In an e-mail sent to LiveLaw, a group of students belonging to SC/ST background complained of facing "institutionalized discrimination" in the National Law University, Delhi.
The email is supported by the testimonies of forty one students from Dalit-Adivasi background, who complained of undergoing marginalization and discrimination based on identity.
It is stated in the email :
"Discrimination manifests itself not only in dealings with the admin but also in interaction among students. When a Dalit student was physically assaulted and abused because of his identity, the administration chose to cover the matter up entirely and tried to blame the victim in the case instead. When said student approached the police, the college authorities obstructed investigation and as a result no action was taken. This is not only vile on the college's part, it is also criminal. Multiple Dalit students have attempted suicide in the recent and not so recent past. It is as if the University has teamed up with its student population to oppress its students from backward communities. "
The testimonies signed by 41 students stated :
"Today I feel unsafe by seeing that my college authorities are flouting all UGC norms, especially the ones that provide for setting up of an SC/ST cell. There is no mechanism in place for my (SC/ST students') protection. Today I feel very helpless by witnessing harassment, unfair treatment and torture which my friends have to face".
The identities of the students are kept confidential on request.
They alleged that the University has not created the SC/ST cells for grievance redressal, as mandated by the University Grants Commission. The UGC has called upon all Universities to establish 'SC/ST cells' in order to 'process the grievances of members of these communities'.
The students from SC/ST background undergo severe depression and alienation in the campus, and many of them have dropped out of the course mid-way, and some of them have even attempted suicide, the email added.
"It is also a given that students from Dalit-Adivasi backgrounds haven't enjoyed as much privilege in life as their Savarna counterparts. It starts early with sub-standard schooling and conditioning and continues to manifest itself in the University in many ways. Most dropouts since 2008 have belonged to scheduled caste and scheduled tribe backgrounds. Their attrition rates have been as high as ever. Even among the detainee students, students from these communities feature most prominently. In a bid to stop the exodus of students from the University, attempts have been made to communicate with faculty members their problems and suggestions have been made to arrange remedial classes as a part of the mandatory teaching requirements set by the UGC. This has only been met with derision, scorn and judgement from the faculty. The administration has also been apathetic on the issue.
Even on the issue of English language training, the University has resorted to tokenism and no real steps have been taken in that direction. Most SC/ST students receive their school education in vernacular mediums. Therefore, it is obvious that they face comprehension issues. Over the last ten years, the administration has taken no concrete steps to address the issue. It is pertinent to note that this also forms a part of the pattern of institutionalized discrimination so deeply rooted on campus. When SC/ST students aren't being assaulted and mistreated, they're being excluded by discriminatory academic practices.", the email said.
The University used to follow the practice of allocating hostel rooms based on caste identities, which was discontinued after protests, said the email.
NLU D Response
When asked for a response regarding the allegations, the Vice Chancellor of NLU D Professor Dr Ranbir Singh denied the allegations through an email reply.
The contents of the students' complaint were termed "general and without basis". There is absolutely no consideration of caste or any such matter in the allocation of rooms in hostels, said the VC.
The VC admitted to the incident of a Dalit student getting assaulted in campus but added that it was an isolated incident of altercation which has taken place in last five years. The aggressor student in that case was punished as per disciplinary norms of the University.
The allegation regarding the non-creation of SC/ST cell was denied. The VC asserted that University has three Cells dealing with such issues - Equal Opportunity Cell as mandated by the UGC; the Students Grievance Cell and the SC/ST Cell (UGC- mandated). The notifications of all these three Cells could be seen on the website of NLU Delhi, the email stated.
"The University has absolutely impeccable reputation being a very progressive and forward looking institution regarding social exclusion related matters. Moreover, we have a track of all compliance relating to such matters.", the VC said.
No SC/ST Cell, assert the students
On being asked for clarifications with respect to the official response, the students asserted that the University has no SC/ST Cell in place.
What is in place is an Equal Opportunity Cell and not an SC/ST Cell, they said. They further said that the notifications stated to be published in the website pertain to the Equal Opportunity Cell.
The "UGC Guidelines for Scheme of Equal Opportunity Center for Colleges Xll plan (2012-17)" contemplates the existence of separate SC/ST cells in Universities.
"These regulations also contemplate the appointment of a separate anti-discrimination officer, apart from the liaison officer. This anti-discrimination officer must be qualified to be a professor according to the regulations. No such officer has been appointed by the University to this day", stated the email response of the students.
Even the Equal Opportunity Cell was created in an ad-hoc manner when a Dalit student was physically assaulted by an upper caste batch mate of his, they said.
They alleged that the University was maintaining only a 'facade of inclusiveness and progressiveness" and that it was indulging only in 'tokenism' when it came to measures for helping the students from underprivileged background. They complained of facing "institutionalized discrimination" and "scorn, derision and judgment from the faculty" and went to the extent of likening their situation to Rohit Vemula of Hyderabad Central University and Dr Payal Tadvi of BYL Nair Hospital, Mumba.
"The university has allowed casteist sentiments to flourish on its campus for all these years. It has always turned a blind eye towards every complaint made in this regard. Students have been gaslit and forced into silence by the administration many times during these years."
This author could not find any notification regarding SC/ST cell in the official website of NLU D.