Min Athawale seeks thorough probe into death of IIT Bombay student and caste bias charge

PTI, Feb 15, 2023, 2:14 PM IST

Union Minister of State for Social Justice Ramdas Athawale on Wednesday visited the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay on Wednesday and demanded a thorough probe into the death of a first-year ”Dalit” student and the allegations that he was facing caste discrimination. Darshan Solanki (18) died allegedly after jumping off the seventh floor of a hostel building on the Powai campus of the premier institute on Sunday. Solanki, who hailed from Ahmedabad, was a first-year student of the BTech (Chemical) course.

The IIT Bombay on Tuesday rejected charges of caste bias in the institute and said initial inputs from the deceased’s friends suggested there was no discrimination, and urged students to wait till police and internal probes into the case are over.

Speaking to reporters here on Wednesday, Athawale said, “I have demanded a thorough probe into the matter. There are allegations of the BTech student facing caste discrimination. I have asked the authorities to probe this angle as well.” Action should be taken if required, he said.

Athawale said Solanki called his father on Sunday and informed him that except one paper, his other first semester exams went well.

His father had assured him not to worry and told him he would visit Mumbai soon. However, half-an-hour later, Solanki jumped from his hostel and died, he said.

“It is a very serious incident. In 2014, a Dalit student ended his life in a similar way. Six months back, another student outside IITB had died by suicide. I am also aware that two students from IIT Madras had also died by suicide. Such incidents are increasing and they should be probed properly,” the minister said.

Athawale also said he will make efforts to facilitate some financial aid to Solanki’s family members from Maharashtra and Gujarat governments.

”I have sought an appointment with Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis,” he said, adding that action should be taken if required.

The Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle, a student group, had called Solanki’s death an “institutional murder”.

However, the institute on Tuesday said it takes utmost precautions to make the campus as inclusive as possible and it has zero tolerance for any discrimination by faculty.

Caste identity is never disclosed to any one (whether students or faculty) once the admission is done and the institute sensitises students to not seek proxy information such as ranks in entrance exams.

It also gives strong warnings against discrimination right from the time students enter IIT. While no steps can be 100 per cent effective, discrimination by students, if at all it occurs, is an exception, the premier institute said.

The IIT Bombay has an SC/ST student cell where students can reach in case of any issues including discrimination. There have been very few complaints to the cell, whether against faculty or other students, over the past many years, and only one case was found to have substance and strict action has been taken, it said in the statement.

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