Videos emerge of verbal abuse: IIT KGP professor apologises; SC commission initiates an investigation | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Videos emerge of verbal abuse: IIT KGP professor apologises; SC commission initiates an investigation

ByPriyanka Sahoo, Mumbai
Apr 29, 2021 01:53 AM IST

Three days after a video emerged of a professor of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (IIT KGP) verbally abusing a preparatory class for students belonging to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes categories and those with physical disabilities, she has now apologised to the students

Three days after a video emerged of a professor of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (IIT KGP) verbally abusing a preparatory class for students belonging to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes categories and those with physical disabilities, she has now apologised to the students. Meanwhile, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) has taken suo motu cognisance of the matter and initiated an inquiry.

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On Wednesday morning, Seema Singh, an associate professor from the department of humanities and social sciences at IIT KGP, wrote an email to the students apologising for her behaviour.

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The recordings, which are under review of the institute, were posted on Sunday afternoon anonymously on the confessions page of IIT KGP, an informal group of students on social media. The recordings are reportedly of the online preparatory classes taught by Seema, professor of English, which were attended by over 100 students and parents. In it, she can be heard repeatedly hurling abuses at them.

“I am writing this to express my sincerest apology for what happened last week. It was not my intention to hurt anyone… It was never the slightest intention to be discriminatory towards any segment of the student community,” said Seema in her email, which has been reviewed by HT. Despite repeated attempts, she was unavailable for comment.

In her email to the students, Singh said she ‘went overboard’ as she was under stress, which attributed to her testing positive for Covid-19. “I feel like this (the incident) may have been due to extreme stress of being Covid positive, suffering from poor health, social isolation, lack of any kind of support, and other incriminating personal factors which I cannot share,” she wrote.

Institute director Tamal Nath said, “We want to reiterate that we do not support such behaviour. We have received a complaint from the students’ representatives and are reviewing the complaint. Once we verify the claims in the complaint, we will decide on the next course of action.”

Nath confirmed that an official complaint has been made by Shivam Singh, officiating vice president of IIT KGP’s Students’ Gymkhana —an officially recognised student body—, however, Shivam did not respond to calls or messages.

Science Education Group (SEG), a students’ forum at IIT KGP, stated on Wednesday: “There have also been previous unverified reports that state her (Seema’s) brazen and abusive behaviour with students. She has an alleged history of doing these things. One thing that can be concluded from all this is that primarily this is systematic power abuse, which often goes under the carpet and secondarily, underlines the casteist behaviour of the system…”

The forum has demanded that Seema face disciplinary action and be terminated from her post. It has also demanded the creation of an autonomous body across all IITs which acts as a check towards the behaviour of professors towards students. “Our statement is addressed to students of the institute as well as the administration,” said a member of SEG, on the condition of anonymity.

“Create SC/ST/OBC cells in all IITs which must be an autonomous body tied up with the NCSC, so that people from oppressed communities can go and express their grievances and concerns about caste-based harassment in confidence without having to worry about the repercussions because they tried to speak up,” said SEG.

The demand for the creation of autonomous SC/ST/OBC cells resonated across campuses as the incident and Seema’s response has sparked outrage among the student community across various campuses of IIT as well as other institutes.

At least five online petitions have been started by students and alumni of various institutes such as IIT Delhi, KGP, Bombay and Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. They seek action against Seema and the creation of safe spaces for students to speak about caste-based discrimination.

“The initial shock and disbelief aside, what’s crucial to note is that this is not an isolated incident by any means. A narrative that is reiterated by the administrative authorities of these Institutes is that such incidences of caste atrocities are rare and that they don’t deserve too much attention… This incident compels us to look at the larger issue of reservations and the savarna concept of merit in higher education. The very nature of the prep course is based on the merit-based education system, wherein it is assumed that SC, ST, OBC students are not eligible to study in IITs as they are less “meritorious”, that they need a preparatory English course to enter this institution,” said the IIT-Bombay chapter of the Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle, a student group with chapters across various IITs.

At least five online petitions have been started by students and alumni of various institutes such as IIT Delhi, KGP, Bombay and Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. They seek action against Seema and the creation of safe spaces for students to speak about caste-based discrimination.

Close to 850 alumni members of IIT KGP, ranging from batches in 1970s to 2020, have signed a petition demanding an unconditional apology from Seema as well as her termination. “IITs are already notoriously hostile to Dalit, Adivasi and backward caste students. It is evident from the videos that Professor Singh is a habitual offender and believes her casteism and abuse will go uncensured. We cannot allow this,” read the petition by alumni members addressed to the institute’s administration.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the NCSC issued letters to the institute, union ministry of education, West Bengal government, and director-general of police, WB, informing them that the commission will now investigate the matter. “The commission has taken a suo-motu cognisance of use of unparliamentary language and casteist remarks made by professor Seema Singh… while taking a class of SC/ ST students… Her remarks have hurt the sentiments of many Indians, specifically the SC community,” the commission wrote.

“The commission has taken note of the incident at IIT KGP. We have issued letters to the authorities and given them 15 days to respond to us with what action they have taken. Based on their responses we will take action,” said Ajit Kumar Sahu, director, NCSC. If the authorities fail to respond within the stipulated time, the commission may summon representatives for a hearing, he added.

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