institutional discrimination

Update as of 12/10/2017: After a lengthy and sustained struggle, Akunth has finally been promoted to the third year of his B.A.

In what is now becoming a repeatedly occurring pattern in public universities, and recently Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD), students from vulnerable communities are constantly subject to institutional discrimination. Recently, 19-year old Akunth, a student from the School of Human Studies, AUD has been compelled to drop his course.

A second-year bachelors student at AUD needs to pass 14 courses in order to be promoted. For the past two months, Akunth has been challenging the results of three courses, only to be met with complete callousness and hampering his promotion to the third year of his bachelors degree. A callousness fueled by lack of grievance mechanisms, institutional discrimination, casteism and homophobia.

A four person internal committee was set up by the School of Undergraduate Studies, of which there was no student representation, let alone Dalit students being a part of this committee. Akunth has not received any clarification of the proceedings as set up by the university. The case was referred to a Students Faculty Committee after a month, with no students a part of the meeting. A course coordinator failed the student, on account of his submissions being handwritten, as well as unrequited remarks on his Dalit Queer identity. For grievance redressal mechanisms, the university does not have an equal opportunities cell (as mandated by the UGC for students who come from vulnerable communities), nor does it have a SC/ST cell. To make matters worse, his applications were misplaced.

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In his open letter to AUD, Akunth writes, “Not only did the committee reduce me, a human being to a piece of paper, in this case, my application, I also cannot fathom how my application which has already been answered to, becomes representative enough for the committee to decide what transpired and sufficient enough to represent me. Also, there is the fact that there is no policy which allows them to constitute such a committee and it is all left to the “discretionary powers” of the Dean. When asked for the report of the committee, I was told that I am not liable for it, further making it impossible for me to appeal and seek justice.”

Akunth took to Facebook to voice his ordeal, where he wrote, “This one and a half month have weighed very heavily on me, I have contemplated giving up on education and life, and I will not be shamed for thinking that in a system which treats me as a problem instead of making itself accessible to me along with my identities finding ways to justify or eliminate my being is wrong. How does a judicial body compensate for something which cannot be recovered? Why should I be the only one who suffers at the end of it if it’s the “system’s problem?”

On a rainy afternoon on the 22nd of September, a group of 50 students gathered in the classroom area to protest this rapidly solidifying pattern of discrimination. The protest began in the teacher’s gallery, continued at the office of Student Services and another part of the faculty lounge. The protesting students were repeatedly asked to take the protest elsewhere. A few of the faculty members also tried to engage with the protesting students.

Prior to the protest, Akunth had been given a warning by the liaison committee. The liaison committee being a temporary body made to look into the cases of SC, ST, PWD, OBC students till the time an SC/ST cell and equal opportunity cell is constituted. Following the protest, Akunth was called to a room and asked to repeat his second year or to leave AUD altogether. The details for which and a transcript of the meeting can be found here.

Administrative policies are set in stone, where they favour the perpetrator of institutional discrimination and harassment. Despite having its progressive credentials in check (on paper), liberal public universities are failing students and are resolutely noninclusive, leaving students from marginalised communities vulnerable to rampant discrimination.

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