The unfortunate death of Rohith Vemula, a PhD scholar at Hyderabad University, has brought into sharp focus the blatant caste discrimination faced by Dalit students in our education institutions, especially those of higher learning.
This paper’s report yesterday about the parents of an IIT-B student who fell to his death from the campus hostel still awaiting closure only highlights that not all is well even in our top institutes.
Another distressing development is the politicisation of the issue, with even central ministers indulging in mudslinging. Worse was the online discourse on whether Vemula was indeed a Dalit as though that would somehow make his death less important. (For the record, his father was an OBC, his mother an SC and Rohith chose to take his mother’s caste after the father deserted the family, something perfectly legal.)
Under all the cloud, the most important aspect highlighted by Rohith's death - that discrimination is very much a part and parcel of college life for Dalit students - seems to be getting swept under the carpet. This only suits the interests of those who are responsible for running these institutions and the status quo-ists.
Which is why it is important to bring the focus back to the real issue: how do we eradicate caste bias from colleges? The answer is simple: The change has to happen from the top and there should be zero tolerance towards such behaviour. Students should be made to realise that taunting a classmate using his or her caste is just not done. Mechanisms should be put in place to ensure that offenders are punished. Especially, if it is found that a professor has discriminated against a student on the basis of caste or has insulted a student using caste, the penalty should be immediate sacking and such a person should not be allowed to set foot inside an educational institution ever.
While this may sound harsh to some, it is the only way authorities can send out the message that caste discrimination is unacceptable. It will also help in assuaging the fears of the marginalised, which is the need of the hour.