IIT-M says no caste bias against professor, he demands independent inquiry

The assistant professor says he has lost faith in IIT-M’s grievance redressal mechanisms, writes to PM stating he will begin a hunger strike on IIT-M campus from February 24, if there is no independent probe.
A black and white image of IIT Madras Assistant prof Vipin Veetil who is wearing a collared t-shirt, the IIT Madras board in the background
A black and white image of IIT Madras Assistant prof Vipin Veetil who is wearing a collared t-shirt, the IIT Madras board in the background
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Disputing the findings of a committee formed to look into caste discrimination, Vipin V Veetil, a former assistant professor of Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IIT-M) who quit alleging caste discrimination in July 2020, has called for an independent investigation into his allegations. He has challenged the findings of the institute's fact finding committee which found no merit in his allegation. The 36-year-old hailing from Kerala, who belongs to Maniyani (OBC) caste, has also threatened to go on a hunger strike if there is no independent investigation.

In his letter to the National Commission of Backward Classes (NCBC) on Thursday, February 3 regarding the report, Vipin says he is ‘wholly unsatisfied with the inquiry conducted by the Fact Finding Committee set up by IIT Madras.’ He accuses the committee of adopting well known means including procedural lapses, omissions of key pieces of evidence, misrepresentation of testimonies and outright fabrication, to deliver a biased report. The assistant professor approached the NCBC for the first time on August 5, 2020 alleging caste discrimination, following which the NCBC instructed IIT-M to set up a fact finding committee to probe into the allegation.

No proof of caste discrimination?

The Committee found that there was ‘no evidence of the decisions being biased due to caste discrimination, since most of the department faculty members had hardly interacted with Dr Veetil and he had not even specified in his application that he belonged to the OBC category.’ At the same time, the committee conceded it was possible that many could have guessed he was not a Brahmin.

Veetil questions whether it was possible to deduce lack of interaction was not due to the biases of Brahmin faculty members towards meritorious individuals from lower castes. “Would it be sensible to claim that caste-Hindus do not discriminate against those they refuse to touch because the refusal to touch, dine and befriend reflects the fact that the two groups hardly interacted? These guesses (identifying caste) are made on the basis of one’s name, eating habits and numerous other factors. Hence not mentioning my caste in application has little relevance to this case,” points Vipin.

The Board of Governors’ failure to outline to the Committee, exactly what kind of behaviour and administrative decisions could be taken as sufficient evidence of caste discrimination, has drawn his ire. “No statement about the significance of existing evidence can be made without setting a benchmark with which it is to be evaluated. Caste discrimination within a bureaucratic setitng takes the administrative form, including selective delays in processing requests and hiding of information,” he writes to the Commission.

Veetil alleges that he was told he could not teach his own course for more than a year as he was on probation, but another new Brahmin faculty was allowed to do so in his first semester. He criticised the failure of the committee to delve into this matter, even though it admitted, 'a few colleagues argue that the decisions to delay his (Dr Veetil) own course and approve the course of the other colleague without any delay were based on caste differences.’

His request for the Head of the Department Jyotirmaya Tripathi to step down while the investigation was in process was also turned down and the Committee justified it saying that Tripathi’s continuance would in no way influence what the faculty members disclosed to the committee. Veetil says his continued presence hampered a fair investigation and Tripathi, though being accused in the matter, facilitated the meetings between the fact finding committee and the faculty members who were speaking on the discrimination.

Vital omissions in the IIT-M report

Vipin says the IIT-M report does not discuss emails exchanged between faculty members whom he had accused of caste discrimination. These email exchanges discuss Vipin's request to teach the course and a few faculty members opposing it. The report also does not mention whether the four accused by Veetil deny the charges. “And if so, on what grounds. The omission is particularly strange since I provided documentary evidence pertaining to the charges, and the committee interviewed the four accused,” Vipin says.

Detailing a few other important aspects omitted in the report, Vipin wrote that the report does not mention an email where a senior faculty member openly threatened him. In May 2020, the same senior faculty sent another email asking Vipin to prove his case instead of writing emails. In addition, despite repeated requests, he still has not received a copy of his video testimony given to the Committee in August 2020. Furthermore, he was instructed by the IIT-M management to collect the report of the fact finding committee from one of the accused in the matter. 

Sabotage of special recruitment drive for SC/ST and OBC faculty at IIT-M

In his letter to Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on February 3, Vipin decried the ongoing special recruitment drive for SC/ST (Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe) and OBC (Other Backward Classes) faculties at IIT-M, stating attempts were being made to sabotage the process to discourage people from applying.

“Areas of advertising are being narrowed, excluding areas that may attract anti-caste individuals, and attempts are being made to raise minimum criteria for selection. For instance, despite field experts suggesting ‘Dalit Studies’ to be advertised, the Institute advertised ‘Indian Writing in English’ instead of Dalit Studies. The Institute made a call for ‘Political Theory’ instead of ‘Political Sciences’, and ‘Applied Economics’ instead of ‘Economics General’. The areas advertised by the Institute are considerably narrower than the areas recommended by the field experts. The narrowing of the areas advertised will limit the number of SC/ST and OBC candidates who are eligible to apply and thereby decrease the chances of finding suitable candidates,” Vipin wrote.

Still facing harassment

Vipin quit IIT-M on January 19 for the second time after rejoining as assistant professor at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) of IIT-M in August last year. A resignation letter Vipin wrote to the IIT-M management went viral on social media in early July 2020 causing massive public outrage. Vipin in his mail stated that his sole reason to quit the institution was due to caste discrimination he faced from senior Brahmin faculties of the HSS department.

He also wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleging caste discrimination since his joining IIT-M in March 2019 and subsequent harassment by senior Brahmin faculties ever since he decided to expose series of targeted incidents against him. Vipin also claimed that if his demand for a second round of investigation by NCBC is not met, he would be forced to hold a hunger strike inside IIT-M campus on February 24.

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