Trigger Warning: Caste-based oppression, verbal and emotional abuse

While scrolling through my Instagram on a lazy afternoon, I came across a video of an IIT Kharagpur professor, Seema Singh. The video shows her taking an online class in a preparatory English course meant to help students belonging to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Persons with Disabilities to perform well in the IIT JEE exams the coming year. Professor Singh is seen being evidently casteist towards and abusing the students, using foul language and addressing them with words like “bloody bastards”. 

“Shameless creatures, you have to stand up for only two minutes for the national anthem, you cannot do it, and bloody ba****ds, this is on your parents, I am calling your parents that. Do you have any shame?” “What I have to do, I will do. Nothing on earth can prevent me from doing that thing. Go to the Ministry of Woman and Child  Development, go to the Ministry of SC/ST and Minorities, nothing will prevent me from doing what I have to do to you. Is it clear? Hello, bloody ba****ds, is it clear? (sic).” — These are just a couple of instances of the IIT Kharagpur professor’s casteist remarks towards the students.

nothing will prevent me from doing what I have to do to you. Is it clear? Hello, bloody ba****ds, is it clear? (sic).” — These are just a couple of instances of the IIT Kharagpur professor’s casteist remarks towards the students.

Also read: Remembering Rohith Vemula And Casteism In Indian Universities

Soon after around three video clips of Singh misbehaving with the students went viral, several people as well as social organisations came forward and criticised the unjust behavior of the professor. Over 800 IIT alumni wrote a letter to the Director of IIT Kharagpur condemning the professor’s behaviour. They demanded her termination from the institute apart from an apology to the students, which she later handed over. According to a Hindustan Times report, Singh said that she “went overboard” because she had tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, several anti-caste activists denounced the apology as ‘useless’ and ‘dishonest’.

This outrageous episode is a classic case of intrepid casteism. Some of us might question this argument and simply call it a teacher-student-bashing incident. I would have been extremely happy if that was the case but unfortunately it is not so. When a group of students belonging to the marginalised sections of the society is mistreated, threatened, and abused, we cannot be ignorant and presume otherwise. 

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Casteism, even though outlawed in India, presents itself in multiple ways in educational institutions. In Justice D Y Chandrachud’s words “Overt discrimination has now become systemic”. The IIT Kharagpur professor’s case of verbal abuse and humiliation is not an isolated event. Every now and then, we witness cases of caste discrimination and tell ourselves ‘educated people are not casteist, this happens only in rural India’. But does it?

Rohith Vemula’s suicide in 2016 was closely related to his Dalit identity. The University of Hyderabad deprived him of his monthly scholarship and hostel accommodation. Apparently, his death came easier to him than his victory against the institutional system. His last words were “My birth is my fatal accident” which reflected his struggle as a marginalised born. 

Also read: The Impact Of Social Disadvantage & Implicit Bias On Intellectual Performance

Bal Mukund was another Dalit student from Uttar Pradesh who died by suicide in his AIIMS hostel room in 2010. The faculty and students were always teasing him as the “quota guy”. These two cases were the ones that received media attention owing to the prestige of their institutions. Many other unfortunate cases don’t even get a chance to come into the limelight. 

Singh brazenly saying “You can go to ministry of women and child. Go to ministry of SC, ST, and minorities. Nothing can prevent me from doing what I have to do to you” shows the fearlessness that reverberates in her words. 

An important question that arises at this point is: where do discriminatory offenders derive their sense of authority from? It is probably due to the existing hegemony of the upper caste communities in almost all the authoritative positions- be it executive or judiciary. As a result of which, it becomes easier to get away with this kind of inhuman behaviour.

Another riveting question we need to ask is whether the IIT Kharagpur professor would have reacted with similar aggression over something as small as asking for a leave if it was a different set of students, for instance, a bunch of savarna students. My intuition tells me otherwise.

Further, it is highly unlikely that the upper caste students or their parents would have tolerated such a scandalous misconduct. Contrary to this, in the video, the students are listening without protest as if this kind of experience is embedded in their genes. The psychological safety that the offenders have while subjecting Dalits, Bahujans, or Adivasis (DBA) to casteism is nauseating.

In her apology statement, accessed by the Hindustan Times, Singh gave mental health reasons for her distasteful behavior. She explains how the isolation and lack of support that she has been experiencing in these difficult times led to her outburst. The cited reasons may likely save the IIT Kharagpur professor from termination or even public criticism. But will it be fair and just? 

Clearly, despite laws like the SC/ST Act 1989, marginalisation and discrimination based on caste haven’t left the country. The government provides for setting up SC/ST cells in universities and other institutions to support the DBA students. These cells are there for helping the reserved category persons in different aspects of their learning journey. However, the truth is several institutes do not have a functional SC/ST cell. 

These cells also act as a Grievance Redressal help desk for students. Therefore, every institution that gives admission to DBA students should mandatorily have these support cells. In order to take their place in the developing society, it is important that these students feel safe, secure, and respected. 

Professor Singh belongs to the Humanities and Social Sciences department at IIT Kharagpur. Given the field of study, aren’t they supposed to be more sensitive and compassionate, especially towards socially underprivileged ones? Ironically, Singh has co-authored a paper titled Learning to Learn from the Other: Subaltern Life Narrative, Everyday Classroom and Critical Pedagogy.

Our teachers, at school or college, have often been our guide and confidant in times of need. Such callousness of teachers deteriorates the already suffocated self-esteem of these students. Consequently, it exposes the already suppressed students to the maltreatment by other members of the institute. 

Professor Singh belongs to the Humanities and Social Sciences department at IIT Kharagpur. Given the field of study, aren’t they supposed to be more sensitive and compassionate, especially towards socially underprivileged ones? Ironically, Singh has co-authored a paper titled Learning to Learn from the Other: Subaltern Life Narrative, Everyday Classroom and Critical Pedagogy.

One cannot emphasise enough on how educational institutions should not rely on degrees alone in recruiting the faculty. It becomes crucial that they are tested on their emotional intelligence and social awareness levels too. Apart from providing technical training to the faculty and staff, the institute should socially sensitise them. They need to be more inclusive towards the diverse set of students that are present on the campus. 

Providing education opportunities is not enough for creating an equitable system. It is necessary that enabling conditions for marginalised students are established in a step in the direction of our fight against eliminating caste-based discrimination. 


Featured image source: LiveWire

About the author(s)

Shivani is an MBA graduate from IIM Indore and a writer in the making. She is an intersectional feminist who wishes to write elaborately on the subjects of classism, patriarchy and caste inequality.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Stop attaching privilege to government jobs. What they do is service or naukri and they are public naukars not bosses. The sense of entitlement gives rise to resentment against people who get reservation.

    • Every respectable job in the organised sector, be it government or private, is a privileged job. The resentment that some people have against those with the reservation has very little to do with the sense of entitlement and a lot to do with their lack of knowledge and closed-mind towards understanding Dalit history. I wish they put at least some efforts in empowering the marginalised, rather than just resenting them.

  2. Young progressive writer aptly asks a pertinent question from the society, where do discriminatory offenders derive their sense of authority from.
    My humble answer is from the system itself. From the mindset of the society which Brahmins have inculcated so meticulously in last three thousand years. Hindus are not a homogeneous group following certain dogmas. It is a way of life where elites exploit rest of the masses through scriptures, myths, sanskars and rituals. In this system Brahmins and ruling power group become elite which exploit marginal, sub altern, women, tribals, and underprivileged groups without any guilt.
    For a brief period Indian society experienced renaissance about five hundred years ago when Raidas, Kabir, Mirabai, Rahim, Raskhan, Tukaram became religious leaders although they didn’t belonged to the mainstream. But this magnanimity was short lived for Hindus as it is infamous for being among the most regressive, unjust and exploiting communes in the world.
    Another exploiting force which has become strong in recent times in Indian economy is of corporates. They are only guided by their self interest and believe in enhancing their profits only by exploiting human as well as natural resources. Their exploiting tendencies and instincts are venomous. Unfortunately, in India both have joined hands to squeeze the downtrodden and marginalized sections of the society.
    The instance of IIT Kharagpur qouted by the author is just tip of the iceberg of malice running deep in the society. This arrogant elite is intolerant of common man on the street. For him no one exist before him.
    Now common man is pushed to the wall and has only three options left before him.
    a) Commoners should leave Hindu community en masse.
    b) They can become atheist to break hagemony of the Brahmins.
    c) They can join Sikhism where they can live with dignity.
    I congratulate the author on giving her opinion on such a bold theme.
    I wish her a great future.

  3. Checkout the cut offs. SC/STs getting in at 39 and others left out at 91. This is totally justified! Get in at equal ranks and then talk!

    If you have guts in you, publish this comment!

    • I am sorry that you do not have enough privileges as you are not a Dalit born. I can only hope that you get these perks in the next life. For the time being, I would advise you to use your real name the next time you challenge someone. Gender specification won’t be required. Thank you.

      • Shivani you’re wrong here.
        Mr. General Category Guy just want to say that they support the ideology of killing/oppressing underprivileged so either they give up their reservation which is just a result of hundreds of years of oppression.
        So either get an equal rank so that he could at least consider them human.
        I never used my SC certificate and nor I’m gonna use it anyway because my father told me that even in his job he face discrimination till now and he’s a senior employee in healthcare in his 50’s.
        He was scared of this bullshit and all you get is reservation and people literally got one more reason to hate us, not like they have ever given us anything remotely similar to respect.

        We never used our reservation because we are rich or at least financially stable.
        But a lot of people face discrimination and it hurts so much.

  4. I was in her class last year. I won’t disagree that she misbehaved with the students. She does the same with everyone, irrespective of their caste. So, please don’t spread fake news by copying from other sources, who themselves have copied from somewhere else.

    • Mild misbehaviour for you can be a daunting experience for someone else. If she does the same with everyone, does not mean it can be justified. I wish someone had reported her when she did it for the first time. Thank you for your heads up on the fake news. I will consider it when I come across one.

      • I hope you should atleast change the title now. What will you come across to consider it? Please refer to #3874 on KGP Confessions page in facebook. If you don’t find this source credible enough, then remember that each and every article has taken the refrence from that page. She was not targetting any particular community. I agree that the experience would not be same for all, but the news is being presented in a way which is very misleading. Please not that I am not justifying her deeds. Also, you would be surprised to know that she is gathering funds and helping all the stray dogs and cats in the campus. I hope she had same love for human beings as well.

  5. I gone through the article by Ms. Shivani Gaul on “what IIT Kharagpur Professor’s abusive remarks tells us about the casteism in educational institutions”. I endorse the article written by Shivani Gaul. Being a teacher /professor is an honorable job which everyone cannot get oppurtunity. Teachers /Professors influence is not limited to the knowledge but they behaviour, talk, attitude, manners silently go into subconscious of the students and remains throughout life. A teacher / professor is one of the important pillar of the society. Using abusive language by lady professor on caste or religion shows the petty mind of professor. Disabled students have problems to stand up due to the health issues and they never do by any intentions. Prof Seema Singh is unworthy to be professor and authorities should take action on her. Such incidents should not happen in any educational institutions in our country.

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