IIT Roorkee says we are background-blind, students say look at us

Some say students from reserved categories, Hindi-medium schools are at a disadvantage.

Written by Uma Vishnu | Roorkee | Updated: August 6, 2015 11:55 am
IIT, IIT Roorkee, IIT Roorkee expulsion, IIT Roorkee expel students, IIT Roorkee news, IIT Roorkee CGPA, IIT Roorkee officials, india education, IIT news, india news, indian express news At IIT-Roorkee, where 72 were expelled earlier. Students say they need a leg-up once they get in as well. (Express Photo by: Tashi Tobgyal)

Sitting outside a shack near Jawahar Bhawan, one of the boys’ hostels at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee, a group of civil engineering students discuss what they call the “unfairness” of the coursework and the grading system, how it’s tilted against “students like us from reserved categories and from Hindi-medium schools”.

Earlier this month, IIT-Roorkee had expelled 72 students for not meeting the required minimum passing grades: a Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of at least 5 and minimum credits of 22 (these students have since been taken back on probation, having got a second chance). The students outside Jawahar Bhawan were not on the list of 72 but they say they could well have been — they scraped past the CGPA limit to make it to their second year.

An investigation by The Indian Express shows that 90 per cent of the IIT-Roorkee students who were expelled were from reserved categories (SC, ST and OBC) and scored average to high ranks in their respective categories in the 2014 IIT-JEE (Advanced). Once on campus, however, several factors pull them back, prominent among them a lack of fluency in English.

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“English is our biggest problem,” says a 17-year-old second-year civil engineering student from Rajasthan. Fourteen from his department were expelled. “We are from Hindi-medium schools, went to coaching institutes in places like Kota, where we chose Hindi as the medium of instruction, and took our JEE in Hindi. Then we come to the campus and realise it’s all high-level English — the books are all by American authors and the professors only speak English. We see students around us talking, asking questions in English and we can do none of that. Usi se confidence khatam. Tabhi se hum peeche rah jate hain (That kills our confidence and we start slipping),” says the student who scored a CGPA of just above 5.

The IIT says it has its own systems to deal with these problems — language proficiency classes at the time of orientation and special mentoring programmes (started three months ago). “We have been holding tutorial classes over the weekend where students who need help are taught by senior students. So if there are issues of authority and students lack the confidence to talk to professors, they won’t have that trouble with fellow-students,” said Dean of Students Welfare D K Nauriyal.

But unlike many of the older IITs, these hand-holding exercises are relatively new in IIT-Roorkee. Besides, students say these “systems” usually don’t work on the ground. “It’s only in March that we were introduced to the mentors. By then, we just had a month to go for the exams. Besides, seniors have little time for us. They have their own classes to attend. How can they expel students without giving their own system enough time?”

“We do what we can but ultimately, there’s little we can do if the student doesn’t come to us,” says Nauriyal. “Besides, once the students enter the campus, for us, they are all the same — irrespective of their backgrounds or whether you are from the reserved quota or not. The bar has been set (at CGPA 5 and minimum credits of 22) and that can’t be lowered,” says IIT-Roorkee Registrar Prashant Garg.

There are separate rank lists in the IIT-JEE (Advanced), among them a common merit list, an SC list, an ST list and an OBC list. To get into the common merit list in the 2014 version of the JEE, candidates from these categories had to secure a minimum of 35 per cent of the aggregate and 10 per cent in each paper. The last SC candidate in the common merit list was 432. Which means, 1,597 of the 2,029 SC candidates who got into one of the IITs didn’t make it to the common merit list or scored less than 35 per cent. Similarly, the last ST candidate to make it to the common merit list was 90 (among 856 who made it to one of the IITs). Again, 760 of them didn’t make it to the common merit list or scored less than 35 per cent.

That’s part of the problem, say some students and professors. Students who get a leg-up at the level of the entrance examination — thanks to affirmative action and no-English test — find no safety net once they enter the campus.

“Language will always be a problem. But then, someone from, say, Andhra will be disenfranchised if I speak in Hindi so that argument will never be settled,” says an IIT-Kanpur professor who was part of the top administrative team at the institute. But, he says, there is a “deeper malaise” that schools haven’t fixed.

“What I’ve realised over the years is that a student who is unable to communicate with me in English is often unable to communicate with me in Hindi. If he is talking to me in Hindi and every third word of his is a ‘matlab’, there is a problem. This just means schools are not telling students to buckle up. How is it that children score 90-95 per cent in English but can’t construct a line in the language? The books they learn in Class XII, you would think it’s Class VI — no novels, poetry, plays… Where are children going to pick these skills?”

Talking of the limits of affirmative action, the IIT-Kanpur professor says, “Are there two levels or more when you walk out of IIT? No. There’s no B Tech (Gen) and B Tech (SC) and so on. Reservation only gives you a chance to learn but then, you must learn. A civil engineer must learn to make structures, at least to a basic level. Ultimately, the bridge he is building doesn’t understand that it is being built by someone who doesn’t meet those standards. So ultimately, once you come to IIT, if you are not willing to help yourself, nobody can.”

That may be harsh but it’s not far from reality. Ashish Kumar ticks all the boxes — Hindi-medium, reserved category, small town (from Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan). But with a CGPA of 7.38 by the end of his second semester, this civil engineering student is among the best performers in his class. “I understood nothing in class during my first semester. But then, I would write down all the tough words, go back to my hostel and look up a dictionary. YouTube was a big help — I would watch Game of Thrones every day to understand how they spoke English. I would also watch Hindi lectures of professors from other IITs, compare it with my notes and then, dhire-dhire, things would start making sense. It’s not that tough if you work hard,” he says, sitting on a couch in the students’ club.

He is still very diffident, happy to let his voice drown in the clamour around him as students play snooker or table tennis, or simply sit in groups and chat. “Likh lijiye, English mein 92 mila tha Rajasthan Board se (I got 92 per cent in English in the Rajasthan board exam),” he says, making an unsure jab at the notebook. “But I wish I had studied in an English-medium school. It would have been so much easier for me here.”

“What this incident has done is that we have started looking at our own systems and are doing a full-scale review of what we need to do. We are aware that these students came in through a very competitive exam. So we will do what we can to help them cope,” says Pradipto Banerji, director of IIT-Roorkee.

(Tomorrow: Looking for the safety net on campus)

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  1. R
    Jan 30, 2016 at 8:07 am
    All these things happen only because of the seat reservation.They enter good colleges with low marks and without good knowledge..and hence suffer in the firstn year
    1. T
      Aug 6, 2015 at 2:56 pm
      The reserved category is confident nothing is going to change because when NaMo thrusts upon Nation a 12th p as HRD minister
      1. A
        Anubhav Mishra
        Aug 6, 2015 at 6:33 pm
        Hey I read this article and its very detailed and accurate. I myself did the story on condition of Hindi speaking students in IIT Delhi in a brief manner as a budding journalist. This is my link to the story
        1. B
          baba thugdev
          Aug 6, 2015 at 9:34 am
          IIT roorkee is one of the most casteist insue. Professors are thrid cl and if the same criteria is applied 90% of the professors will be out in one day. It used to be University of Roorkee with third cl faculty and overnight in 2001 it bacame IIT but the rotten faculty remained. They are baised. The reson of expelling of the students is that there are more general students and once the SC/ST students are expelled their seats are up for grab in the second year when the students start their specialization. All these seats are then gobbled up the general category students from lower branch. It is scam created by IIT Roorkee. Why did they expel students in the previous years? They could becuase BJP government is in Power and they know that they will be backed by the bigots of RSS and their cronies in HRD ministry. The solution for all the lower cles is to get united and vote for congress or other parties that care for them.
          1. B
            baba thugdev
            Aug 6, 2015 at 9:45 am
            Simple IIT Roorkee Logic: 1. Take more general category student in the first year. 2. Then give low grades to reserve category students. 3. Then expel majority of reserve category students 4. Seats get vacated in EC, CS, EE, ME and all the high demand branches in the second year 5. Now the general category students then can grab these seats 6. This way IIT Roorkee will dilute any reservation and now every top branch will have more than 80% general category students. Well done IIT Roorke you are the guiding light for all the IITs. All IITs must follow this recipe. Remember Indian Express may avoid going into deeper and exposing this but everybody who is affected knows this. We are more in numbers and eventually we will win.
            1. H
              Aug 6, 2015 at 10:17 am
              The problem lies with our primary and secondary education. Improvements there = improvement not only for IIT students but overall improvement in our education system. Half the problems of our country will be solved. I have seen 10th p candidates struggling to read, not just English but even in the medium of instruction.
              1. J
                Aug 6, 2015 at 12:49 pm
                Each year India deprives 50% of its good engineers, doctors, researchers and managers a chance, so that it can continue with its farcical but most costly tokenism of reservations.
                1. M
                  Aug 6, 2015 at 11:23 am
                  Baba Thugdevji don't look out for conspiracy theory in everything, the students were expelled because of their low performance not due to caste. Students expelled were from all categories including general. We should try to improve our schooling system in the moffussil areas of the country. Where education provided is really substandard, that's why these students lag behind other students in the metros who get good schooling. This has nothing to do with the caste.
                  1. M
                    Aug 6, 2015 at 8:47 am
                    It is atragedy that lackof proficiency is resposible for the poor grads of SC/ST/OBC students. They should remember thatduring the school dayksthey wee under the mercy of polilticians, who themsellves are selfish, ill qualified and moist of all they are unworthy of being emlullated. The reserved cl student shuld realise that there is no subsue for hard work. Evenif, by anykchance theykcome out of the IIT by by some political crooks like what the hifamily has managead, they will not be employable. No employer will come forward to to give them employement. At that point of time neither the governmentnor the fould politicians like Lallul praas would be able to helpthem. Theonly alternatilveforthis is for some good social groups and the government should conduct some specail coachingcles toupliftthem. Any lack of attendence by these weak students shuld severlly dealtl with. After all they do need help and sympathy from the upper cl. Willsome social groups come forwards? M.Sriunivasan
                    1. B
                      Binoy Shanker
                      Aug 6, 2015 at 11:09 am
                      The politician decision makers in education always had their eyes on votes. They ured their consuents, especially the disadvantaged sections, that admission of their kids in insutes of specialized learning will be enough. They didn't tell them the big challenge would begin thereafter. Almost none of the champions of reservation or the advocates of preferential treatment based on potion number are seen doing any thing to make the academic roots of their kids strong. In fact, the schools their kids go to are also filled with teachers and staff whose qualification and appointments are both questionable. They will have to go a long way to catch up.
                      1. P
                        Aug 6, 2015 at 5:46 pm
                        All these things happen only because of the seat reservation.They enter good colleges with low marks and without good knowledge..and hence suffer in the firstn year
                        1. R
                          Raghunath BJP
                          Aug 6, 2015 at 6:02 pm
                          You are insulting Smriti Irani Ji. Its like insulting the Country. You are not Patriotic. You are Anti National. She has ped 10th, 1st year BA/BCom, and a Degree from Yale(6 day course). Isn't that more than enough for an HRD minister when our Beloved NaMo ji is 7th Standard? Education is nothing. Its all 'lefts'. Its a ploy by the British and the Muslims to supress Indians. Like Sri Sri Sri Sri Ravi Shankar once said, "All Govt School students are Naxalites. Go to Private schools for good education."
                          1. R
                            raj kumar
                            Aug 7, 2015 at 10:03 am
                            reservation was introduced in india during british raj, in pursuance of policy of 'divide hindu to rule india' and not because of their concern for SC/ST. the party created by a britisher AO Hume, congress (ek parivaar baaki sab chatukaar) continued with 'divide hindu to rule india', as it was not having any economic programme for betterment of entire potion. what actually is happening in reservation of jobs. few thousand families in SC and ST, are getting all reserved jobs for their generation after generation. large majority of poor SC and ST families are finding to land a reserved job. modification can be done that reservation will be given only for one generation and thereafter next generation will be treated as general. this will enable circulation of reservation benefits to large number of SC and ST families. REGARDING ENGLISH BIAS, THIS INJUSTICE IS HAPPENING IN ALL MACAULAY ERA UNIVERSITIES. Unless traditional knowledge (which exist in native languages) of country is nurtured, how can english be taken out of the knowledge systems and field of studies which are imported from europe/america.
                            1. R
                              Ravi Ranjan
                              Aug 6, 2015 at 8:39 am
                              Some states like Bihar ,UP and Rajasthan where leaders like Karpoori Thakur banished English from the curricula of schools are worst suferers as students from these states find it difficult to cope with the syllabus at engineering and management schools.Reservation cause another problem as not the best are selected.
                              1. R
                                Aug 6, 2015 at 11:14 am
                                these guys need props for everything - admission, exam, then job and then promotion. We cant blame the education system for every problem faced by a student. In fact such concessions are creating more divide amongst the communities. if they cant compete at any level, they are to be blamed and they should quit. This is not worth a news at all. Indian express is wasting its resources on such non-issues. It seems to be biased towards giving coverage to such non issues.
                                1. D
                                  Dr. Barve
                                  Aug 6, 2015 at 10:29 am
                                  I was faculty in IIT Kharagpur for 30 years. It is wrong to say that faculty is biased towards SC/ST?OBC. The article is totally biased. We do get many students from non english medium schools but one has to make an effort to keep up with the course. In my time also some students had to leave IIT not because they were from SC/ST. Have you checked the Financial position of these students? Please do not try to give cast colour to an academic problem
                                  1. A
                                    Amit Jain
                                    Aug 6, 2015 at 8:58 am
                                    I think Indian Express has literally sent its soul out for money. How can you say that administration is unfair towards students with reserved category when 10% of the suspended students were from general category!!! What is their explanation? And before ping out judgement on the "mindset" of IIT administration, did IE happen out to check-out how many of the suspended students are proficient in English. Did they check-out how many of them were pursuing special courses for English/Professional Communication to bridge their short-comings? And most importantly, what has snooker to do with English??? There are table-tennis and other games like snooker at hostels for the students, and snooker is more about angles (which all IITians should be proficient in), it has nothing to do with English.
                                    1. S
                                      Syed Mohd
                                      Aug 7, 2015 at 5:37 am
                                      Very well written article. Would be interesting to know the background of all the reservation candidates, if such a case study can be done a deeper insight on the problem would be attained. Also need to ess the social impact on the previously graduated reservation candidates. Would give us a clearer picture if reservation is solving the ' generic' problem.
                                      1. A
                                        Aug 6, 2015 at 11:01 am
                                        I am no IIT student, studied in Marathi medium until tenth. In eleventh standard, I had trouble initially but eventually was able to cope with the language issues. And i am an obc too. So it is hard to digest that these high ranking IIT students are struggling to understand English. If even person scoring 92 in English is having trouble, I really doubt the quality of education they get in the schools. Besides, if English proficiency is made part of the JEE, I guess these students will at least bother to learn and practice some English.
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