The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi has asked scheduled caste and scheduled tribe students to come for special classes to help them "adapt to the environment at IIT Delhi," in a notice that has sparked accusations of demeaning these communities.
IIT Delhi director Surendra Prasad told HT late on Wednesday that the notice, put out on the IIT Joint Entrance Examination (IIT-JEE) website, "was inappropriately worded" and that the special classes were not meant only for SC/ST students.
"There is something amiss in the notice. The classes are meant for all students from rural backgrounds - and not just for SC/ST students -- and were conducted last year too," Prasad said.
But SC/ST students demanded that the notice be withdrawn and that the IIT issue an apology. "It is demeaning. I am not sure anymore that I want to go to IIT Delhi," Rajesh Kumar, an SC candidate said.
Titled a "social enrichment programme", the special classes are to be conducted by the Centre for Research and Education for Social Transformation (CREST). The classes will help SC/ST students "develop social skills, orientation and ability to adapt to the environment at IIT Delhi," the notice states.
"SC/ST students may need academic assistance, but suggesting that by virtue of their caste or tribe they are less socially equipped to handle the IIT environment is demeaning," Kumar said. All central higher educational institutions are required to reserve 15 % seats for SC students and another 7.5% seats for ST students.
DD Nampoothiri, executive director at CREST said he was "not in a position to comment at the moment," when he was reached late evening.
But Prasad insisted that the notice posted on the IIT-JEE website was not aimed at either humiliating anyone or at hurting their sentiments, hinting that any objectionable contents would be removed. Prasad also hinted that he was unaware of the wording of the notice till HT spoke with him.
The controversially worded notice ironically comes at a time when SC/ST aspirants to the IITs appear to be improving their performance relative to earlier years.
The IITs set cut-offs for SC/ST students based not on the performance of students from these categories, but at 10 % lower than cut-offs for general category students. This procedure has for years led to SC/ST quota seats going vacant, as students who ranked high enough among their category to get the seat did not clear the cut-offs - based on the performance of general category students.
The Institutes, the country's premier engineering schools, have for years now held special preparatory classes for all SC/ST students who ranked high enough among their categories to fill quota seats but did not clear the cut-offs set for them. Those students who perform well in the year-long preparatory classes are allowed to join the full-fledged programme the subsequent year.
But the IITs have not needed to hold any preparatory classes for SC students for the past two years - because enough SC students have cleared the cut-off set for them to fill all quota seats. The number of ST students needing preparatory classes has also dipped in recent years.