(Trigger warning: mentions of suicide)
The recent incident of Ahmedabad student Darshan Solanki (18), a first year BTech student at IIT-Bombay, died allegedly by suicide. His family asserted that he faced discrimination from other students as he belonged to the Scheduled Caste (SC).
If there is anything that kills people in India other than a virus, that is caste. Caste discrimination grew to be a rigid hierarchy that seems impossible to shatter. The feeling of fanaticism has been deeply inculcated in almost everyone from their childhood.
Even before the time of invaders, the system won the hearts of inherently biased people.
The number of suicides of dalit students has ramped up in the last 10 years. Similar events were reported chiefly by various premier institutes of higher education in the country. Most of these deaths were highly criticized as murders.
The recent incident of Ahmedabad student Darshan Solanki (18), a first year BTech student at IIT-Bombay, died allegedly by suicide. His family asserted that he faced discrimination from other students as he belonged to the Scheduled Caste (SC). He was an excellent student who managed to crack the JEE mains entrance exam without the aid of any tuition.
According to the statement given to the Times of India by Jahanvi Solanki, Darshan’s elder sister, “He was harassed socially and casually told me how the attitude of fellow students changed when they came to know he belonged to Scheduled Caste. Suddenly, they started ignoring, belittling and taunting him.” It is assumed that other students might have felt jealous seeing the progress of a lower cast student without paying any fee.
Even when Darshan used to share the ill treatments he faced at college with his family, he never let it distract his ambitious mind. His mother, Tarlikaben Solanki, strongly suspects it was a murder as Darshan had called them hours before his death. In the phone call, he seemed completely fine and did not give the impression that he was going through any stress.
Other Instances of suicides by Dalit students
Bal Mukund, a Dalit from Uttar Pradesh, belonged to the Chamar community. He was the first one from his family to enter an elite institute like All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi. Being highly academic from the days of school, he scored 82 per cent in Class X and became the winner of the International Mathematics Contest. After clearing both IIT and AIIMS entrance exams, he chose to go ahead with medical school to fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor. But the destiny of harsh reality had other plans for him. His reveries about a liberal and an open-minded city turned him down when the professor asked him if a Chamar could ever become a doctor. He was constantly bullied by students and teachers in an attempt to prove to him that he was only there due to quota and there was no hope for his life as a doctor out there. The oppression even made him try changing his name to Srijan Kumar so as to get away from all these. His desire to settle down abroad was taken away by his depression and in March 2010, he committed suicide.
Jaspreet Singh was a Dalit student doing MBBS at Government Medical College, Chandigarh. He was found hanging himself on the fifth floor of the college library on January 27th 2008.
The suicide note, retrieved from the pocket of his coat, blamed his department head for intentionally failing him. A few months after the incident, the National Commission of Scheduled Castes initiated an inquiry that made a team of three professors re-evaluate his paper. It was found that he had passed the test. No further actions were taken by the police against the accused professor after filing an FIR under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
Manish Kumar was a bright student from Muzaffar Nagar. He was a 21-year-old third year student in BTech Computer Science at IIT Roorkee. Even after his parents became involved and complained to the authorities about the caste abuse he was undergoing, actions were not taken. He left the hostel to run away from the harassment, but the taunts kept following him. When he hit rock bottom due to depression on 6th February 2011, Mahesh killed himself by jumping off the fifth floor of his hostel building.
On April 18 2018, IIT-Kanpur student Bhim Singh was found hanging himself using a bedsheet in his hostel room. He was in third year of his PhD programme in mechanical engineering. Hailing from Faridabad, he took his BTech degree from NIT, Warangal. The suicide note recovered from the room was torn into pieces.
Politicization of Rohith Vemula’s death
Rohith Chakravarti Vemula was a dalit born in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. He committed suicide in 2015 after getting suspended from a PhD programme at Hyderabad Central University. He was quite active in the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA). The association conducted a seminar to discuss the death penalty for Yakub Memon. But ABVP members claimed that Vemula, along with four other association members, held a funeral prayer. When ABVP protested against the screening of the documentary Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai at Delhi university, ASA condemned that. To retaliate for it, one of the ABVP members admitted himself to a hospital and blamed ASA for attacking him. A letter was sent to the minister from ABVP accusing the ASA members of being casteist and anti-national. This resulted in the obstruction of fellowship of 25,000 rupees and Rohith Vemula along with four others were expelled from the university, which led to his suicide. His suicide note said “My birth is my fatal accident”.
Due to the media attention this case received and the havoc that took place thereafter across the country, political parties came to support the deceased family. The episode was used as a tool by parties to blame each other and obtain party tickets.
Dalit students are blamed no matter how much the legal framework tries to bring the community upward. The misunderstanding that the reservation system seizes opportunities from the UCs leads them to belittle the hard work and identity of a dalit. The elite educational institutions of the country, which are enormously filled with upper castes, have become a space that normalizes such hostilities and prejudices. The victims are left with severe mental damage which makes the country lose many highly potential human resources.
In spite of achieving academic and professional excellence in the midst of harassment and humiliation, people from Dalit background are deprived of social respect and continue to live a disparaged life.