Beneath the fluttering tricolour at the Central Park in Connaught Place, Pradeep Kumar Meena, who was expelled from Indian Institute of Technology-Roorkee in B.Tech.
Beneath the fluttering tricolour at the Central Park in Connaught Place, Pradeep Kumar Meena, who was expelled from Indian Institute of Technology-Roorkee in B.Tech. first year for “poor” grades, solemnly recounted his ordeal: his dismissal last year; spending several nights at Delhi railway stations to get appointments with political leaders; constant shuttling between Delhi, Roorkee and Rajasthan and the lack of means for legal recourse.
From Mahaveerji village of Rajasthan’s Karauli district, Meena who suffers from impaired mobility had bagged first position in JEE (advanced) examination in persons with disability (PwD-ST) category. A first-generation student, Meena had prepared for the examination in Kota, for which his farmer father had borrowed Rs 3 lakh on usurious rate.
Talking to this newspaper on a foggy winter night, Meena was stoic, but desperation was palpable. Lean and limber, Meena had met over 40 leaders, including Union HRD minister Smriti Irani and BJP president Amit Shah, but has received no help. He would normally come to Delhi on the eve of an appointment and spend the night at railway stations. “Last time on a December night, I almost died due to chilly weather. Winter is unbearable for me because of reduced flow of blood in my legs (which are thin and osteoporotic),” he chuckled.
Dismissal In July 2014, IIT-Roorkee mandated 5 CGPA (relative marking) out of 10 for students and a minimum of 22 credit points. In July last year, it expelled 71 students, 90 per cent of whom were from reserved (SC/ST/OBC/PwD) categories, for their less than 5 CGPA grades before re-admitting 64 in August.
Of the remaining seven students, six belonged to the backward communities. However, an RTI application showed the IIT-Roorke’s move to deny re-admission to these seven students was arbitrary and a gross violation of their constitutional rights. At least six re-admitted students had equivalent or less than Meena’s 4.3 CGPA. It’s unclear to what extent credits played a role in expulsion and re-admission of the students as a questionnaire sent to the college remained unanswered despite repeated attempts.
Meena secured 16 credit points and applied for the re-examination, scheduled for July 15 and 16 last year, in two subjects to improve his credits to 22. Meena’s attempt came a cropper when he and other students were denied the re-examination due to their expulsion. Later, when the Uttarakhand high court on July 15 asked the IIT-Roorkee to allow students for supplementary papers, it was too late. Only a few out of dozens, who were in Nainital as petitioners in the high court against the expulsion, could make it to the college the next day. Meena, who was also in Nainital, had missed the July 15 paper and reached the examination hall with a delay of one hour on July 16, he said.
At least two current IIT-Roorkee students confirmed to this newspaper that the high court ruling clashed with the re-examination schedule and college’s flip-flop denied students an opportunity to improve their credits. Equally perplexing is the refusal to take back the seven students when all re-admitted candidates have to repeat their academic year.
Meena, who can neither stand for more than 10 minutes nor walk 100 metres at a stretch, bemoaned lack of special infrastructure and mechanisms. “I studied in Hindi-medium schools and could not understand lectures. The college did very little to address my comprehension and communication issues. Moreover, during practical exams, I could not stand over 10 minutes. This also brought my grades down,” he said, adding, “When I went to the registrar for resolution, he said, ‘Why did you get admission in the IIT when you can’t even stand ’”
Top Court Ruling A Supreme Court verdict in 2009 resonates even today. Disposing of a writ petition filed by six SC/ST students of IIT-Delhi, the court had ruled that the institute cannot expel them for their poor performance and invoked Article 46 of the Constitution for special treatment to weaker candidates. “It is not in dispute that SC and ST are a separate class by themselves, and the creamy layer principle is not applicable to them. Article 46 of the Constitution enjoins upon the state to promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections and protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation. These socially and economically backward categories are to be taken care of at every stage even in the specialised institutions like IITs,” the court had observed.
At least 90 per cent SC/ST students either drop out or are thrown out of IITs, claimed D.K. Garg, who represented IIT-D students in the Supreme Court.
“Do you think a three-legged horse can compete with a four-legged stallion Same evaluation criteria for all students irrespective of their background nullify the benefits of reservation,” Mr Garg observed and said that special treatment in the form of English language classes can arrest the underperformance. “When B.Tech. can be extended by two years, why not give them another chance instead of expelling them in the very first year of academic session ” he asked.
‘Excellence Through Expulsion’ The expulsions, IIT-Roorkee concurred, were to maintain standards of the institute. But another question is: who is setting standards for under-privileged students
Another RTI application revealed that at 88 per cent (371 out of 423) of the staff in IIT-R were from general category, while for SC and ST the numbers stood at a minuscule 2 and 0.5 per cent.
“If the decisions are taken by bodies which are extremely unequal in its composition, then I do not see any justice in them,” Nidhin Shobhana, programme associate at National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, said, referring to the composition of senate committee, the highest decision-making body in IIT-Roorkee.
Mr Shobhana — who was a member of a fact-finding team which in the wake of the Roorkee controversy prepared a report, “Excellence Through Expulsion” — claimed that IIT-Roorkee has no professor from ST category. He added that though students’ profile is becoming more diverse, teaching sector is still homogeneous.
“The issue of Savarna (higher-class) institutes and Brahminical attitude is not limited to Pradeep Meena — even in Rohith Vemula’s case (a research scholar who was allegedly driven to commit suicide) is no different,” the rights activist pointed out.
Ray of hope With the IIT-Roorkee director refusing to meet Meena and ambivalence of political leaders, he is thinking of moving the Supreme Court. “If these students come to the Supreme Court, they may get relief,” Mr Garg predicted.
But Meena’s legal remedy route is unclear due to lack of funds. When told about Meena’s economic status, Mr Garg pledged he was ready to fight for any student free of cost if he/she was economically distressed.
After laying bare his cradle-to-college life to this newspaper, Meena picked up his bag to leave as Central Park guards started whistling off all idlers. “Tomorrow, I have to meet an MP. I will stay at my friend’s place tonight,” he said. I incredulously gazed at him, wondering if “friend’s place” meant railway station.