New Delhi: More than 1,000 former students of the Indian Institutes of Technology have written an open letter to the IIT Kharagpur director registering their disgust and shock over a professor’s behaviour with students at a preparatory English class meant for SC, ST and OBC students and students with physical disabilities.
The alumni have asked for the professor’s resignation, for the institute to make significant changes and provide compensation to the students on the receiving end of her diatribe.
Amongt prominent alumni who have endorsed the demands are Manindra Agrawal (chair professor at IIT Kanpur), Shailesh Gandhi, Venu Madhav Govindu (IISc Bengaluru) and Mohan J. Dutta (Massey University).
As LiveWire reported first, video grabs of Seema Singh, an associate professor at IIT, Kharagpur, calling a student “bloody bastard” for allegedly not standing up for the national anthem and another of her castigating a student for mentioning absence over a death in the family have been doing the rounds on social media.
In the first clip, Dr Singh is also heard asking a student to leave class and mentions that she can cut his marks. The clips were shared on Facebook and later, Twitter and Instagram.
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As LiveWire’s report notes, these lessons are predominantly attended by students of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes, as well as students with physical disabilities. IITs across the country conduct this year-long English course to equip SC, ST, OBC and PwD students to pursue their engineering courses.
The Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC), a student body in IIT Bombay, and several other Bahujan activists have come out strongly in protest against the professor’s behaviour. The APPSC also told LiveWire that these classes were further proof of the casteist assumption that reserved category students would specifically need preparatory classes to study at an IIT.
The alumni, in their letter echo the APPSC’s concern and write, “IITs are already notoriously hostile to Dalit, Adivasi and backward caste students.”
They say that from her conduct, it is apparent that Dr Singh believes that her “casteism and abuse will go uncensured.”
In their letter, the alumni have put forward demands including that she be booked under sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
Their full demands have been quoted below:
“1. IIT KGP and Professor Singh issue an unconditional apology to the students.
2. The institute terminate Professor Singh.
3. The institute take strong punitive action against Professor Singh – her behaviour attracts provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
4. The institute arrange for all necessary support to concerned students to cope with the unwarranted humiliation.
5. The institute set up a SC, ST, and OBC Cell (along the lines of those in other universities and UGC letter no. F.1–26/76 (CP/SCT) dated June 27, 1979) to act as an anti-caste discrimination cell, take strict action against casual and structural casteism and work towards sensitising the campus about structural discrimination.
6. The institute take all steps necessary to ensure that students are treated with dignity and respect, and that casteism is eradicated from the campus.”
The professor eventually apologised for her remarks, saying that her comments could have been a result of COVID-induced stress. “The response, Bahujan students say, isn’t satisfactory because mental stress, they say, cannot be used as an excuse to shield one’s casteist behaviour,” LiveWire noted in its update.