There are only a handful of Dalit students and faculty members at the elite institute, but they face widespread discrimination and harassment.
According to information provided by the institute’s deputy registrar, Dr K. Panchalan, in September 2005, Dalits accounted for only 11.9 percent of the number of students. They were even fewer in the higher courses — 2.3 percent in ms (Research) and 5.8 percent in Ph.D. Out of a total of 4,687 students, Dalits made up only 559.
Activists who have been fighting for proper implementation of reservations for Dalits describe IIT Madras as a modern day agraharam — a Brahmin enclave.
Vasantha says Dalit Ph.D scholars are routinely harassed. “They are forced to change their topic of research midway. They are unduly delayed, and are failed in examinations and vivas. It is a stressful atmosphere for them.” She says her support of Dalit students got her into the bad books of the management.
IIT director MS Ananth is an Iyengar Brahmin. So are four of the six deans in the institute.
In 2000, the PDK published a book based on a study it did on the anti-Dalit attitude in the institute. The study noted that there were several departments at the institute where even after 41 years, “not a single Dalit student has been selected for doing Ph.D or has successfully completed his degree”.
There have been many complaints of discrimination against Dalit students in the campus. The PDK study cites the case of a Dalit student Sujee Teppal, who had scored 94 percent in Maths, Physics, and Chemistry in the public intermediate exam.
Another serious charge against the institute is that successive directors have flouted rules in appointing faculty members, and do not advertise vacancies in newspapers. Former Congress MP Era Anbarasu has brought the issue to the notice of Human Resources Development Minister Arjun Singh in several letters. In the memorandum submitted to the minister on September 2, 2006, he states: “The ambiguity is apparent because even the number of vacancies is not announced.
A PIL filed by Karuppan last year against the allegedly flawed selection process in IIT Madras was dismissed by the High Court. Karuppan has now filed a review petition. He also met the IIT director along with a senior leader of the CPI to discuss the reservation issue, and says the director told him that no policy of reservation for SC/ST was applicable to IIT Madras. Karuppan says there are several cases pending in courts against the institute’s selection and reservation policy. They include writ petitions by the IIT Backward Classes Employees Welfare Association, and the Vanniar Mahasangam.
An angry Thol Thirumavalavan, general secretary of the Dalit Panthers of India, says, “Dalits are only working as sweepers and scavengers in the institute”. He wants the IIT management to release a white paper containing details of appointments and admissions given to Dalits and OBCs. “The Tamil Nadu government should demand this information from the institute,” he says.