No evidence of caste bias against faculty: IIT panel

By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Feb 04, 2022 06:39 AM IST

The three-member panel, which was set up on July 2 after Vipin P Veetil accused four professors of the department of humanities and social sciences of caste-based harassment and bias, also noted that the lack of “desirable processes” may have led to misunderstandings.

A committee set up by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Madras to probe an allegation of discrimination against faculty members has found no evidence of caste bias, and said that the complainant appeared to be “highly sensitive to unfriendly behaviour”, according to documents seen by HT.

Despite repeated calls and emails, the IIT didn’t comment on the issue.
Despite repeated calls and emails, the IIT didn’t comment on the issue.

The three-member panel, which was set up on July 2 after Vipin P Veetil accused four professors of the department of humanities and social sciences of caste-based harassment and bias, also noted that the lack of “desirable processes” may have led to misunderstandings.

Veetil, an assistant professor who joined the institute in March 2019 and belongs to the other backward classes (OBC) category, resigned in July last year, alleging caste bias. In August, he also approached the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), which asked IIT to hold an inquiry.

“The committee did not find evidence of the decisions being biased due to caste discrmination,especially since most of the department faculty members had hardly interacted with prof Veetil and he had not even specified in his application that he belonged to the OBC category,” said the report, which HT has seen.

Veetil rejected the findings and said key evidence was not considered in the inquiry. He also alleged procedural lapses and caste bias in the way the institute dealt with his complaint.

The report was later placed before the institute’s board of governors, which noted the panel’s findings and endorsed them, according to additional documents seen by HT. The report didn’t make it clear if the four people named in the complaint were cleared of the charges.

The case represented the most high-profile allegation of casteism in Indian universities and higher-education institutes in recent years.IIT-Madras has previously faced such charges from student bodies, and scrutiny from the Scheduled Caste Commission. In 2013, the Madras high court found gross irregularities in faculty recruitment in the institute and ordered an inquiry.

The panel primarily looked into the allegation by Veetil that he was not permitted to teach an elective course in his first year, though later, another faculty member, who was Brahmin, was allowed to do so. It said that his grievance was triggered by the delay of a semester in allotting a course to him.

“Prof Vipin Veetil appears to be highly sensitive to unfriendly behaviour and easily perturbed when he perceives he is being unduly questioned or not provided with explanations,” the report added.

Veetil said that the committee failed to properly probe his allegations of discriminatory behaviour, which was not limited to the denial of the course, but also to his interactions with and attitudes of some members of the department.

“I was at the receiving end of months of administrative caste violence, all of which has had a considerable impact on my personal well-being and scientific work. I am wholly unsatisfied with the inquiry,” he said.

He also accused the panel of procedural lapses and twisting facts, and pointed out that the report itself mentioned that some of Veetil’s colleagues also argued that the decision to delay his course was based “only on caste differences”-- but didn’t elaborate or probe this aspect further.

Despite repeated calls and emails, the IIT didn’t comment on the issue.

Previously, the IIT has denied all allegations of caste bias and said approval for teaching an elective course can take between three and six months due to procedural reasons. The government also told Parliament last year that IIT-Madras didn’t discriminate on lines of caste or faith.

The row began in March 2019, when, shortly after joining IIT-M, Veetil applied to teach a new course in economics and network analysis. His complaint alleged that his course was not tabled for formal discussion in the department committee for two consecutive semesters – the panel report says the delay was of only one semester – and he was only allowed to teach in July 2020.

Veetil said he was told that courses couldn’t be taught by new members due to their probationary period, but when another new Brahmin professor applied to teach another course, his application was approved.

The panel’s report noted that the department committee’s deliberations were not shared with Veetil, nor any reasons given. In its view, this was not caste bias, but a lack of adequate processes.

“The leadership of the department was aware of the apprehensions expressed by prof Veetil on matters pertaining to caste even before [he] joined the institute. Instead of assuaging his feelings with affirmative actions that would have made prof Veetil welcome, the proceedings in the department accentuated the apprehensions of prof Veetil,” the report said. It also asked that no harsh language be used in department emails, and efforts be made to develop a “collegial atmosphere” in the department.

But Veetil rejected this characterisation. He said that the department never met to discuss his proposal, that e-mails from the accused – Umakant Dash, Jyotirmaya Tripathy, VR Muraleedharan and Suresh Babu – that reeked of caste bias and threats were not considered, and that neither the institute nor the panel considered his demand that Tripathy step down as department head during the course of the inquiry.

“The harassment I have been subjected to at IIT-M cannot be undone. I was not even given a copy of my own testimony and was asked to collect the panel’s report from one of the accused’s offices. I will be approaching the government and the NCBC for further steps,” he said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Dhrubo works as an edit resource and writes at the intersection of caste, gender, sexuality and politics. Formerly trained in Physics, abandoned a study of the stars for the glitter of journalism. Fish out of digital water.

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