A three-member committee set up by IIT-Bombay (IIT-B) to probe the alleged suicide of Aniket Ambhore in 2014 has concluded that the student took his life because he was battling “internal contradictions” and that it was not a fallout of caste harassment. Significantly though, the report makes a general observation admitting that caste discrimination exists in IIT-B.
Ambhore, a student of electrical engineering, had fallen to his death from the sixth floor of hostel 13 on September 4, 2014. An SC student, he was alleged to have committed suicide. After his parents wrote to the IIT director, a three-member committee was set up by the administration. The committee had submitted its report on November 10, 2015. It is yet to be made public. An IIT spokesman said the report was “confidential”.
The report, (accessed by The Indian Express), has stated, “There is a possibility that students entering through the SC/ST quota could face difficulties in the hostels and in the departments because of hardened attitudes against the reservation policy of the government.”
“In summary, it seems clear that Aniket Ambhore’s difficulties cannot be traced to a caste-based or anti-reservationist environment at IIT-B. It appears that he was constantly battling internal contradictions,” it added.
However, the report also said that the committee did find deficiencies in how academically-challenged students in general are supported at IIT-B. “Institutionally, there seems to be an apathy towards such students, the general attitude (albeit, with exceptions) being that the students’ problems are their own making — insincerity, and not inadequate preparation, is to blame,” it added.
The report also made a host of recommendations. The committee suggested forming a “diversity cell” comprising SC/ST Cell unit that is headed by a faculty in charge, preparatory-level courses for students who join IIT with extremely poor preparation, sensitisation programmes for faculties and identifying promising SC/ST students, who are inclined towards academic career, for special encouragement and grooming.
It further suggested that academic rehabilitation programmes started in 2008 for supporting weak students be reviewed after every semester.
“Only the SC/ST students’ cell has been formed, having department-level faculty advisor. This cell is acting like a grievance body and no sensitisation programmes have been conducted. Moreover, the advisors themselves are neither knowledgeable about what’s going on nor willing to support students from backward categories. We only know of one case where a casteist comment was made by a visiting faculty in 2014 at a communication skills class,” said a student.
When contacted, Aniket’s mother Sunita Ambhore said, “They (committee) have only taken accounts of students whose contact numbers I had given them. We find the report too shallow… it didn’t come to any definite conclusion. After joining IIT-Bombay, it became evident that my son was more anxious and sad. He did not receive the help he should have while he was alive. Despite such a tragic incident, none of the professors have come forward to speak to us.”
Students alleged that those who gained admission through SC/ST quota are easily identified by their roll numbers. Accommodation is also given based on the roll numbers. “This leads to segregation on caste lines. These students, particularly in viva, have a hard time and there’s no way one can complain about it,” said a student.
Dean of student affairs, Professor Tapanendu Kundu, said, “Hostel accommodation is allotted purely according to course the student takes up, not caste lines. We have zero tolerance policy for any discrimination based on caste. We have already organised one programme for first-year students in collaboration with the Students Wellness Center about sensitisation on caste and depression, among other. IIT has made all efforts to tackle the issue.”
A survey appearing in IIT-B’s student magazine in April 2014 was headlined, ‘We don’t need segregation’. It revealed that 56 per cent of students belonging to categories like SCs, STs and OBCs believed discrimination exists in the institute, albeit in a discreet manner. In recognition of the need for more substantial service of counselling, a counselling care centre was set up in 2015. RTI records dating December 31, 2018 revealed that out of 1,034 sanctioned faculty posts, only five were filled by faculty belonging to SC and none from ST.