IIT professor’s remarks on SC, ST students trigger row
An associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (IIT KGP) who verbally abused students purportedly belonging to Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities and those with physical disabilities during a preparatory class is likely to face institutional action after videos of her online classes went viral on social media, following which student bodies sought her termination for alleged casteist slurs.
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 clips are of online preparatory classes taught by Seema Singh, a professor of English from the department of Humanities and Social Sciences, which were attended by several students and parents. In it she can be heard repeatedly hurling abuses at them.
The Mumbai chapter of the Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC)—a student organisation with chapters in various IITs -- demanded that the professor be terminated and booked under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. “She is in complete cognisance of her actions and proclaims immunity from any disciplinary actions and consequences,” said APPSC in a statement.
IIT Kharagpur registrar Tamal Nath said that the institute was reviewing the veracity of the videos and the claim that she made casteist slurs, brought forward by student bodies.
“The incident has come to our notice. We are reviewing the veracity of the claims. The institute does not tolerate such behaviour. Action will be taken,” he said.
Singh remained unreachable for comments.
The institute’s director Virendra Kumar Tewari also did not respond to calls, messages and emails.
“[Tewari] has expressed his support to the students and their parents during an online meeting on Monday evening. Meanwhile the professor concerned has been referred to a review committee,” an official from the institute said on the condition of anonymity.
The official confirmed that the video was of the preparatory classes taken for students belonging to SC/ST communities and persons with disability (PWDs). However, the students that HT reached out to refused to comment on the video as they were afraid of possible repercussions. HT has not been able to independently verify the video.
IITs offer preparatory courses for two semesters to aspirants of SC and ST communities as well as PWDs. The preparatory courses are offered against vacant seats reserved for the students who missed out on admissions through the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE). At the end of the two semesters, the students can either take the JEE again or seek admission based on their performance during the preparatory course.
In the video clips, Singh can be heard verbally abusing both students and their parents for not attending classes, and keeping their cameras switched off during the class. Singh also castigated a student for sending an email stating that they would not be able to attend the class for a few days due to the death of their grandparent.
“The professor at IIT KGP is all-powerful… What I have to do, I will do. You can go to ministry of women and child. Go to ministry of SC, ST and minorities (sic). Nothing can prevent me from doing what I have to do to you,” Singh can be heard telling the students in one of the clips.
It was not immediately clear whether the recordings were of the same class, or of different classes.
“The words used by her such as “dumb” and “bastard” have casteist connotations, especially since she uses them in plural. There is an inherent assumption that students belonging to the reserved categories are somehow lacking merit,” said a member of the APPSC, IIT Bombay chapter.
The APPSC has also demanded that a permanent SC, ST, Other Backward Classes cell be set up at IIT KGP and other IITs, which will act as anti-discrimination cell to take action against “structural forms of caste discrimination”.