The bias at IIT Madras led WB Vasantha to fight for increased representation of Dalits among faculty

Madras HCs verdict on IIT-M faculty case destroys the merit argument we parrotImage: PTI
Voices Opinion Wednesday, August 24, 2016 - 18:58

The Indian upper-castes’ favorite argument for debunking reservations for Dalits in institutions of higher education, like the Indian Institutes of Technology, is ‘merit’.

“Why take away from us what we have worked hard for, and give it to ‘underserving’ Dalit candidates?” goes the common lament.

But here is a court order which stands to further destroy the argument that institutions like IIT are otherwise unbiased, and that it is only reservations which bring the quality of such institutions down.

The case was filed in 1997 by IIT’s Mathematics Associate Professor WB Vasantha, a self-proclaimed Periyarist, after she was repeatedly denied posts she was eligible for, and the posts were instead given to others, SG Kamath and A. Rangan, and who were ineligible for their respective posts. Read more here.

In the case of Kamath, it was argued that his qualifications in Mathematical Physics could be considered for his application as Associate Professor in Mathematics. The court countered it stating that this “does not hold good, as the basic qualification stipulated for the post of Associate Professor in the advertisement is otherwise.”

In the case of Rangan, it was actually argued that “the minimum required qualification could be relaxed in respect of exceptionally qualified candidates”. Court responded by stating that it was “not acceptable” to do so, as the applicant was hardly an ‘exceptional candidate’. Rangan got only a second-class grade in his M Sc. degree, and the selection committee had rounded off the mark 59.6 as 60 and held that he was possessing first-class which was required. (emphasis added)

IIT Madras also sought protection under other case-laws stating that the decision of the selection committee cannot be interfered with. The court held that “Here applying the irregular procedure, the selection was made to the higher post of the faculty namely, Professor and Associate Professor. Denying the rights of certain persons will no doubt affect the merits of the case,” and that therefore the judicial intervention was required.

The selection committee was also not constituted as per the rules, the court said. This could easily bring into question several other appointments the committee might have made.

Vasantha had also asked for a CBI enquiry into the matter. While the court refused it stating that there is no element of criminality, it held, “In this case, no doubt selection for the posts of Associate Professor and Professor were made contrary to the terms of the advertisement and gross irregularity has been committed by the appellant institute in the above selection process.” (emphasis added)

So the institution of IIT Madras bent the rules of appointment and violated them not just to deny the opportunity to one candidate, but to offer it to an ineligible one. Further, it also fudged the records by rounding off the scores of one of another candidate the IIT committee wanted to appoint.

IIT Madras, as an institution, stuck to its defiling of the rules for decades. And it is this institution which wants us to believe that it puts ‘merit’ above everything else.

It is this blatant violation of rules which led professor Vasantha down the path of opposition, calling for increased representation of Dalits among the faculty in IIT Madras. In an interview in 2007, she said that Ph.D scholars are routinely harassed, forced to change their topic of research midway and unduly delayed, and are failed in examinations and vivas. It is her support to Dalit students which got her into the bad books of the management, she said.

The situation isn’t such with just IIT Madras. After the death of Rohith Vemula, TNM recounted how it wasn’t easy being  a science scholar in India’s premiere institutions. It is such discretionary selection committees which continue to deny opportunities to deserving Dalit candidates, as our article shows.

The Madras HC verdict is yet another reminder of the blatant disregard for the human spirit, and even ‘merit’, in India’s higher education, especially in scientific institutions. 

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.


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