IIT-B alumni seek action against Kharagpur prof for remarks on SC, ST students
A group of alumna members of Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B) on Thursday have urged the director of IIT-Kharagpur (IIT-KGP) to take action against a professor who was allegedly seen verbally abusing a preparatory class for students belonging to the scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST) categories and those with physical disabilities in a video.
In a letter to IIT-KGP’s director Virendra Kumar Tewari, alumni said the video, that had emerged four days ago, has “horrified” them. They demanded that Tewari take immediate action against the violation of classroom ethics, create a safe space for students to place their grievances and attend to them on an urgent basis with immediate action. Despite repeated attempts, Tewari remained unavailable for a comment.
Videos of Seema Singh, an associate professor from IIT-KGP’s humanities and social sciences department emerged on social media on Sunday where she can be heard repeatedly hurling abuses at students reportedly attending online preparatory classes meant for students from SC, ST categories and those with physical disabilities. The recordings, which are under the institute’s review, were posted anonymously on IIT-KGP’s confessions page, an informal group of students on social media.
The 25 IIT-B alumna include Anupama Krishnamurthy (class of 1988), researcher at French Institute Pondicherry; Shaibani Azam (class of 1986), professor at Jamia Millia University; Enakshi Bhattacharya (class of 1980), professor at IIT-Madras; Deepti Pradhan (class of 1986); associate director of research at Yale University and Chayanika Shah (class of 1986), retired lecturer, KJ Somaiya College of Science and Commerce.
“We were students at a time when the gender ratio in IIT-B was less than 5%. As minority students on campus, we have experienced many sexist comments from teachers and recognise today how their actions and statements made an adverse impact on our learning environment. We, hence, speak from some personal experience of discrimination at IIT-campuses. We were even then aware of the ways in which those who came from marginalised caste backgrounds, were not English speaking, or were from smaller towns were discriminated against,” wrote the group.
The women had also participated in a strike in 1980 when four students had raised their voice against IIT-B’s order cancelling their admissions on the grounds that they had a backlog in courses and were not able to cope with the undergraduate programme. The unprecedented strike had forced the institute to a grinding halt for almost 40 days.
“Some of us are now a part of the academia, while a few of us have seen how discrimination at institutes works. We are also seeing a surge in the number of cases of discrimination coming out. This reminds us of our experience as a minority on campus. Since 1980, we have been reiterating that it not enough for institutes to just bring in students from diverse backgrounds. There’s a need to make them feel safe and supported,” said Shah.
Institutions are not fit to look after diverse students in their present state, Shah added.
“While a complete overhaul of the education system is ideal, there are things institutes can do immediately. They must set up anti-discrimination cells, train teachers on how to treat diversity and reduce the emphasis on [academic] performance,” she said.
Meanwhile, the videos, which are viral on social media, have sparked an outrage across campuses. While Singh has apologised to students for her behaviour in an email, many student and alumni bodies across campuses have started online petitions demanding action against her and the creation of an SC/ ST cell at IITs.
The Science Education Group (SEG), a students’ forum at IIT-KGP, issued a statement 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…”
Meanwhile on Tuesday, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes issued letters to the institute, Union education ministry, West Bengal’s government and director general of police, informing them that the commission will investigate the matter.
“The commission has taken a suo-motu cognisance of the 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.