Five point nothing

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That glazed look The hit film Three Idiots highlighted the plight of students struggling to cope
That glazed look The hit film Three Idiots highlighted the plight of students struggling to cope

Students also allege that the administration implemented the rule of the senate (the highest decision-making body in IIT) without involving them in the decision-making process. As per the regulations of the senate manual, “duly registered students of the institute” shall be made part of the senate executive committee, boards, standing committees and advisory committees.

“Students may not always have a longterm perspective with respect to employment opportunities /further studies. They could be driven by short-term considerations,” says Nauriyal, who is in charge of nominating three student representatives to the board of studies (which has power to suggest changes to the senate in matters related to credits and granting of degrees). “The senate, on the other hand, comprises senior academicians, industry experts who are likely to consider what might benefit students in the long term”.

Allegations of discrimination against SC, ST, OBC and physically handicapped have also surfaced, with 67 of 73 expelled students belonging to this category. Such accusations are however, not new to the campus. In 2011, Manish Kumar Guddolian, a second-year Dalit student enrolled in the integrated dual degree programme of the department of computer science & information technology, committed suicide. The son of a junior warrant officer in the Indian Air Force, Manish allegedly jumped to his death from the fifth floor of his hostel on 6 February 2011. His family had then accused the college professors and seniors of discriminating against Manish on the basis of his caste.

Given the current rate of expulsion students say, there is a strong possibility that a handful or none of them (reserved categories) will graduate with a degree in hand. “Ninety percent of those scoring below 5.0 CGPA belong to SC, ST, OBC categories, the administration has implemented a new rule without taking this into account,” says Punit, who was the first to conduct research into the background of expelled students.

Take the case of Partho,* a student belonging to a Scheduled Tribe, who has been expelled. “I have no option left. I took a loan for my studies and spent money on the court cases. Three years of my life have been wasted,” he says.

The future looks bleak for this ‘person with disability’ (PD), the only one to have made it to iit-r from this category. “The management never issued me any warnings. In previous years, they would ask students to repeat a year but this expulsion was bought about arbitrarily,” says Partho, one of seven students who failed a few subjects and fell short of the required CGPA.

“Since the system is based on relative grading, it is obvious that the bottom 10 percent will be eliminated each year, of which most are likely to belong to the sc, st or obc category,” Nidhin, programme associate at National Commission for Dalit Human Rights (NHDCR) tells Tehelka. “The institution is then promoting excellence through expulsion.”

This raises a red flag about violation of Article 46 of the Constitution that enjoins the State to “promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.”

The frequent dropping out of SC/ST students leaves seats in higher education vacant, muddling the very concept of positive discrimination. The authorities, however, deny any hidden agenda to eliminate students from reserved categories. “Once they enter our institution, we do not see the category from which they have come. For us, they are only our students,” says Barua.

Despite pious intentions, however, the institute’s insistence on high grades often acts as a deterrent to those struggling to keep up. “The minimum grade required to hold any post in college is 6, which makes it difficult for students of these categories to participate in public life,” says Punit. “Such rules prevent the full development of their personalities and impacts their confidence and performance,” says Nidhin.

Students contrast these rules with those at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT ) on which the iits are modelled. “Unlike MIT, where diversity is celebrated and addressed systematically, our institution does not even want to address the issue of caste,” says Rahul.

“India does not rank anywhere in the list of top 300 global educational institutions — and yet, discrimination is made when it comes to studies here,” Udit Raj tells Tehelka. “This discrimination tends to be highly subjective, overlooking the backgrounds of students and catering to an anti-caste, anti-rural mindset.”

Another obstacle is that of language. Students clear the jee in their regional languages. Once in iit, they face the challenge of learning English, specifically scientific terminology.

So, is there any support system for students who mostly belong to Hindi medium schools, and are from disadvantaged sections of society? “We have academic probation classes to help students from weaker sections of society,” says Nauriyal.

The expelled students say these measures are ineffective. “The class was only held once before semester-end. What help could it have provided?” asks Samit.

The administration, of course, says it is committed to helping students. “We are aware of the various inputs students require and are actively looking into it,” says Barua. Since August, academic probation classes are being taken by senior students every Saturday.

IITs collectively have a record number of dropouts and failures, but with the lack of proper mechanisms to address these problems, the future of many who enter its gates is uncertain. On 6 August 2015, in a written reply to the Lok Sabha, HRD Minister Smriti Irani stated, “During 2014-15, IITs witnessed 757 dropouts, which was higher than 697 (2013-14) and 606 (2012-13). During this period,IIT-R saw the highest number of dropouts at 228, followed by IIT-Kharagpur (209) and IIT-D (169).

Behind these dry statistics are socioeconomic realities. Probing the IIT-R expulsions , the preliminary findings of the National Dalit Movement for Justice and NHDCR released on 7 August 2015 suggests, “There is a need to dismantle the exclusionary value systems which govern the rules and regulations of IITs. In other words, we need to de-Brahmanise IITs, and re-mould them in a way which is relevant to excluded groups.”

By implementing an academic decision, IIT-R may just have re-ignited the debate on reservation in education and lack of effective institutional mechanisms to address the needs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Also, the much disparaged relative grading system.

Clearly, all is not well at iits, despite Chetan Bhagat having sounded the warning in 2004 via Five Point Someone.

deepa@tehelka.com

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