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IITS: DOING MANU PROUD May 20, 2006

Posted by chella in IIT, Reservation.
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Dalit Media Network

Nandanar, a dalit rebel-activist of the bhakti period, sought access to
the Shivaloganadar temple in Tiruppungur and the Nataraja temple in
Chidambaram, to which the 'untouchable' Pulaiyars provided hereditary
services (supplying leather for percussion instruments). For this, the
brahman clergy derided him. The Tamil saivite tradition went on to
appropriate the political resistance of Nandanar in the great hindu habit of
'assimilation'. In Sekkizhar's Peiryapuranam, a 12th century saivite
hagiography, the dalit martyr is made to undergo a 'conversion' – he gains
access to worship only after his caste-oppressed pulaiya body is
purified' by the sacrificial fire, and lo! he then emerges as a brahman sage
– tuft, caste thread and all. Siva is shown to accept the dalit after
he undergoes a trial-by-fire. In reality, Nandanar was burnt to death.
Incinerated. Today, many dalit students at the Indian Institutes of
Technology have to survive a 'Preparatory Course' fire and come out
unscathed if they have to do BTech. Not much has changed. The dalits fought
for temple-entry; today they fight for entry into IITs – temples of
technology.

The IITs, like the peethas of Adi Shankara, are established in
different parts of A-k-h-a-n-d Bharat – even Guwahati has one (though the
Kaladi revivalist would not have reckoned with hindu colonialism in the
northeastern belt). The brahmans zealously guard both these institutions.
They would not have a dalit as Shankaracharya. 'Purity' has to be
maintained. Nor do they want a dalit instructor at an IIT. 'Merit' cannot be
compromised. The IITs are quite like the romanticised gurukulas/ vedic
pathasalas where most nonbrahmans, women, dalits and adivasis were/are
not allowed. Merit in this country gets reduced to clinging to
something for centuries and denying the same to others.

The institute admits students purely on the basis of merit.

IIT-Madras, Handbook 1999

Imagine a student of law, history or engineering being told to undergo
an extra year of a 'Preparatory Course', pass it, and then get to the
usual two- or four-year term, because she happens to be dalit. Consider
this happening in Nagpur University or Osmania or Annamalai. Or
Jawaharlal Nehru University. But this does not, would not, happen in these
places. It happens only in the Indian Institutes of Technology; in their
BTech courses. Many dalits and adivasis who get admitted into IITs are
'counselled' into first attending, and then passing, a Preparatory
Course. IITs were not required to implement reservation for students till
1973. When they were forced to, they did it most reluctantly, adding
riders – cut-off mark, prep course.

At the outset, dalit and adivasi students have to submit coloured
application forms for the Joint Entrance Examination, JEE. (For JEE-2000,
the colour was pink.) They are then given coloured answer sheets as well,
while 'others' get plain white ones. Defenders of the system argue:
This is fair enough. How else do you identify the applicants and fill the
quota? Dalits and adivasis have to write their names on the
answer-sheets, unlike 'others'. With mere roll numbers and uncoloured sheets,
professors would not be able to establish whose papers they are correcting.
The Preparatory Course – meant to 'uplift', not empower – is informed
by very gandhian perceptions of what the disprivileged need. Much of the
Preparatory Course is a revision of Class XI-XII syllabus. 'Their
basics are poor, you see. Bad schools. Poor English. They can't cope.' Since
IITs grossly violate the provision for affirmative action in faculty
positions as well, dalit and adivasi students are taught the Preparatory
Course by (mostly) hostile caste-hindu teachers. Such unabashed
discrimination is not practised at any other engineering, medicine or
humanities course in the country. Which is why, it is argued, IITs are a cut
above the rest. And a dalit or adivasi, if she fails – or is made to fail
– the Preparatory Course, has to forfeit her seat. One whole year is
lost. They must start all over; try their luck elsewhere – if they have
been able to salvage any selfrespect, stamina. There is a case here for
the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act (1989). A person is punishable
under Section 3(1)(x) of the Act if he "intentionally insults or
intimidates with intent to humiliate a member of a Scheduled Caste or a
Scheduled Tribe in any place within public view". In IITs – a public place –
a dalit student is insulted, intimidated and humiliated. This is also
violation of Article 14 of the constitution.

But a leading English language magazine has another story to tell.
'These six engineering schools are perhaps the only truly free and fair
centres of learning in India' (Outlook, 29 May 2000). The brahman-baniya
controlled media pays gushing tributes paid to IITs, and the civil
society is indifferent to what really happens on these campuses to dalits,
adivasis and women. In Chennai, of course, the IIT stands newly, and
more aptly, abbreviated: Iyer-Iyengar Technology.

The faculty of 427 at IIT-M has only 2 dalits; and they have made it
without positive discrimination. According to Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam,
a non-electoral activist organisation which seeks to combine E V
Ramasamy Periyar's ideology with Dr B R Ambedkar's, and has been spearheading
the campaign on this issue since March 2000, the institute does not
have a single Muslim faculty; there are 20-odd OBCs. (At the time of
writing, in a tactful move, a dalit was appointed registrar of IIT-M. He has
a poor record in his previous assignment and has only 18 months of
service left; moreover, in IIT-M, the Dean-Administration is more powerful
and the registrar does not command the same status as in other
universities.) According to the management of this 41-year-old institute, IITs
have been 'exempted' by the government of India from implementing the
22.5 per cent quota for dalits and adivasis in faculty positions. The
Public Relations Officer, Pattabhiraman, says the reservation policy
needs to be followed only when the basic pay for the lowest post is less
than Rs 8,000. 'That would be the case when you start as a lecturer; in
IITs we follow a different cadre system where you start as an Assistant
Professor with a higher basic. So no quotas need to be filled. That is
the government rule. Even the Mandal Commission says so.' Asked if this
is not violative of constitutional provisions and if he could show the
relevant 'government rules' that imply this exemption, Pattabhiraman
just insists they are following the rules.

Sujee Teppal, an adivasi student who topped the Andhra Pradesh common
entrance test (EAMCET) for engineering in her category, was keen on a
BTech from IIT. At IIT-M, she was asked to take the Preparatory Course
route. At the end of it, she was failed in one subject, Physics. (Her
Class-XII Maths-Physics-Chemistry average was 94 per cent; she had a
centum in Class XI Physics.) After the issue was taken up by the Periyar
Dravidar Kazhagam, and the subsequent coverage in the local press – which
got interested, typically, after Sujee attempted suicide – and
following a directive from the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and
Scheduled Tribes (dated 8 July 2000), the IIT management tried to cover
its tracks, conducted another test for Sujee and other dalits-adivasis
who were failed along with her, and cleared some of them for BTech. A
much-harassed Sujee has now been assured of direct admission into MTech
(without having to clear GATE) by the management. First, you are
humiliated; then your silence is bought. Several dalit employees have been
similarly gagged. Says an employee denied promotions and increments for his
outspoken views, 'The management plays one dalit against another,
sometimes showering petty favours on one group, manipulating resistance.'

The IIT-M director, R Natarajan, offers a different rationale. 'IIT
faculties do not have to follow the reservation provision just like the
defence, space and medical super specialities sectors. We follow it only
for one cadre, Scientific Officer, which has a low basic of Rs 2,200.'
Even the usual excuse – 'we do not get qualified, meritorious dalit
candidates' – is not offered; total exemption from affirmative action is
claimed. For student intake, the director and his deputy, C R
Muthukrishnan, maintain that they implement the quota, whatever be their
'personal views about the lower cut-off mark' and the quota system as such.
Does any other university in the country which awards an engineering
degree have this concept of a Preparatory Course? Unlikely, says Natarajan.
For faculty posts, the PRO and director explain how at the bottom of
the employment notice, the fine print says: 'All things being equal,
preference will be given to SC/ST candidates.' And all things not being
equal, this preference rarely ever happens. The probability at IIT-M:
2/427. In IIT-Bombay, the management is more straightforward and unabashed.
According to a recent report, 'IIT-Powai does not have any Dalit
teaching staff, even though 22.5 per cent of posts are reserved for them.
Faculty members feel that the 'IIT's standards will be compromised if
reservations in this area are implemented,' says a faculty member, with
pride' (Indian Express, Mumbai, 12 Nov, 2000).

It is not a glass ceiling that dalits, adivasis and women (who have no
protective discrimination whatsoever) in IITs have to reckon with. It
is a solid, rusty, iron ceiling. And it is so low, you constantly hurt
your head even when you walk half-bent. The IIT establishment justifies
the policy of non-implementation of affirmative action without
realising the social significance of having dalits and adivasis in faculty
positions. The need for reservation and a rejection of the brahmanical
'merit-alone' theory has been beautifully articulated by Devanesan Nesiah
in his comparative study of affirmative action in the United States,
India and Malaysia (Discrimination with Reason? 1997).

Even in respect of jobs for which recruitment is on merit, as measured
in terms of specified qualifications, there may be justification for
reverse discrimination resting on efficiency criteria alone. For example,
a Black, Dalit, or woman student might find it easier to establish
rapport with, and learn better from, a teacher of the same category.
Further, such a person could serve as a role model, and inspire and motivate
others of that category, helping to augment the pool of human
resources. Moreover, enrolling a member of a minority group into the management
can help to broaden the network of contacts, resulting in increased
efficiency in respect of further recruitment and various other
transactions. Affirmative action may be the only feasible way, initially, to
breach the barriers either on account of prejudice or the narrow
self-interest of a closed network. Another factor may be diversity, which could
bring substantial benefit to the entire community. Thus selection based
on 'merit' alone may be inefficient … Clearly, the 'merit' criterion
is not an inherently 'fair' basis of distribution of rewards, since it
may depend less on effort and more on genetic and other factors over
which the individual may have no control. That the merit criterion
benefits the clever is, in itself, no reason to adopt it (Nesiah 1997, 288,
emphases added).

The government obviously has decided to look the other way when the
IITs flout constitutional provisions. All the six IITs in the country –
and this is likely to be true of other elite institutions such as the
Indian Institutes of Management and Indian Institutes of Science – given
that they are perceived to be 'highly specialised apex institutions and
centres of excellence for higher education in engineering and
technology' (Chitnis cited in Kirpal 1999), seem to be getting away with not
observing the rules of the game. These institutions depend on heavy
subsidy – the annual central assistance to the six IITs amounts to about Rs
499.18 crores (Government of India, 2000, 125), IIT-M receiving Rs 88.64
crore this year – but do not implement reservation. This is not
surprising given that even for student intake the IITs, unlike almost all
other government-run educational institutions, were exempt from
implementing the dalit and adivasi quota till as late as 1973 (Viney Kirpal and
Meenakshi Gupta 1999 23, 31). When this was done as per the Chandy
Committee recommendations (1972), which specified that the Scheduled Castes
and Scheduled Tribes be taken into IITs 'down to the zero mark at the
Joint Entrance Examination (JEE)' (31), the results were 'disastrous'.
Most of the first batch of dalit and adivasi students found it extremely
difficult to cope at the IIT and were failed or forced to drop out.
Hence, 'the system of a two-thirds cut-off point at the JEE as the more
reasonable alternative' was suggested in 1977. 'In 1978 all the IITs
adopted the system which continues to be used till today' (32). In 1983,
the Preparatory Course was conceived, thus further blocking the prospects
of dalits/adivasis. How dalit and adivasi students make it to these
discriminatory institutes of learning is a unique process that needs
elaboration.

On direction from the Union Government, SC and ST students scoring upto
two-thirds of the marks obtained by the last GE [general category]
student on the merit list [sic] in the JEE are directly taken into the
first year of the BTech programme, under the reservations scheme. Students
who score below the two-third JEE cut-off point and "x" marks are
assigned to the Preparatory Course where they are given one year's rigorous
training. On obtaining a certain percentage of marks in Physics,
Chemistry, Mathematics and English at the end of the year, they are
registered for the First year of BTech, failing which they are asked to leave so
that they may join some other college. The SC/ST students may pass the
programme with a reduced number of credits, i.e., 22 credits per
semester as compared to 28 credits for the GE students. Nonetheless, to earn
the BTech degree, they have to complete the total number of credits
common for all (categories of students). The unique aspect of reservations
in IITs is the total absence of compromised standards (such as grace
marks awarded to SC and ST students). The concessions offered end with
the reduced cut-off point at entry, the reduced course load during the
semester and the six years (against the five for GE students) to complete
the four-year BTech programme. The degree awarded is on a par with the
GE students (Kirpal and Gupta, 36, emphases added).

The study, Equality Through Reservations, by Viney Kirpal and Meenakshi
Gupta – both have taught Humanities at IIT, Bombay – is based on data
collected from IIT students belonging to batches beginning 1989 to 1992.
It says, 'During the period of data collection, there were
approximately 5,868 general category students and 616 SC and ST students in the
IITs' (49). Percentage-wise, this works out to 10.49 dalit and adivasi
students out of the total intake – less than half the quota is being
'filled'. Though awash with statistics of all kind, this book, devoted to
examining reservation in IITs, does not bother to work out this
all-important figure which amounts to flouting the reservation norm. Nor does
the Viney-Meenakshi effort tell us one word about the status of
reservation at the faculty level. The authors, while admittedly concerned with
how best the disprivileged students can 'integrate' with the
'mainstream' at IIT, are not even alive to the inherent discrimination wrought
into the idea of a prep course. They do not see any moral turpitude in the
very premise that some dalits and adivasis must undertake an extra year
of study (but then they do not see caste as immoral, vulgar); it does
not occur to them that such discrimination is not institutionalised
anywhere else; nor are they alive to the absence of dalits and adivasis on
faculties, and this affecting the social balance in IITs. To top it
all, they use the term 'merit list' while referring to nondalit students,
reinforcing postMandal notions of 'merit' being the prerogative of
caste hindus (they are born with it, they always-already have it);
something that is deemed to be unforgivably compromised, and even essentially
absent, among persons who avail of affirmative action.

Most caste hindus spoken to express the opinion that it is good that
IITs do not take the reservation provision seriously; this enables them
to maintain 'standards', unlike other institutions. And since they are
'forced' to take some dalit and adivasi students, at least the
Preparatory Course hurdle must be cleared. The Bombay Indian Express reporter
who, briefed by the Dalit Media Network about the situation in
IIT-Madras, filed a report ('Dalit Quota Opens Doors But Reservations Remain',
quoted earlier) on the problems faced by dalits and adivasis in
IIT-Powai, conveyed to us excerpts of a conversation in the reporters' desk. 'I
wish you had got your facts right about the IIT piece. These people you
are defending are dumb fucks who should be where they are. You don't
know how many deserving students [as always, the case of some relation is
cited] don't get in because of these duffers.' This would be a
representative brahmanical response to any 'debate' on atrocities in the IITs,
or on the subject of 'reservation' as such.

A fact is most dalit and adivasi students who make it to the IITs have
internalised the logic of the Preparatory Course. A typical
rationalisation goes: 'Look, they are not protesting… take a survey, and they
all want the Preparatory Course without which they would feel further
alienated.' Meenakshi and Viney reinforce this opinion, 'Of those who
attended the Preparatory Course, 75 per cent felt that the Course had been
helpful' (83). Seventeen-year-old dalits, who are within knocking
distance of a BTech from an IIT, cannot be expected to reject the
Preparatory Course as discriminatory. They might not be in a position to see the
politics of it; and even if they do, it would prove personally too
costly to act on such injustices. It is a classic case of saying the victim
loves the physical or epistemic violence s/he is subjected to, when
forcefully extracted tolerance of such violence is made a precondition to
some material gain (in the IIT context, a BTech). We must realise that
they are being forced to record consent/ approval of their humiliation;
they internalise the logic that making it to an IIT matters most, even
if it means an extra year and dirty looks from caste-hindu students for
the 'lower cut-off mark'. In IIT-M, there have been cases where some
dalit/ adivasi students have been coaxed by the management to opt out of
the BTech because of their 'poor grades/ nonperformace' in return for
diploma certificates, or sometimes, a BSc degree. Here too, the
management argues that 'some degree' in the case of dalits would be better than
'being stuck doing BTech forever'. And since there is no academic audit
in IITs, decisions of the all-powerful senate and the director's whim
go unquestioned. This is academic and intellectual terrorism. Would our
dalit and adivasi MLAs/MPs take it if told that they – but not other
MPs – have to undergo a training course, similar to the IIT Preparatory
Course, before they attended parliament?

One basic anomaly is overlooked. If for 25 years IITs have been
implementing reservation for students, why is it that hardly any dalits and
adivasis hold faculty positions? Technically, the IITs want to show that
they are indeed satisfying the dalit/adivasi need to be part of what is
an elite setup at the student level, but in effect they are producing
(dalit and adivasi) technologists and engineers who will not be
recruited by these very institutions. However, in lower-end posts, ('Class IV'
employees), the scenario is predictably the opposite. In 1983, there
were in all 800 dalit employees in IIT-M. Of these, 796 were scavengers.
Here the brahmans stake/d no claim. There were four dalit LDCs. ('Caste
system is not merely a division of labour. It is also a division of
labourers' [Ambedkar 1987, 66, emphasis original].) Reservation norms were
being overlooked even for non-faculty posts till a Suraj Bhan-led
delegation of dalit and adivasi MPs – that materialised at the behest of a
dalit employee in IIT-M – enquired into the situation that year. The
director then was the now-Padmashreed P V Indiresan. And his views?
'Higher education is, and has to be, elitist… admit only those students who
can cope with global standards in science and recruit only those
teachers who have an international reputation for research… Both the
Constitution and our politicians prohibit any institution from exercising
academic freedom' (Outlook 23 Oct, 2000, emphases added). Indiresan,
well-known for his anti-reservation line, has been particularly belligerent
in the postMandal phase (for which the present government has bestowed
on him a padma award). Says T Jayaraman of the Tamilnadu Science Forum,
'From media reports, it is clear that there is strong resistance to
reservation in IITs. The extraordinary attack launched on the reservation
policy by an IIT director (P V Indiresan), in the presence of the
President of the country (Zail Singh) during a convocation ceremony, for
which he did not even receive a reprimand/ reminder that affirmative
action was a constitutional guarantee, reflects the situation in these
institutes… such views stoke the perception that there is a real
contradiction between reservation and 'merit', instead of arguing that in a
country with a long history of discrimination based on caste, 'merit' must
be suitably tied to justice, equality and affirmative action.'
Jayaraman, a professor at the MatScience Institute, Chennai, is also of the
view that IITs, by never having made a serious effort to identify dalits
who are meritorious and recruit them in the faculty, give credence to
the counterposing of 'merit' against reservation, and this amounts to an
attack on the reservation policy itself.

M S Swaminathan, who by running an institute that takes his own name
has made an institution of himself, is a former chairperson of
IIT-Madras. On being contacted, he refused comment on the antidalit atmosphere
prevalent in IITs, saying he was no longer associated with the institute.
But he did say, 'Any questions on agriculture, I will answer.'

At a time when the IIT establishment (in Chennai) was being attacked by
dalit and OBC groups – for not implementing reservation on the faculty,
and ill-treating/ harassing dalit and adivasi students – Outlook
featured a panegyric which began: 'What was Jawaharlal Nehru's greatest gift
to the nation? … what is the one unimpeachably visionary,
unquestionably positive thing that he left us, something for which we should be
grateful to him? A radical thought, but worth considering: Nehru's
greatest gift to his nation was the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).
And the world seems to agree' (Outlook 29 May, 1999).

But we do not.

Outlook's cover story, 'Doing India Proud', highlighted the
'achievements' of several 'IITians' ? needless to say those of men, mostly caste
hindu; and amidst all the recent hype about information technology, most
'achievers' were those who had emigrated to the US as computer and
technology coolies. The feature shows how casteist and sexist lies when
garnished with bias can assume the taste of truth. In a nation where
specific subcastes within dalits are forced to continue to carry caste-hindu
shit on their heads and enter overflowing sewers, the IITs perpetrate a
caste culture which would have pleased a Manu, who proscribed the Book
for the OBC-sudras, dalit-untouchables and women (who together account
for about 90 per cent of 'hindu' population). The non-implementation of
reservation in IITs is something that is welcomed even in 'progressive'
circles. 'No dilution of merit here please; at least spare these
institutions.' The issue is sought to be swept under the 'merit' carpet. The
merit carpet takes flight. Sitting on it are caste hindus. A brahman
steers it. But who made the carpet? Who wove it, made patterns on it? And
where are they?

The result: IITs remain virtual brahman monopolies; modern agraharams.
And they are supposed to be doing India proud. We would rather believe
that the contribution of IITians is the same as a brahman-dominated
game like cricket. Both give the caste-hindu middle class a falsified
sense of achievement.

Genderwise, the IITs fare even worse. Sandipan Dep, deputy editor with
Outlook: 'What was my IIT education all about? It was about IITians:
400 academically exceptional boys (and 12 girls) on a campus…' The
girls come in parenthesis. It's all about boys. Despite all those headlines
and reports we have seen for years about girls doing better than boys
in Class X, Class XII and other state and central board school exams, it
is (mostly caste hindu) boys who have enough 'merit' to enter the IITs.
And the few girls who make it must prove themselves male enough. 'From
one coast to another, women engineering students have shared their
relief on being accepted by the men in engineering as one of the guys'
(Sally Hacker 1989, 49).

Some letters responding to the Outlook feature raised the issue of
nonrepresentation of women. 'I was horrified to see not a woman mentioned
in your entire story. Forget the alumni, even the on-campus photos
didn't feature any women. Is your outlook so biased?' Another asked, 'Are
all IITians men?' (Outlook 12 June, 2000). According to the news report
cited earlier with reference to IIT-Mumbai, '(T)he situation for women
students remains dismal, with less than 200 among the almost 3,000
students in the bachelor's and master's programmes. For Dalit girls, things
are even more bleak. The first Dalit girls, numbering all of three,
were admitted in 1997. Since then, their number has increased by one every
year' (Indian Express, Mumbai, 12 June 2000).

One of the few dalit girls doing BTech in Mumbai is says, 'If you are
in a coveted department like Computer Science and Engineering, the guys
wonder aloud how a woman could get through and if they know you are a
cata student, there is an audible 'ohh' which seems to answer their
question.' ('Cata student' is caste-hindu IIT lingo for those who make it
using affirmative action. In IITs, as in other campuses in our country,
dalits tend to be allotted only dalit room-mates; dalits also do not
figure in IITs' famed alumni associations.)

The problem is not just with the IITs, which merely represent the
perverse culmination of a larger social bias ingrained in our education
system; our anti-dalit, pro-caste, gender-insensitive syllabi which tend to
reinforce existing hierarchies. A system that allows most IITians to
take the first flight to the US after completing their BTech. A system
that privileges the privileged, and even pays Rs 500 crores per year for
it. The 1999-2000 Union Bugdet accounts for Rs 4380 crores (revised) on
'secondary and higher education' (Government of India 2000). Of this,
Rs 499.18 crores went towards the six IITs. This works out to 11.4 % of
the total expenditure in this sector. (This figure does not include
what is spent on subsidising the general tuition, exam, hostel fee etc –
about Rs 15,000 per year per BTech student (IIT-Madras Handbook 1999),
insignificant compared to what private engineering colleges charge.)
After spending/ subsidising so heavily, 'India' seems to gain nothing.
'The take-home package for campus recruits ranges from Rs 4.5 lakhs to 7.5
lakhs per annum plus other perks' (The Times of India, Delhi, 12 Nov,
2000). And whom do they serve? The frontpaged ToI report gushingly
begins: 'The Americans want them. So do the Koreans, Japanese, Singaporeans,
Germans, Canadians and the French.' Even from a purely investment point
of view, the IITs seem nonviable. If the IITs are to have any social
value to the country which foots their bill, there must be an effort to
completely overhaul them and cast them anew.

Admittedly, the IITs are fashioned after the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (MIT) and the California Institute of Technology (CALTEC)
(Kirpal, Gupta 68). And it shows. The result is communities which have
dealt with leather for centuries – who perhaps can be reckoned with as
the first technologists of this country, who knew how to turn animal hide
into beautiful bags and shoes, and for which reason were treated as
'untouchable' (Kancha Ilaiah 1996) – would rarely ever make it to these
IITs. These institutions are not meant for them.

At IIT Guwahati, where 'every hostel room has an Internet connection'
the BTech, Design, course is adapting to 'local conditions'. And how?
Says Sudhakar Nadkarni, head of the department: "In years to come, this
will be the course to apply for." Nadkarni is adapting the design
course to local conditions too. Bamboo and cane craft for instance. "We get
master craftsmen from the northeastern states who impart training to
our students who then try to adapt the designs through mechanisation," he
says. Top technology meets native Indian talent. That's the way, one
suspects, Nehru envisioned the IITs to be (Outlook 29 May, 2000).

But will these craftspersons from 'northeastern states', in all
probability adivasis, ever make it to these IITs either as faculty or
students? What will be the 'merit' of privileged, elite male students from
across the country in comparison to the 'merit' of the nameless adivasis
who weave magic on bamboo? And what is the IIT student up to here? These
technobrats will computerise traditional adivasi designs using CAD/CAM.
Will the craftspersons at least be termed 'visiting faculty'? Will any
settlement be paid? And will that do?

Dalit and OBC intellectuals have pointed out how the equivalents of
today's engineers and technologists in India hail from what would be
dalit, shudra and adivasi groups. The lohars (smithies) who deal/t with
metal; the dalits who deal/t with leather; the potmakers and toddy-tappers,
the sculptors, ropemakers, and boat/ship-makers…; the aboriginal
adivasis who found cures in herbs for which swadeshis and videshis are
today vying for patents; the yadava women and men who domesticated wild
buffaloes, milched them, made butter, ghee (which basically fattened
brah-man stomachs); gardeners and tillers… all came from subaltern groups.
A brahman, of course, discovered the zero. But today, IIT-M has seen
only brahman directors – P V Indiresan, L S Srinath, N V C Swamy, R
Natarajan – in the last 20 years. The chairpersons of this institute also
tend to be brahmans – U R Rao, M S Swaminathan, Kasturi Rangan.
Technology has been brahmanised. The tussle for the top slot, it seems, is
between kannadiga brahmans and tamil brahmans at that. Caste struggle.

The Central Leather Research Institute in Chennai, which neighbours the
IIT, is headed by a nondalit; a brahman in fact. Caste hindus dominate
the place. Traditionally, most caste hindus kept away from leather –
they still do. Now, brahmans-as-technologists can take charge of CLRI,
but would do never get their hands 'soiled' tanning leather themselves.
The brahmanical scriptures lay down that to touch leather would pollute;
only dalits are to do leatherwork. Today, the research agenda on
leather is decided by nondalits; people who never treated leather but
treated, and treat, leather-workers as 'untouchable'.

A note on my incursions into IIT-Madras. As a nondalit, outsider trying
to listen to and gather the stories of dalits – students, faculty and
other staff – I was aware of the politics of power inherent in such
situations. Forcing oneself on dalits in IIT-M, who on occasions had to be
coaxed into believing our 'good intentions', was difficult. In most
cases, there is great personal risk for the dalits who open up. Two
lower-end staff members were penalised by the management for allegedly
sticking up PDK's anti-IIT posters (condemning the 'brahman durbar in IIT')
on the campus. A faculty member was quickly stripped of his 'additional
responsibility' as SC/ST Liaison Officer when he refused to
deny/condemn, as demanded by the management, the contents of a pamphlet that
denounced the antidalit atmosphere in IIT-M. An employee, who was associated
with the first Dalit Employees Association, and at whose behest a
delegation of dalit MPs visited IIT-M to enquire into the problems faced by
dalits, is willing to tell it all because he has less than two years of
service left, and thinks he has nothing to gain or lose (though he
grins: 'Maybe they will delay/ deny me my retirement benefits'). Most
others – 2 faculty members, students who are most keen on wringing a BTech
out of this scary place – are terrorised into silence; breaking which
would mean jeopardising their already vulnerable position. 'Once you
enter this place, the rest of your energies are devoted towards survival.
To fight these people is unimaginable,' says a dalit employee who
avoided campus accommodation because 'the place stinks. They have constructed
two temples here. And you must see all the brahmans gang up on Thursday
or Fridays, flaunting their caste threads and chanting some vedic and
Gita nonsense. It is most offensive and communal.' One or two persons
speak, requesting anonymity. 'But what will come of your effort? Suppose
you publish all this, would things at IIT change? You will come, talk,
write and go… we have to continue to live/study on this campus, face
the same set of hostile lecturers/ management. Eventually, your booklet
will reach the hands of the management; in no time they will figure out
who would have spoken out… and they will make life worse than what it
already is for us. For all of us. It is like what happens in villages.
One dalit would have 'offended' the caste hindus by sitting and sipping
tea before them; and if he did not repent the crime, the entire dalit
community would face a social boycott. Some non-IIT people would perhaps
come to know of what happens in these institutions. But they can do
nothing about it. Nothing will change here.'

Outside the CLRI gate, a dalit-arundhatiyar sits and waits for work.
The CLRI takes 'pity' and organises occasional workshops for those who
traditionally deal(t) with leather – arundhathiyars, madigas, chamars….
It seems the CLRI is accessible to all 'traditional groups' dealing
with leather and is quick to arrange for them an interface with latest
technology. (A colleague whose brahman father holds a managerial post in a
Jharkhand mine, says he knows of only one adivasi who holds a top
management post in the firm. Most adivasis work as diggers. And Jharkhand
has a predominant adivasi population.)

In Australia, the settler whites are at least saying 'sorry' to the
'stolen generation'. And an aborigine wins a gold medal in Olympics. In
the US, there is a public discourse against racism, though discrimination
continues. But 'hindu' India, despite putting in place theoretical
guarantees in the constitution, continues to treat its aboriginals most
shabbily, and no questions are asked. In the name of 'merit'; in the name
of democracy.

Some larger questions remain, irrespective of whether we get the IITs
to respect constitutional provisions on reservation and equality or not.
In all likeliness, since the very basis of technology in these
institutions is brahmanical and pseudoscientific, even those few dalits who
make it to these places, in the process of surviving and emerging
successfully out of them, are likely to imbibe/adopt values which would
alienate them from their own backgrounds. (It is like getting dalits to live
in an agraharam for four to five years, and then letting them out.)
IITs, in their present shape, are likely to produce dalit technologists who
would be constantly looked down upon by the brahmanical group, and who
may want to dissociate themselves from commitment to any subaltern
cause. Caught in a double-bind, they stand doubly alienated. IITs embody a
hazardous combination of the worst of western capitalist-driven
technology's social insensitivity and the worst of the local caste system –
the only aspect of postAryan culture that has survived, in one form or
the other, for 3000-odd years. And casteism in IITs is only a reflection,
or an extension, of what is the larger reality in our caste-driven
society, where those who benefit most (the caste hindus) by retaining caste
tend to see casteism only in the form affirmative action – reservation
– for dalits, adivasis. 'The country has gone to the dogs because of
reservation,' some retired brahman settled (thanks to an IITian son) in
Illinois would lament in a letter to The Hindu.

So, what do we do with the IITs? Can they be reformed, made to change
their agenda, mend their ways? Can IITians forced to be more accountable
to the nation which subsidises them? Would that be practicable? And
what about rewriting and radicalising the very premise of 'technology' to
render it more gender- and dalit-sensitive? That would of course mean a
long haul, starting with recasting school curriculum where we need to
initiate an anticaste discourse and combine it with respect for and
dignity of labour. (During the antiMandal agitation, caste-hindu students
mockingly polished shoes – with utter disregard for people who depend on
such labour for livelihood – mourning the 'death of merit'. They were
merely expressing contempt for such work; these were just photo-ops.
Even if it comes to remaining unemployed, caste hindus would think it
below their dignity to consider shining or mending shoes. They merely
wanted to convey that such jobs are not meant for people who have 'merit'.
The meritocrats would rather be underpaid in sweatless jobs than sweat
it out as shoeshiners or sanitary workers even if paid more. Contempt
for certain kinds of labour goes a long way in hindu culture and is
integral to the definition of the caste system.)

In a postcapitalist world where even some dalitist ideologues are
arguing that if we can't beat the forces of globalisation let's join them
and make the best of it – the logic being it can't be worse than
brahman-baniya capitalism and may perhaps help unshackle capital from the caste
forces – what do we do with IITs which become recruiting grounds for
MNCs? Right now, the only answer one can think of – most impossible and
impractical though it may sound – is: close down these institutes. Which
is what it would boil down to if the state were to, with determination
– another most improbable thing – insist that all the IITs (and IIMs
and other 'secular' agraharams) strictly implement the reservation
provisions both in faculty and student intake, and scrap the blatantly
discriminatory Preparatory Course, colour application forms etc. There would
then be at least 80 dalit students doing BTech in each of the six IITs
every year. And each IIT would have to recruit at least 80 dalit and
adivasis as faculty members. Then the caste hindus, led by the brahmans,
would say, 'Merit is being buried alive in this country'. To demand a
sincere implementation of constitutional provisions of affirmative
action in IITs would be the equivalent of saying priesthood and the right to
initiation in brahmanic hinduism should be given to all – dalits and
women. Which means we would be asking caste hindus to consider the
possibility of a dalit as Shankaracharya/IIT director.

The IITs are not alone in flouting reservation norms in faculty
recruitment. They only seem to be doing it most unabashedly, proudly. In the
same city, the Madras Institute of Development Studies, which boasts of
several 'progressive' Fellows (who have no teaching obligations so that
they concentrate on pure academic social science research), too, does
not respect the reservation norms. And this seems to be the case with
most universities according to a 1999 study by the Delhi-based Forum of
Academics for Social Justice. 'In the 239 universities and 7,000
colleges covered by the study, SC/ST members appointed under the reservation
system constitute less than 2 per cent of the nearly three lakh
teachers' (Frontline, 14 April, 2000). Jamia Millia Islamia has only three
dalits/adivasis on its faculty as against the 106 required; Jawaharlal
Nehru University has 15 dalits instead of the stipulated 89; in Aligarh
Muslim University where there need to be 263 dalit instructors, there is
not even one; in Benares Hindu University it is 14/ 257. All these are
central universities. Not that state universities have a decent record
on this count. The IITs can now smugly tell you, 'Look, we told you
so…'.

'Ooooooooo!' The brahmans would cry. 'We would rather flee the
country.' Then let them (never mind that at one point of time crossing the seas
meant losing one's caste; but the brahman comes first, his rules next).
But they would not. The government, safe in the hands of a brahman
prime minister who gets his name from forefathers who should have performed
the disgusting vajapeya yagna, if at all its hands can be forced on the
reservation issue in IITs (suppose all the dalit, adivasi and women MPs
miraculously joined hands!), will instead announce that the IITs would
be privatised. MoUs would be signed with MNCs; Microsoft would take
over one IIT, GE another, Siemens…. Then the caste hindus would say:
Let's now see how you untouchable duffers get in. Let them privatise IITs
if it comes to that; let the meritorious caste hindus pay an
unsubsidised fee – it could run into lakhs of rupees – for a BTech…; but the
state should not be allowed to drain Rs 500 crores a year and not
implement affirmative action provisions by which it is bound.

The postMandal Chanakya, Narasimha Rao, realised that to counter the
rise of the subaltern castes the public sector units should be
closed/privatised. Today, a former World Bank employee, Arun Shourie, presides
over the Disinvestment Ministry. And if we insist on reservation in IITs,
the government will begin disinvesting them – 'affirmative action would
render them nonviable and they would have to be shut down'. Actually,
we don't have to insist that the IITs be closed down. All we – dalit
leaders, activists, dalit politicians, MPs, MLAs, writers, lawyers… –
need to do is pressure the government and courts (where 78% judges are
brahmans (New York Times, quoting dalit activist Martin Macwan, 16 Nov.
2000) into ensuring that the reservation provisions are honoured. That
our constitution be honoured. Honouring our constitution would indeed be
a dangerous proposition (if the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act were
seriously implemented, most caste hindus would land up in jail) . But
let us insist on it. The fight for social justice in IITs might seem
insignificant compared to larger battles that need to be fought against
caste. But IITs have come to epitomise the caste system; they are the
contemporary agraharams, the science and technology equivalents of what
the maths of Shankaracharyas are in the religious realm for hindus. (To
reinforce this connection, the IIT-M Handbook lists one 'Kanchi Kamakoti
Jagadguru Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Endowment Award' under its
various schemes of financial assistance for students.)

But what do we do with a regime that has put in place a constitution
review commission? Tomorrow, there might be a new constitution which
might scrap all affirmative action provisions (they broke a mosque and
nothing happened to them; in fact, they came to power). And the caste
hindus righteously would quote Ambedkar, no less, to support this. 'Even
your Babasaheb wanted a review of reservation in 10 years.' (They would
never remember, quote or do anything else that Ambedkar said or wanted.
Not certainly his Annihilation of Caste.)

Yes, we may prove those sceptical dalit employees and students in IIT-M
right. Nothing is going to change IITs. They will be what they are.
They will continue to treat dalits and adivasis the way they have been
doing. As someone said in colloquial Madras-male Tamil, Oru mairum aagada.
'Not one pubic hair can be made to fall.' Maybe, we should then parse
them. The IITs. They must be great places, after all, since they all say
so. Let us then join the chorus and praise these famous institutes. Let
us sit back and enjoy the carnival of brahmanism being played out here.
6 Dec. 2000

REFERENCES

Ambedkar, Babasaheb Dr. Writings and Speeches, Vol 3. Government of
Maharashtra, Bombay: 1987

Government of India. Expenditure Budget 2000-2001 Vol 2. New Delhi:
2000

Gupta, Meenakshi and Viney Kirpal. Equality through Reservation. Rawat,
New Delhi: 1999

Hacker, Sally. 1989 Pleasure, Power and Technology: Some Tales of
Gender, Engineering and the Cooperative Workplace. Unwin Hyman, London: 1989

IIT Madras, Handbook. 1999

Ilaiah, Kancha. Why I am Not a Hindu. Samya, Calcutta: 1996

Nesiah, Devanesan. Discrimination with Reason? The Policy of
Reservations in the United States, India and Malaysia. Oxford University Press,
New Delhi: 1999

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Comments»

1. Abhinav Gupta - May 21, 2006

Reservation politics is killing Indian talent and inviting more brain drain, nobody should keep silence about it provided he/she is truly Indian…

2. Indian - July 13, 2006

HEllO macaulay’s kids, Why do you compare Western opression of aboriginals with that of brhamanas over shudras? Studies show that Many brahmins have actually been shudras and they are not racially pure. Were Caucasians african aboriginal or african negros?
If Brhamanas oppressed you, your blog is provoking wrong sentiments in nation which has killed many talents in name of reservation. You are no better.


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