is created from a sufficiently large question-bank by random
selection of certain specified number of questions from each chapter,
different test-sets are not likely to differ much from each other in
degree of difficulty. Relative simplicity of some questions is likely to
be compensated by the relative complexity (or difficulty) of others,
making them relatively of more or less the same order of difficulty. We
can thus easily give different sets of questions to various examinees at
the same sitting. In fact, with the imperativeness of giving the same
question-set removed, there is no need to have all examinees sit at one
and the same time. The creation of a test-set by random selection from
different chapters of a large test-bank, and instant evaluation of the
answers, can be easily automated with the help of computer programs. We
will call such tests as Instant Objective Testing with the help of Large
Test-Banks & Computers (IOT-LTBC). The
test-banks together with the testing software can be put on CDs or DVDs
and sold inexpensively. This can yield a large number of benefits
Instant objective testing with the help of large test-banks & computers
can be used as teaching and learning aid. IOT-LTBC sets up the goalpost
for a student far more clearly compared to subjective tests. Ease of
practice tests and evaluation of the same will enable the students to
learn a subject as well as s/he wants, or as well as s/he can. It will
make the students be fully aware of what to expect from an official test
and will reduce exam apprehension, phobia and pressure of all examinations
piled up at the same time of the year. From the practice tests students
will know beforehand what to expect in the official examination at the
test centers, and they will not be shocked (into contemplating suicides)
from the result of a test.
Centralized objective tests instantaneously created by IOT-LTBC can be
administered round the year. It can be done with the help of permanent
staff without disturbing regular work of the huge staff, and without
security and cheating problems associated with the massive subjective
As mentioned earlier, when the teachers themselves are the graders and
happen to know their students (as is the case at IITs and other elite
institutions of higher learning), they cannot escape charges of bias and
prejudice. In such cases IOT-LTBC can go a long way in saving the
educators from such charges of unfairness. When grading of students is not
in the hands of the teachers, they become partners of students in trying
to help students get the best grades. Otherwise except for those who get
the highest grade, most other students look upon teachers as adversaries.
Grading of the tests with the help of IOT-LTBC will be uniform,
independent of the mood and personal biases of grading staff.
Centralized testing & certification will lead to equalization of various
educational institutions. There is no reason why everybody (whether one
could get admission in an elite institution or not) can't be measured by
the same yard-stick. Elite institutions can be made to put their tests
online, so that even the students not registered in the institute can take
those tests and get elite certificates.
When it is not necessary for a student to be registered in an elite
institution to get an elite degree, education mafia will be driven out of
education system. It will not be in the interest of anyone to pull down
standard of education in colleges and universities.
When admission into an elite institution will not be essential to get an
elite degree, the educational institutions (private as well as public)
will be forced to become more innovative in their teaching to attract and
When the elite institutions do become innovative, class rooms of the
premier institutions can be expanded to cover all colleges and beyond,
with the help of video-conferencing facilities, closed circuit TV
broadcasts and CDs and DVDs. Even homes can become a part of the premier
institutions. It will allow all institutions have a chance to produce
first-rate professionals. Elitism among students on the basis of
alma-mater will vanish, or will considerably decline.
Current subjective as well as objective examinations evaluate a mix of
different abilities. Current trend is to ask too many questions to be
answered within a relatively short period of time. They like to do this
especially for the purpose of getting a large spread of grades, lest there
may be too many people cluttered with top grade. In the case of subjective
tests, writing speed becomes more important than grasp of the subject
matter. In case of objective tests, reading speed becomes more important
than mastery over a subject matter. There is no need to muddle test for
the knowledge of a subject matter with one's writing and reading speed.
These latter abilities can and should be measured separately. IOT-LTBC can
enable us to measure knowledge of a subject matter without mixing it with
writing or reading speed. All we need to do is to give students
sufficiently large amount of time to answer a test paper so that even the
slowest student does not
inordinately feel pressed for time in answering all of the questions. As
for writing ability and reading with speed and comprehension, separate
tests can be set up and different amount of weights can be given to these
abilities depending upon the kind of jobs they have to do.
We must also understand that even the most accurate measurement of the
knowledge of a subject matter cannot give us an idea about the creativity,
analytic & critical thinking and other important abilities of a person.
Can we say that a person with a grade of 86 has more of these latter
abilities just mentioned than another person scoring only 85? If we can't
differentiate between critical abilities of persons with grades of 86 and
85, why carry this differentiation on their grade cards? Grades over the
scales of 1-100 or 0-1000 should be reduced to those of 0-1-2
(unsatisfactory, good, excellent) or 0-1-2-3 (unsatisfactory, good,
excellent, super). In such a case students with the grades of 86 as well
as 85 will be graded as excellent, and we will have to differentiate among
them on the basis of other characteristics and needs of the society.
Integrity of a person, fairness, benevolence, love for the society
(especially towards the downtrodden, as the better off ones can take care
of themselves), etc., are characteristics of a person that are just as
important, if not more important than mastery over a subject matter. What
good is a super engineer if he can only think of using his/her engineering
skills for destructive purposes and amassing fortunes through the same?
What good is a super doctor if s/he can only think of using his/her
mastery towards creating Frakensteins? What good is super lawyer if s/he
can only think of protecting the super crooks of the society and gathering
fortunes for himself/herself? So, we need not give inordinate importance
to accurate measurement of knowledge of a subject matter in an individual.
Over the reduced scale of 0-1-2 (unsatisfactory, good, excellent), there
will be a lot of people in the excellent range. In such a case those in a
position to hire will have to give consideration to other characteristics
of a person, and the needs of a society. One of the prime needs of the
society happens to be equitable sharing of power among different segments
of the society. These needs can be taken care of if we have plenty of
people with the highest grade of "excellent". Suppose we have these same
excellent people spread over the range of 80-100. There will be resentment
and protests if the one with a grade of 85 is given priority over the one
with a grade of 86 out of considerations for equitable power sharing for
the sake peace, harmony and brotherhood in the society.
A recent article "In Tuition Game, Popularity Rises With Price"
published in New York Times, suggests that popularity of a school (or
college) increases with the price of attending that school. This appears
to be true for India too (as can be seen in case of IIM). This, together
with the Government's acceptance of private schools and colleges as equal
partners in education does not bode well for government schools. Children
of most of the powerful people with any kind of voice and influence will
continue to flee government institutions for the expensive private schools
and colleges, leaving the government schools and colleges in shambles.
Moreover, when politicians jump into the lucrative private educational
venture (which is happening in many states) they will make sure that the
government schools and colleges go further down the hill to increase their
own profit from investments in private educational ventures. It seems that
if the trend is allowed to
continue, ordinary people will be priced out of decent education.
Currently we are in information age when, more than at any other time, it
is necessary for all citizens of our country to have college education
(and be as well educated as possible), if our country wants catch up with
the developed countries and provide decent living for all our citizen. It
is the well educated people that are assets of a country, not just a few
selected highly educated ones. No amount of natural resources can equal
the human resources, as is clear from the status of oil rich countries.
Thus in our country we must reverse the trend to make higher education
more and more exclusive. We can do this with the help of centralized
computerized testing described above, which will essentially bring best
certificates within the reach of common people.
Today more and more of important tests, in our country as well as in other
countries, are being administered via multiple-choice type objective
testing. In India important tests like CAT, and other entrance exams for
most professional institutions, tests for hiring bank officials,
government schools, railways, are of objective type. Most of the important
admission tests in the USA (like SAT, GRE, MCAT, GMAT, LSAT, etc.) are
objective type. Thus such tests cannot be considered to be in any way
inferior to subjective type of tests which require essay type of answers.
In fact, from many points of view objective tests are far superior to the
subjective ones. A couple of important Indian examinations (IAS and Public
Service Exams of various states) are using two level testing, first a
multiple choice type as a preliminary elimination test, followed by a main
test, as if real mettle of students can only be tested by subjective
tests. Reason for their reliance
on subjective testing coupled with interviews may lie in the obsession of
hiring officials' to make room for underhand manipulations than in any
kind of superiority of subjective tests over objective ones.
Any subjective testing that may be considered to be essential, e.g., to
make sure one has good writing ability, may be given after one has passed
the objective tests. Any practical training and testing that may be
considered to be a part of a curriculum may also be made available after
one has passed objective tests for the corresponding level of education.
If one does not seem to have studied theory part of a curriculum well
enough to pass the objective tests, there may not be much of a point
wasting time and energy providing practical training and testing to such
By enabling all students to take the same online tests that students of
elite institutions take, we will be opening the gates highest education
Dr. Satinath Choudhary
Retired professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
115 West 238 Street, Bronx
New York 10463, USA
MS Flats #1358, Timarpur, Delhi - 110054
Phone: +91 9212224183