Mumbai: Mere days after 19-year-old Darshan Solanki, a first-year BTech student at IIT Bombay, died by suicide, the institute had announced the formation of an internal committee to investigate the matter. It has been over a fortnight since the 12-member committee came into being but the students and research scholars allege that it conducted the entire inquiry without making public the most basic of informations, like the mandate of its inquiry.
The Wire has spoken to several students on the IIT Bombay campus who have deposed before the committee and many of them shared their “disappointment”. They alleged that the institute’s handling of Solanki’s death lacked seriousness and that IIT-B has not been transparent about what the committee is exactly looking into.
Some, however, didn’t want to dismiss the committee as yet, at least not until it published its findings.
So far, it is known that Chief Vigilant Officer Nand Kishore is the head of the committee which otherwise has 11 other members. But the students who have deposed before the committee or are awaiting their turn before them claim that the names and information about the rest of the committee have not been made public.
“The whole idea of the internal inquiry was to undo the wrongs that have been committed by the institute. For that, the least that the institute should have ensured is to make the committee approachable,” said one student. When this student went for her deposition last week, only nine members were present. “Barring one or two members, I don’t know who the rest were,” she said.
Another PhD scholar, also a part of the students’ organisation Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC) shared that at the time of their deposition, the committee did not record their version. “Afraid that our concerns and grievances would not be recorded accurately, we decided to give a written representation to the committee, including a long list of annexures,” they said.
When one research scholar appeared for his deposition and was asked to introduce himself, the student interjected with a counter question demanding the committee introduce themselves. “This was not a show of arrogance but a genuine concern. We wanted the committee to know that it lacked transparency and that students ought to know who it is that they are deposing before,” he said.
Even as the students deposed, they allege that they have no clue what the committee is exactly meant to do. The Wire spoke to someone privy to the committee’s work, just to understand the scope and mandate of this inquiry. The member claimed that the scope was left generic “intentionally”. “The committee has managed to gather varied responses from students, giving us a chance to cover as many aspects as we can in this inquiry,” the person claimed.
Another PhD scholar, unwilling to write the committee off already, said, “Although the committee didn’t make its mandate public, it was understood that they were here to understand what could have led to Darshan’s death.”
On February 12, Solanki had jumped from the hostel building and was declared dead on arrival at the local civil hospital. His family has since alleged that Solanki was facing isolation and discrimination on campus. Solanki belongs to a Dalit community from Gujarat. His father works as a plumber; his mother is a domestic help in Ahmedabad.
His death triggered protests and more and more people, belonging to the Bajuhan community, have since come ahead to share their experiences of discrimination and humiliation at the hands of fellow students and teachers. Solanki’s death, and the death by suicide of another student, 24-year-old Stephen Sunny, on the IIT- Madras campus on February 14, led to the government taking note of the issue.
The parliamentary standing committee for the welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) called for a meeting on February 22 in New Delhi. IIT Bombay director Debasis Chakraborty attended the meeting.
On the same day, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes too called for a sitting into a complaint filed by the APPSC against one of the IIT- Bombay counsellors who had openly expressed her views against reservation.
This is a public post by the head counselor of Student Wellness Centre @iitbombay. What sort of mental health service can dalit bahujan adivasi students expect from such people with anti-reservation sentiment. @NCBC_INDIA @ncsthq @EduMinOfIndia @NCSC_GoI @thevijaysampla @aiobcsa pic.twitter.com/rGmoR3moqe
— APPSC IIT Bombay (@AppscIITb) June 13, 2022
APPSC had in its complaint last year written to the commission that the head of the Students’ Wellness Centre, Hima Chhatbar Anaredy, continued to hold the post even after she had openly aired her anti-reservation views. This, said the APPSC and students that The Wire spoke to, made it difficult for Bahujan students to come forward and avail themselves of counselling. The commission pulled the director up for allowing a counsellor with “casteist sentiments” to continue working with the SC/ST Cell on campus, as the panel continued its investigation into complaints of the institute lacking mental health support for SC/ST students. According to a recent email by Chakraborty to the students, Anaredy has been replaced by another counsellor now.
At this sitting, APPSC’s two representatives – both students at the IIT- Bombay campus – were present. “While the APPSC’s initial complaint was against an individual, we also decided to bring up Darshan’s death by suicide before the committee. The committee was welcoming of the fresh complaint by the APPSC and took it up right then,” shared Rutwij Nakhwa, one of the APPSC members who attended the sitting in Delhi on February 22.