The Supreme Court on Friday issued notices to the central government, the Universities Grants Commission and National Assessment and Accreditation Council to examine the issue of caste-based discrimination across universities in the country.
A bench comprising Justice NV Ramana and Ajay Rastogi was hearing a petition filed by Abeda Salim Tadvi and Radhika Vemula -- the mothers of Rohith Vemula and Dr Payal Tadvi, both of who had ended their lives due to caste discrimination in their respective campuses.
Representing the petitioners, senior advocate Indira Jaising told the court that Equity Commissioners have not been appointed in 288 Universities in the country, to monitor caste discrimination as per the norms, CNN News18 reported.
According to reports, the petition addressed the issue of frequent episodes of caste-based discrimination in campuses and the government’s failure to protect the fundamental rights of Dalit and Adivasi students, faculty and employees in university campuses.
“In multiple incidents it is noted that Universities have refused to take action against incidents of caste-based discrimination or have been perpetrators of such discrimination themselves resulting in the institutionalised form of discrimination on the basis of caste,” the Live Law quoted the petition.
The petitioners said that the UGC has turned a blind eye to the lapses occurring at universities and that it has abdicated its responsibility to enforce existing regulations and develop mechanisms to stop caste discrimination. The petition states that the UGC, (Promotion of Equity in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2012 has no provision for establishing independent grievance redressal mechanisms “since the Anti- Discrimination Officer appointed as per the regulations and the Appellate Authority, are both the Professor/ Associate Professor and the head of the institution”.
“This has a chilling effect on the students who may fear adverse consequences if they raise complaints against the administration,” the petition added. The petitioners requested that the Supreme Court issue directions to all universities to establish Equal Opportunity Cells and to include representatives of members of the Dalit and Adivasi communities in order to ensure an impartial process.
They also sought the court’s directions to establish mechanisms to take strong action against victimisation of students or staff, who file complaints alleging caste discrimination.
The mothers of both the students sought directions to universities and higher educational institutions (HEIs) to regularly organise compulsory orientation courses, workshops and training for staff, administrators and students to create separate modules for sensitisation on caste.
"The internal complaints mechanism should include members of the SC, ST communities and independent representatives from NGOs or social activists to ensure objectivity and impartiality in the process and any such direction that the court may issue," they said.
The mothers also sought direction to universities and HEIs to bring in the public domain, through their websites, the practices adopted to address caste-based discrimination.
The Supreme Court has sought a response to the petition within four weeks.
Rohith Vemula, a PhD Scholar at University of Hyderabad who was working for the rights of the Dalit community, was a member of the Ambedkar Students Association. Rohith was was found dead in a hostel room on campus in 2016, after disciplinary action had been initiated against him following a spat with members of the ABVP. Rohith, along with a few other students, had been alleging caste discrimination from the administration of the university for weeks before his death by suicide.
Dr. Payal Tadvi was an Adivasi student at the TN Topiwala National Medical College in Mumbai. She ended her life in May this year after allegedly facing harassment from seniors following differences over caste.
With IANS inputs