IIT-M Row: Behind All the Science, History

It has caught the social media by storm as yet another case of  ‘violation of freedom of expression’

Published: 30th May 2015 10:41 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th May 2015 12:40 PM   |  A+A-

PTI-IIT-Madras-File

File picture of Indian Institute of Technology Madras IIT at Chennai. (PTI)

CHENNAI: It has caught the social media by storm as yet another case of  ‘violation of freedom of expression’, but the popular narrative over the ‘de-recognition’ of the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle (APSC)  fails to capture the nuances of an issue that has been existing but not always visible.

Some voices, including former students of the institute, felt that the issue is also a partial manifestation of the tensions in the campus between open category students and those admitted under reservation policy. 

Anonymous letter to MHRD: The anonymous letter from a group of students from IIT-Madras that set in the motion the series of developments that has now courted controversy.

Letter from MHRD to IIT-M director: The note sent to IIT M director sought the institute's comment on the matter, but the Dean of Students went a step ahead and  derecognised the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle.

One of the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle pamphlets.

For instance, the anonymous complaint sent to the HRD ministry ‘Students of IIT-Madras’ alleged that APSC was trying to divide students on casteist lines.

“The open letter to the MHRD was a consequence of the anti-reservation tensions (on the IIT-M campus). Look at the APSC pamphlet that has been publicised - one of the things it’s talked about is insufficient implementation of reservations,” opined Karthik Shashidhar, a management consultant who studied Computer Science and Engineering at the institute from 2000-2004. 

This was evidentally unambigious on Twitter, with APSC's official handle receiving a barrage of comments criticisng them for raking up casteist sentiments through their study circle. Though APSC members confirmed to Express that their members included students from all communities, tweets sent to their twitter page tried to label them as those belonging from ‘reserved’ castes, a commonly used or euphemism for OBC, SC and ST communities that are eligible for educational reservations.

Karthik, as well as many other IIT-M alumni Express spoke to, agreed that there was a certain insecurity and angst among the students from the ‘open’ community when it came to the issue of reservations. Gunjan Kapadia, a resident of Vadodara who did his post-graduate in Chemical Engineering from the institute, said that the tensions were for real, but he had never seen it reach a flash point. 

“Open category students always felt that they had to work harder to get the same seats, while those who got in through reservation didn’t have to work as hard,” said Kapadia, who was eligible for educational reservations, but got the IIT-M seat through the open category merit list. 

Other current research scholars of IIT-M as well as alumni that Express spoke to, while junking the caste angle to the issue, mentioned that there were frequent tensions on the campus attributed to political colour or caste. “A professor recently alleged that she wasn’t getting promoted because she belonged to ‘reserved’ community, though the institute maintained it was because of her performance. Another expert was heckled because he linked Sanskrit to a nanotechnology experiment. But these issues have never really have divided the students as such,” one research scholar said. 

“Out of 3,000 odd students on the campus, only 100-200 might actually be politically active participants in such study circles. Others aren’t too bothered about these things,” an alumni, who wished to remain anonymous, said. 

Shashidhar too, mentions that despite the opposition to caste-based reservations, there weren’t any incidents disrupting the harmony in the campus when he was there.

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