‘Reduced talking to me after knowing my rank’: Darshan Solanki had told a senior

IIT Bombay Suicide: Statement was submitted to the internal committee but wasn’t mentioned in the report ruling out caste-based discrimination.

As students and activists have pointed out, the Darshan Solanki committee had representatives from the SC/ST cell. (Image Source: APPSC IIT Bombay Official Twitter)As students and activists have pointed out, the Darshan Solanki committee had representatives from the SC/ST cell. (Image Source: APPSC IIT Bombay Official Twitter)

Sheena Sachdeva | March 13, 2023 | 04:02 PM IST

NEW DELHI: “I feel uncomfortable in IIT Bombay. For people I am someone coming with the quota seat, they say quota people are not competent and that makes me self-doubt,” said a student during an open-house on caste conducted by the ST/SC Student Cell of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay last June. Darshan Solanki, an 18 year old first year chemical engineering student who died suicide on February 12, 2023, suffered from similar loneliness and isolation, a senior student close to Solanki had told the IIT Bombay committee tasked with investigating the suicide.

The senior student named Uday Meena told the committee that a few months before his death, Solanki had enquired about the process for changing roommates. In his statement to the panel, accessed by Careers360, the senior student wrote: “When he met me the second time in November 2022, he asked about the procedure for changing roommates. I mentioned to him that it is impossible. He mentioned that his roommate had reduced talking to him after knowing each other’s rank, and his roommate belonged to the general category.” The senior had completed his courses in December and left campus in January 2023.

The senior spoke with Solanki at length in November but found his issues common and unalarming, stated a 17 minute long conversation with Naveen Gurrapu. Meena mentioned that he tried to console Solanki about the roommate and asked to make other friends on campus. He also deposed before the committee on February 17 and sent a written statement on February 19.

The Darshan Solanki committee report said: “Other than the statement of Darshan Solanki’s sister, there is no specific evidence of direct caste-based discrimination faced by Darshan Solanki during his stay at IIT Bombay.”

IIT Bombay: Surveys and committees

However, earlier surveys – conducted by the SC/ST Cell and with small numbers of respondents – had found that students experienced stress and other issues due to their caste. In one, 33.8% respondents reported that they could discuss their caste only among “very close” friends, and 29.4% students reported that they were “not comfortable” discussing their caste identity in the institute. Another survey conducted by ST/SC cell on possible mental health issues students faced due to their caste identity found that a quarter of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students of the institute face some mental health problem.

As students and activists have pointed out, the Darshan Solanki committee had representatives from the SC/ST cell. Its convenor and co-convenor, Bharat Adsul and Madhu Belur, were both members of the Darshan Solanki committee. Belur refused to speak to Careers360.

The Darshan Solanki report just says this: “It appears to the committee that DS initially might have felt aloof probably due to various possible causes including JEE-rank differences, computer familiarity and and language barrier. The exact cause for his aloof nature is not known to the committee.” Nor did it examine why Solanki seemed less engaged in the second semester, as activists have pointed out.

SC/ST Cell surveys

The two surveys conducted by the cell had disappointingly small numbers of respondents. While the mental health survey was sent out to 2,200 students, only 134 responded; the ST/SC students cell survey has 388 respondents out of the 2,000 it was sent to. The low participation reflects the level of discomfort students felt with sharing their concerns with the authorities, said the report by ST/SC student cell accessed by Careers360. The report said that students were not comfortable talking about their caste identity even after keeping their names anonymous.

Another brief survey conducted by an IIT alumnus on Whatsapp shared amongst 59 students and alumni from ST/SC backgrounds highlighted that 42 students of this group experienced caste-based discrimination but did not lodge formal complaints with IIT Bombay ST/SC cell or any other legal body. “In respect to IIT Bombay’s director remarks that the campus has no caste-based discrimination, I wanted to understand why such incidents happen. The maximum number of cases go unreported,” said Dheeraj Singh, who has studied in IIT Kanpur and IIT Kharagpur.

For help, AASRA has a list of resources here: http://www.aasra.info/helpline.html

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