The recent suicide of a Dalit student at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay has sparked a backlash, with critics saying that the institution is not doing enough to address discrimination and harassment against marginalized students.
IIT-Bombay's internal committee report on the suicide of 18-year-old Chemical Engineering student Darshan Solanki has come under criticism. Solanki allegedly jumped from the seventh floor of the IIT hostel building on February 12. The committee, which was formed on February 13 and headed by former Chief Vigilance Officer of the IIT, found no "specific evidence of direct caste-based discrimination" faced by Solanki on the IIT Bombay campus. Activists are concerned about what this attitude might mean for other students struggling with coursework across the IITs.
The committee consisted of 12 members, led by Nand Kishore, a professor in the department of chemistry. Five members of the committee were from the Dalit and Adivasi communities, including three faculty members and two students. During the investigation, 79 people gave their testimony before the committee.
The interim report, titled "Interim report of the committee to investigate tragic incident that happened on 12.2.2023 involving Darshan Solanki," suggested that "deteriorating academic performance" could have been the reason for Solanki's suicide without going into why his performance might have declined or why he would "skip classes regularly" and "sleep a lot." Activists have condemned the report, which they believe suggests that the flaw is in the student while the system is blameless.
The report has also been vehemently opposed by Solanki's family members, who dismissed it as an attempt to shield the culprits, as they believe that Darshan has been murdered. Darshan's father Ramesh Bhai Solanki told The Mooknayak that they were not allowed to meet his friends separately, and they were not allowed to ask them any questions. He pointed out the flaws in the formation of the committee and the lack of representation from external members. He also compared the findings of the report with those of another Dalit student's suicide in 2014 and alleged that the report followed the same old playbook.
Student outfits like Ambedkar Phule Periyar Study Circle IIT Mumbai termed the committee formed to investigate the case a "Whitewash Committee" as there was no external member to investigate if the institute was at fault.
The findings of the committee were also rejected by the students collective, which called the report a “Haunting reminder of Denial of Justice. "The report is the most unscientific document to come from a ‘scientific institution. “ read the tweet by the IIT Bombay chapter of the Organisation.
The report has met with opposition on campus as well. Professor Sharmila, from the Humanities and Social Science department of IIT-Bombay, sent an email to all faculty members on March 6, where she stated that the committee's report was "deeply disappointing." She also drew parallels with the report of Aniket Ambhore, who died by suicide in 2014.
In an interview with The Mooknayak, Sanjay Ambhore, father of Aniket Ambhore who committed suicide in 2014, revealed that the IIT Mumbai formed a committee only after their demand, and the same has happened in Solanki's case. However, he pointed out flaws in the committee's formation, stating, "The committee had members who had never seen Aniket and had never spoken to him. The person from the scheduled caste community who was on the committee was a mere rubber stamp." Ambhore further revealed that when they appeared before the committee, the scheduled caste community member did not say anything, making it impossible for them to present their side. He also expressed his dissatisfaction with the report's findings, stating that the reports' conclusions are always the same, with a statement that "the student could not withstand the pressure of studies and that the environment in IITs is very good."
Former member of Planning Commission Dr. Bhalchandra Mungekar also criticized the report, calling it "bogus and totally rejected." It is a bundle of contradiction’s and reiterates the first reaction of the Director that the IIT Campus was inclusive and that the caste-based discrimination was ruled out, Mungekar wrote in a tweet.
With the interim report of IIT internal committee facing attacks, it remains to be seen if the administration comes up with another report by a more inclusive committee.